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Tech in Iraq

By Mohammed Khudairi, for Bite.Tech. Re-published with permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Through many visits to Iraq and exciting conversations with visionaries like Hal Miran, I began to learn about Iraq’s budding world of startups, incubators and entrepreneurs.

Communities and organizations such as FikraSpace in Baghdad, along with Re:Coded and 51Labs based at TechHub in Erbil, have all developed in recent years and are growing at an astonishing pace. In my quest to figure out how I could best contribute to this ecosystem, I learned that we don’t have to wait for more “traditional” investment conditions to get involved.

Iraq’s Potential

In many ways, Iraq has been closed off from the rest of the world for many decades due to war and sanctions and now the people of Iraq are hungry for innovation and development. Iraq’s young, growing population of 37 million people, an increasing percentage of the population on the internet (17.2% in 2015), and mobile subscriptions on the rise (93.8 per 100 people had mobile subscriptions in 2015), make it a promising environment for tech. Source: World Bank.

Iraq still faces many issues including security, political and financial challenges, but the beauty of technology is that it can potentially allow developing nations like Iraq to “leapfrog” in the evolution of certain consumer processes, e-commerce, on-demand services, fintech and many more.

For those interested in diversifying their investments outside the more established tech communities and in gaining access to new (and potentially undervalued) opportunities, Iraq is fertile ground. While investors can’t turn a blind eye to the legal, financial, and operational challenges that exist, we all know that where there’s risk, there’s reward.

The Road Ahead

Good tech ecosystems require skilled human capital. The Iraqi government can support universities and other institutions by investing in science and technology programs and emphasizing these fields’ importance to Iraq’s future economy. Additionally, the government can work to improve the conditions for foreign direct investment (FDI) into Iraq by strengthening the legal frameworks and recourse surrounding FDI. This is what is currently veering foreign investors away from Iraq and into other MENA countries who have established a more secure legal framework for FDI.

While there’s a number of measures the government can implement to make it easier on new businesses and FDI, it may take some time for the government to establish these reforms. Rather than waiting on the government, I encourage those interested in making Iraq a better place to take action now and provide support to this ecosystem where possible.

Aside from financial investment, many of the Iraqi diaspora have access to resources, institutions or technology that could be very useful to entrepreneurs and tech communities in Iraq. Those interested should follow Bite.Tech and other online sources to learn more about the tech ecosystem in Iraq and contact organizations directly.

Any support will go a long way to these individuals who are dealing with regular power outages, security challenges and limited local institutional resources. These brave men and women will be the entrepreneurs who forge a new economy and transform Iraq into a modern, inclusive and innovative society it can be.

Articles by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bite.Tech.

How Iraqi Entrepreneurs can Raise Startup Money Without a Loan

By Hal Miran, Editor-in-Chief, Bite.Tech. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

How Iraqi Entrepreneurs can Raise Startup Money Without a Loan

Raising money for your business is always a challenge. Every startup must prepare and plan in detail how they intend to raise funds for their new startup.

In countries like Iraq, the lack of access to bank loans makes it more difficult for tech entrepreneurs to raise money for their company. This is made trickier by a lack of angel or venture capital money. So, what can you do to raise startup money without a loan?

1. First, look on the bright side!

First of all, looking for business financing externally should be your last option, not your first. When it comes to venture capital or angel investment, you give up a portion of your company in exchange for money and often, strategic advice and help. But, it usually comes with a lot of conditions attached.

2. Bootstrap your way to tech startup success

Bootstrapping is the process of financing a new company with minimal financial resources. It is the first method to raise startup financing that every tech entrepreneur should look into.

A great bootstrapping strategy typically involves using your own money and asking people close to you to invest. This is coupled with clever use of the money you have to make it go as far as possible towards your business success.

Where possible, use free resources and study how to implement growth hacking principles to accelerate your growth at minimal or zero cost. There are now so many incredible business resources online that are free and weren’t available for the tech startup entrepreneur of ten years ago.

How can you raise bootstrapping money for your startup? Here are the most immediate options:

a. Your own personal money

b. Ask your friends and family

c. Attend essential networking events such as hackathons and bootcamps to meet potential investors and make new contacts

Startup Hub Focus: Baghdad

By Lara Saeed, Managing Editor, Bite.Tech. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Over the course of the past year, the Iraqi startup ecosystem has been through tremendous development. Numerous startup events and boot camps have resulted in the early stages of an ecosystem. Baghdad, as the capital city with the largest market, has seen a strong number of stratups that are now beginning to take shape as businesses.

Unfortunately, it is not always that simple getting information from businesses in our culture but below are some of the hottest startups in Baghdad who are willing to share their stories.

  1. Miswag, founded by Ammar Ameen

Miswag was founded in the year 2013 and is one of the first startups in Baghdad. Miswag is an online store that adopted a model similar to Amazon. The startup provides a cross-platform site and mobile application as the main sales channels that allow Iraqi based customers to place their order directly. The startup also offers delivery services to its customers.

The startup is independently funded and has been generating income since the year 2015, it made over 1.1 billion Iraqi dinars in sales in the year 2016.

