Realities of Jordan startup scene in 2021

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The Jordanian start-up scene has both regional and international recognition. The ecosystem is mostly shaped by young entrepreneurs in the ICT sector with prominent accelerators like Changelabs and IBDA3. Jordan is one of the key players in MENA’s Information and Communication Technology(ICT) forum. Jordanian start-up ecosystem aims to bring brilliant ideas of domestic entrepreneurs to the market with robust acceleration programs.

Tech-based start-ups in Jordan have been shaping the entrepreneurship ecosystem and contributing to job creation across the country. Some tech start-ups like Arabia Weather, Maktoob, Opensooq.com, Tamatem, Luminus, Jamalon, and other 21 companies even occupied WEF’s top 100 Arabian start-ups. Jordan became a prospective start-up hub in the region with more start-ups getting regional and global recognition.

However, the country currently sits on the rank 49 in the Global Entrepreneurship Index outperformed by Kuwait and other countries in the region. In fact, Jordan’s index has been consistently declining since 2015. Rasha Manna from Endeavor told Venture Magazine that Jordan should be able to determine sectors that can attract investment, drive economic returns, and create domestic jobs instead of focusing on one sector. She argued that the tech sector is a priority but Jordan should leave the idea of building a one-sector ecosystem like Silicon Valley.

Jordan’s start-up scene also faces various domestic challenges despite its regional recognition. Taxation structures, complex start-up regulations, complicated procedures, social security, and difficulties in company restructuring are some barriers start-ups must deal with in Jordan according to the World Bank’s survey in 2019. Entrepreneurs have urged the Jordanian government to reform legal procedures in start-up establishments as well as to embrace a more friendly business environment. Despite domestic challenges, many Jordanian start-ups remained thriving.

Jordanian government provided an organic, but measured response to the urgency. A Ministry for Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship was introduced to support digital industries including digital entrepreneurship and its infrastructure. From establishing the national broadband network to government-run electronic payments, Jordanian is determined to support business digitalization and entrepreneurship. This step has even inspired the World Bank to launch the Moonshot initiatives for MENA that focus on enhancing broadband infrastructure in the region.

Jordanian Start-ups during Covid-19

The covid-19 global pandemic has halted the entrepreneurial revolution in Jordan and impacted the entrepreneurial ecosystem significantly in 2020. According to Youth Impact Labs, many start-ups struggled with decreasing revenues and hardships in covering operation costs as the financial and business solutions are no longer accessible.

However, the Jordan start-up scene has thrived by applying some adjustments during the hard times. Start-up companies that focus on the ICT sector found a way to survive by providing solutions to pandemic-driven problems and challenges. On the other hand, some business incubators like Generation Impact provide support to gig workers and impacted start-ups. Collaborating with Jordanian innovation catalyst iPark, they also launched a fundraising campaign to sustain the program that supported tens of innovations during the pandemic.

When it comes to start-up funding, there are some areas that have successfully attracted investors including financial technology, economic acceleration, training, and media platforms.  If you look at the thriving sectors, you can see that they’re related to sectors that capture the needs and the changing behavior of domestic customers during the pandemic.

In the financial technology sector, investors are looking for innovative ideas. Investors would look up venture and funding companies like Oasis500 Dash Venture that connects business founders with the investors. Such platforms have launched thousands of entrepreneurs and hundreds of start-up companies from diverse sectors. They can get funding from the platform after their business plans have been accessed.

Sectors Funded in 2021

Accelerators and incubators have been playing a crucial role in Jordan’s start-up ecosystem. Jordanian Queen-owned organization Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship that has a long establishment also joined the mission. Along with Spark, Zain Innovation Campus(ZINC), iPark, and Jordan’s Business Development Center, the organizations seek to accelerate start-up innovative projects to solve pandemic-driven problems through training, empowerment, mentoring, workshops, networking, funding, and so forth. These companies have different shades of focus that range from the very short to the long-term goals.

Another area covered with sustained funding is the technology development sector. Some companies like Refugee Code Week aims to empower young refugees with programming skills so that they can contribute and aid their communities. With thousands of participants, these programs help refugees to be independent through learning coding. This would also help migrants to integrate with their new homes using their skills that are actually needed in the ICT industry in Jordan and other MENA countries. A coding boot camp named Reboot Kamp(RBK) also gives programming language training and links the participants with the business or job placement network.

Investors would likely sustain funding on start-ups focusing on community empowerment. Referring to the Start-up Without Borders’ top entities in the Jordanian ecosystem, these include MakerSpace, King Hussein Business Park, Start-up Grind Amman, Dakwak, and so forth. These companies provide services, facilities, and tools that support local community empowerment. For example, The MakerSpace has become home to inventors of different fields and diverse new projects that can provide innovative solutions to healthcare, the environment, energy needs, and many more.

Covid-19 situation catalyzes entities in the Jordanian vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. Investors aren’t losing faith in the Jordan start-up scene but they would certainly take measured decisions in funding competitive sectors only. After taking a little break in the second and third quarter of 2020, investors continue funding start ups that can offer innovations during Covid-19. Accelerators and incubators have a more crucial task in catalyzing those innovations and providing relevant programs to support the development.

Generally speaking, investors look up the crossing lines between empowerment and technology innovations brought by start-ups in Jordan. Covid-19 indeed drives changes in the Jordanian entrepreneurial ecosystem. Pandemic situations encourage partnerships among investors, governments, and accelerators/incubators to support Jordan’s start-up scene. Start-ups would need to keep updated with accelerator/incubator programs to get relevant support on their innovations and to get funding solutions.

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