Monday, March 14, 2011

Amman is unlikely hotspot for technology startups

Amman is unlikely hotspot for technology startups
Jordan is seeing a strong growth in start-ups.

Once a technology wasteland, Amman is now home to a growing number of internet startups. Their young founders credit a more liberal government and lower seed costs.

"Amman's different than other places because we've got good leadership and better education - we produce engineers who've been producing tech work before they even leave school," Fouad Jeryes, chief of social networking platform, told Arabian Business.

King Abdullah - younger than other kings in the region, British-educated, with a wife who Tweets regularly under the handle @QueenRania - told the BBC in 2004 that he hoped to make his country the tech hub of the Middle East.

That year, he instituted an education programme he called "big ideas for a little country," which saw private companies donate computers to local schools and a software curriculum designed to be taught alongside traditional subjects. 

"The King is a regional leader - very tech savvy, very much caring about how tech can move forward," Jeryes said. "In the last two years, growth has been big."

Very big - he estimated that the number of startups had increased by 1825%, compared to about 430% in the rest of the world.

Kamel Al-Asmar, an Amman native with two local startups under his belt - and Ideation Box, said it was easier and less expensive to start a company in Jordan than a traditional tech hotspot like Dubai, which boasts a 120% mobile penetration rate.

He also said Jordan's internet capacity was higher than is often realized, at 21 megabytes per second - matched only by Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

"The capital required to start a company here is not high - about $30,000," he said. But "it's not feasible to only serve Jordan - we target the GCC because [customers there] have the money but lack the product."

Amman's success is also due to a stronger technology infrastructure. Jeryes is the founder of Amman Tech Tuesdays, monthly tech meetups which now welcome about 500 visitors per session.

He modelled it on similar, popular events in America, where he'd been living before repatriating to Jordan.

"What I missed was the ecosystem - you have people to meet," he said. "That wasn't available here. We had a vibrant tech scene in Amman but it was cliquey, no culture of open knowledge or exchange."

He and fellow Amman techies have also launched Oasis 500, a push to start 500 tech startups in the next five years, predominantly in the social media and mobile sectors.

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