Miswag plans to invest further in their inventory as they plan to become the biggest e-commerce platform in Iraq in terms of user base.

The startup covers all over Iraq with two main operation centers, one in Baghdad and the other in the Kurdistan region.

The team currently consists of 11 employees and are aiming at a 50% staff increase within the next 12 months as they plan to establish another operation center in Basra.

Startup Hub Focus: Baghdad

By Lara Saeed, Managing Editor, Bite.Tech. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Over the course of the past year, the Iraqi startup ecosystem has been through tremendous development. Numerous startup events and boot camps have resulted in the early stages of an ecosystem. Baghdad, as the capital city with the largest market, has seen a strong number of stratups that are now beginning to take shape as businesses.

Unfortunately, it is not always that simple getting information from businesses in our culture but below are some of the hottest startups in Baghdad who are willing to share their stories.

  1. Miswag, founded by Ammar Ameen

Miswag was founded in the year 2013 and is one of the first startups in Baghdad. Miswag is an online store that adopted a model similar to Amazon. The startup provides a cross-platform site and mobile application as the main sales channels that allow Iraqi based customers to place their order directly. The startup also offers delivery services to its customers.

The startup is independently funded and has been generating income since the year 2015, it made over 1.1 billion Iraqi dinars in sales in the year 2016.

Miswag plans to invest further in their inventory as they plan to become the biggest e-commerce platform in Iraq in terms of user base.

The startup covers all over Iraq with two main operation centers, one in Baghdad and the other in the Kurdistan region.

The team currently consists of 11 employees and are aiming at a 50% staff increase within the next 12 months as they plan to establish another operation center in Basra.

Launch of Iraq’s First Tech Startup Coworking Space

By Hal Miran, Editor-in-Chief, Bite.Tech. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

TechHub has officially been launched, making the first tech startup coworking space in Iraq a reality. We have housed nine members so far, as well as numerous expert-led entrepreneurial workshops and events, and look forward to bringing much more to Iraq’s booming tech startup sector.

Coworking office spaces have seen exponential growth around the world in recent years, as the business environment has undergone big changes. And the reason is simple: there are just so many benefits to joining a coworking space when building your tech startup.

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What is TechHub?

TechHub is a community hub for tech startups in Iraq, headquartered in the city of Erbil, Iraq. We created TechHub to give budding Iraqi techstars the springboard they need to build, grow and scale their startup in a fully supportive tech environment.

Iraq Tech Ecosystem Map 2017

By Lara Saeed (pictured), Managing Editor, Bite.Tech. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Over the past 6 months, we at Bite.Tech have been mapping out the startup ecosystem in Iraq which consists of all the stakeholders who directly add value and and drive the startup ecosystem providing entrepreneurs, investors, and new comers with an overall guide of the ecosystem.

With this map we can also identify the main challenges the Iraq’s startup ecosystem faces and the initiatives the Iraqi ecosystem needs to go through for it to become a high-potential site amongst regional startup ecosystems. For example, a notable missing section on the map is investments/funding.

E-commerce:

  1. Chanbar is an online platform that allows merchants to create online stores within 24 hours, users can start to sell products online immediately after a simple setup. Payment can be made through Zain cash.

CO-Working Space

  1. Tech Hub: the first tech focused co-working space in Iraq, the Erbil location is already accommodating several startups and is running workshops, with a Baghdad branch soon to follow.

Media:

  1. Bite.Tech is an online newsletter published in English covering the tech startup ecosystem of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Events:

  1. HackaErbil: a two-day hackathon, participants are required to present new and innovative projects.
  2. Startup Weekend: Powered by Google, Startup Weekend teaches its participants how to network and build their startups within 54 hours.
  3. Pitch Bootcamp: a two-day career accelerator program that helps participants develop their skills, and improves their chances of finding jobs. The concept is from Spark Agency in Portugal who have organized these events around the world.
  4. Rwanga: the NGO running the Rwanga Awards. The event is open to anyone who wishes to showcase their work in the fields of writing, photography, scientific discoveries and many more.

Maker Space:

  1. Fikra Space: an open space in Baghdad for people who have common interests in computers, technology, science, arts and other fields.
  2. Science Camp: a space for anyone with interest in computing technology, digital arts, design, green energy, recycling & digital arts run in Basra?

Education:

  1. Al-Mansour University Incubator: The incubator is located in Al-Mansour University. They guide and support entrepreneurs through brain storming sessions, business analysis and more.
  2. MSELECT: a staffing agency with a training academy offering internationally certified public and private courses in business, IT, soft skills, vocational subjects and more.
  3. Re:Coded: the mission is to equip refugees and vulnerable youth in conflict affected areas with fundamental coding skills and professional experience that together create access to careers in technology.
  4. Code Lab: an intensive software development boot camp that meets virtually on Facebook. The boot camp focuses on writing clean and efficient code to produce scalable and maintainable software products.

 

5 Reasons why Kurdistan will Power Iraqi Tech Growth

By Hal Miran, Editor-in-Chief, Bite.Tech. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi Kurdistan, or the Kurdistan Region, is the autonomous region in the north of Iraq. Its economy is mainly powered by oil, and to a lesser extent other industries. Its capital city is Erbil, its government is known as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – and it is set to power Iraq’s tech ecosystem growth.

Why Kurdistan will power Iraqi tech growth:

1. It Is Secure, Developed And Has A Strong Business Culture

The Kurdistan Region has enjoyed relative stability during recent periods of conflict in Iraq and isn’t really at risk of disruption from ISIL. It is this security coupled with developmental funding in the region since before 2003 that has allowed it to advance much quicker than the rest of Iraq.

Helped enormously by continued infrastructural investment and a liberal investment policy, which has attracted a lot of foreign money into the region, Kurdistan has become a real enterprise hub. In recent years Erbil’s skyline has been dotted increasingly with new hotels, luxury apartment buildings and office complexes, with demand making the city increasingly a cosmopolitan centre in the Middle East.

2. Its Oil And Gas Sector Provides A Reliable Revenue Stream

While the growing tech ecosystem will diversify Iraq’s economy away from a reliance on natural resources, oil and gas revenue trickles down into other areas of the country. Iraqi Kurdistan, with its massive oil and gas reserves, relies heavily on this sector. Due to its natural resource riches, Iraqi Kurdistan benefits from a trickle-down economy – oil and gas revenue goes towards investment of all kinds in the region.

3. The KRG Has Invested Heavily In Infrastructure

Erbil, the region’s capital city, counts on high speed internet, a wide range of commercial office space, and significant investment in city development. Erbil and Sulaimaniyah are home to two new international airports, with a third under construction in Duhok. Infrastructure development across the region continues, and although some Kurds would argue that money could be better spent, the KRG continues to invest heavily in improving the region’s infrastructure.

How can a Tech Sector Contribute to Iraq’s Economy?

By Hal Miran, Editor-in-Chief, Bite.Tech.

Tech has grown in prominence as a key sector in global economic health. It is now commonly accepted that an economy in which entrepreneurs have the freedom and resources to create and innovate tend to perform much more robustly.

Intriguingly, one study on the effect of tech on a country’s economy has said that there is a much greater positive spillover effect than has been widely thought1.

The world has entered the new dawn of the technology era. Sure, we’ve had major waves of technological advances since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century4. But nothing like this.

Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Robotics and Automation are set to disrupt the entire world, with virtually every major sector already recently disrupted by technological innovation.

It is a safe bet to assume that global tech is set to grow exponentially. The bottom line is that tech has already demonstrated its crucial importance to economic health, which is only set to increase.

What this means is that more than ever, tech entrepreneurs will be needed in this new tech-driven world to power economic growth.

Tech entrepreneurship in Iraq: Breaking the country’s dependence on oil

The oil sector has not been reliable since 2014, with prices fluctuating wildly. So long core for the Iraqi economy, the country can no longer depend exclusively on the fuel. What has occurred in global oil markets in the last few years is a warning that Iraq must pay attention to.

Iraq is so dependent on the fuel that the government, recently asked for the country to be exempt from the OPEC production cut agreement5, as it is desperate to produce as many barrels of oil as it can.

Tech entrepreneurship can break this dependence and help the economy to grow in ways that the oil sector, crucial as it has been for Iraq for so long, can never achieve.

How have other countries benefited from a booming tech sector?

In the U.S, the tech sector accounts for 7% of GDP and employs almost 7 million people2. In the UK, tech accounts for 8% of British GDP3. In these countries and indeed around the globe it is set to grow further, both in developed and developing economies.

The Growth of the Iraqi Tech Ecosystem

By Hal Miran, Editor-in-Chief, Bite.Tech.

It might be surprising to know that the region of the Middle East has become a blossoming entrepreneurial, tech startup hub. From Jordan to Lebanon and Iran to Egypt, the region has made significant progress with innovation driving tech startup growth. Israel has more startups per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Iraq has been the notable absentee from this tech ecosystem growth. Over the last 18 months Bite.Tech has dedicated time researching the Iraqi tech ecosystem, along with a group of committed, talented writers and entrepreneurs. We believe that we are on the verge of imminent breakthroughs and of establishing our own strong tech ecosystem here in Iraq.

When most people think of our country, they think of the wars and the ensuing conflict that crippled the country. But this is only very recent history in the country that gave birth to one of the greatest commerce and trade regions the world has ever known. It is a country steeped in the history of human civilisation.

Now, Iraqis are hopeful of leaving the recent issues that have plagued the country in the past and to harness its considerable resources to drive economic recovery.

One key area for this to happen is the fostering of a tech entrepreneurial community. In the last few years, a large group of tech entrepreneurs has emerged, who have created the beginnings of an Iraqi tech ecosystem from scratch. And it is now beginning to show signs of advancing beyond its primary stage.

The Blossoming Iraqi Tech Startup Space

The impact of the conflict witnessed in the country since 2003 has led to a dearth of foreign investment. It has also badly affected the education system. This has led to a lack of capital and of talent, respectively. Up to now, the tech startup community has had to be innovative and adaptable to deal with problems in financing, infrastructure and human resources.