Geeks of Gaza

By Sara Veltkamp, Minerva Strategies –

Many in Seattle are trying to make it in the tech startup world.  Better use of device data, a better way to create stellar presentations, you name it, Seattle is trying it. Some groups, like Buddy.com and FlowVella linked above, are succeeding, but not without difficulty.  It is a challenge to get venture capital; it’s difficult to get the ear of the people who matter; it’s hard to recruit top talent to a small project that may or may not stay relevant or succeed in the rapidly changing tech landscape.

Now imagine trying to launch a startup completely cut off from the world, with bombs dropping around you.

“You think launching a startup in Silicon Valley is hard?  Try Gaza.” 

This past holiday season, Minerva had the opportunity to work with Gaza’s only startup accelerator, Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), a program run by Mercy Corps. Given Minerva’s portfolio of clients, it’s clear that we get to work with a lot of inspiring groups that improve the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world in very exciting ways.  But as an Arabic-speaking person with experience living and working in the Middle East, this project got me more excited than most.

Last summer, tech entrepreneurs in Gaza worked through the bombing, showing up at the coworking space for training, ideas, and community.  One group even pitched to investors in the midst of a bombing, having to switch locations halfway through the call. But, despite the challenges, this sector presents opportunities for tech-savvy Gazans.  Limited domestic opportunities combined with travel restrictions leads to high levels of unemployment, particularly among Gaza’s highly educated young people. But in the tech sector, opportunities are growing. Arabic is cited as the fastest growing language on the Internet, and as a result the need for Arabic apps and content is increasing.

#GazaStarts: Crowdfunding for Gaza’s only startup accelerator

Minerva worked with GSG to provide support for their GazaStarts crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.  As their $900K seed funding from Google was nearly exhausted, the team at GSG decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to support continued work with a limited staff. The campaign took off, and the team exceeding their goal of $70K to raise $118K in a month.

Inspired by this success, they extended the campaign, and their optimism, by ambitiously increasing the goal to $250K which would support this work with a full staff through 2015 and allow them to host their largest outreach event, bringing investors and tech sector mentors to Gaza. You can read more about the details of our work with Mercy Corps to support Gaza Sky Geeks crowdfunding campaign on our client page.

After the extension, GSG raised over $280K allowing the accelerator and coworking space to continue providing hope for young men and women whose spirits may otherwise be crushed by their circumstances; young people who really just want a chance to create a world in which they are part of the global economy and respected.  As the GSG team says, “We do not want humanitarian aid, we want opportunities.”

While the crowdfunding campaign has ended, you can still support Gaza Sky Geeks and help to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs in Gaza here:  http://www.gazaskygeeks.com/en/donate/