Startup Bootcamp, an entrepreneurship training to promote development of innovative business ideas among young innovators, entrepreneurs and software developers from displaced, refugee and host communities, took place on 4-5 May in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
The event was supported by IOM Iraq, and organized by Five One Labs, a start-up incubator based in Iraq that assists displaced and conflict affected entrepreneurs develop their businesses.
More than 30 entrepreneurs from across Iraq and Syria received training in business plan development and coaching from mentors; they also had the opportunity to pitch ideas to panels of judges.
The training included: entrepreneurial mindset development, customer interview techniques, ideation, business model canvassing, prototyping and pitch development. Mentors and judges included local business leaders, innovation experts, development agency staff, academics, staff from the United States Consulate in Erbil and IOM staff.
In the weeks leading up to the training, participants were chosen through a rigorous selection process based on a proposed business idea, understanding of entrepreneurship and English proficiency.
Ideas included: e-commerce platforms for groceries, books, and other products; virtual reality rehabilitation games for people with disabilities; an education platform to teach soft skills and another to teach the Kurdish language; a dental marketplace; HR management systems; and a Syrian shipping business using an Uber-like business model to send documents with travellers.
The winner was determined in a lightning round face-off between the first-place winner from the individual competition – the creator of a weight loss game – against the first-place winners from the team competition. The winning team, Darwan Soap production, is developing and marketing a soap made of natural ingredients using traditional soap-making techniques. Team members include two junior physicians, a medical student and a business manager.
“During the Startup Bootcamp we studied our customer segment and built our business model. We are excited to develop this natural soap made from the seeds of a tree that grows in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” said Shehin Jihad, who initiated the idea. “We are using our medical knowledge to analyse potential ingredients that are helpful for people with sensitive skin and skin conditions,” she added.
First-place winners receive: membership in the TechHub co-working space in Erbil for one month, continued business mentoring from international business experts and entrepreneurs, modest funding to cover business expenses (USD 150), and an opportunity to apply for a USD 1,000 business grant to launch their ventures.
This Startup Bootcamp is part of the ‘Entrepreneurship for All’ project, which is managed by Five One Labs in cooperation with various community partners and sponsored by IOM, with funding from the US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).
Entrepreneurship for All is a two-month long series of on-line and in-person business and leadership trainings across northern Iraq. Training sessions include: identifying market gaps and customer needs; creative business idea development; market and customer research; and marketing. Participants include Syrian refugees, displaced Iraqis and host community members; more than 200 people will participate. Training is provided in Arabic, Kurdish and English.
The project aims to build cohesion between entrepreneurs who have been internally displaced and the local community through entrepreneurial ventures that contribute to the local economy. In addition to the series of trainings for aspiring entrepreneurs, ten existing start-up companies launched by displaced and conflict-affected entrepreneurs will be offered advisory, legal and financial support to scale-up.
Entrepreneurship for All is implemented in the framework of the IOM 3RP programme supported by PRM. The overall aim of this programme is to provide Syrian refugees, IDPs and vulnerable host communities with access to education and employment opportunities.