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Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) is the first startup accelerator in Gaza. It was founded in 2011 with support from Google and is implemented by Mercy Corps, an international humanitarian organization which provides access in and out of Gaza. GSG conducts outreach to a community that until recently was largely unaware of startups, identifies top talent, creates a pipeline for investors, and connects strong teams to investors. In the past year, largely due to GSG’s work, Gaza startups obtained seed level investment for the first time. Interest in Gaza has spiked: over 600 Gazans applied to the most recent Startup Weekend in June 2014.
One of GSG’s biggest successes has been creating an inclusive startup community with 50% women at the co-working space and in the startup pipeline. In this piece, GSG’s director Iliana Montauk describes how the accelerator grew women’s leadership in the nascent tech sector in Gaza. GSG runs the risk of shutting down at the end of this year due to lack of funding. To support their crowdfunding campaign, visit www.gazastarts.com and follow them on Twitter @GazaSkyGeeks.
A light in the dark How Gaza Sky Geeks increased women’s leadership in the Gaza startup sector By Iliana Montauk
n April 2014, my team and I at Gaza Sky Geeks launched a new pipeline activity with a grant from Google for Entrepreneurs. Our goal was to increase the number of women startup founders in Gaza. We had seen a high percentage of women’s participation in the startup sector in Gaza since we began our work: often, 30% of the attendees at our events are women. But when we first presented our startups to investors in November 2013, only male-led teams received investment. It was too early to determine whether this was a trend or not, but we had a sense that it was , and we wanted to nip it in the bud.
Women’s leadership in the Gazan startup sector: a world of opportunity
Gaza’s tech sector is still nascent, and the biggest challenge our founders face is their lack of connection to other countries. This translates to lack of awareness of trends, lack of mentors, difficult access to new markets, etc. 80
Entrepreneur DECEMBER 2014
GAZA SKY GEEKS WEBSITE
It’s easy to look at a place like Gaza and pity those of us who work there. It may surprise you to hear that it’s also a place full of opportunity. Women’s leadership in the tech entrepreneurship sector is one of those. Here’s why: