Guest post by Mai Abualkas Temraz, 2014 Emerging Leader from Palestinian Territories
The TechWomen program has continued to impact my life even after I returned back home to Gaza from being an Emerging Leader in San Francisco.
Recently, I went from being a TechWomen mentee to becoming a mentor selected by Gaza Sky Geeks for the Gaza Challenge startup bootcamp. I helped entrepreneurs learn to validate their startup ideas and practice customer development, and shared the Silicon Valley startup culture which is different than Gazan culture. The Silicon Valley startup culture values moving fast (including breaking things, as Facebook’s company culture preaches), frequent deployments and iteration/testing, talking about failures and how you learned from them, etc.
Of the 35 teams which participated in the Gaza Challenge 5-day startup bootcamp, the top teams will be enrolled in a 6-week pre-acceleration program at Gaza Sky Geeks, with $20,000 investment by June for the most qualified teams.
My TechWomen cultural mentor Angie Chang also participated as a mentor for this event in Gaza! I was excited to see her and mentor entrepreneurs together, especially in Gaza – a unique place that few have access to.
“I was so honored to mentor alongside Mai last week in Gaza at #GazaChallenge startup bootcamp and learned so much from her! She is a woman to watch in Gaza” said Angie.
International mentors were brought in by the organizers at Gaza Sky Geeks, the first startup accelerator in Gaza. Gaza Sky Geeks was founded in 2011 with support from Google and is implemented by Mercy Corps. The goal is to build a startup movement in Gaza with strong potential for partnerships, investment and of course, profit. To do this, Gaza Sky Geeks runs a vibrant co-working space, conducts active outreach, and builds a vibrant community that nurtures innovation. They are one of the main organizers of Startup Weekend Gaza. Read more about Gaza Sky Geeks
One of Gaza Sky Geek’s biggest successes has been creating an inclusive startup community with 50% women participating at the co-working space. Women are invited to participate in mentorship through the big sister / little sister program at Gaza Sky Geeks.
Iliana Montauk, the director of Gaza Sky Geeks, describes in this blog post how the accelerator grew women’s leadership in the nascent tech sector in Gaza.
Angie was the first TechWomen mentor to visit Gaza — it was really courageous from her to come to Gaza, and it will hopefully motivate more TechWomen mentors to consider visiting Gaza! I learned a lot from my time with Angie. We discussed the challenges that Gazan women face to succeed in their professional lives.
We also met with some women to talk about gender in startups, challenges and best ways of getting investment for women. One of the mentors from Jordan, Lauren Peate, mentioned that her current work focuses on barriers faced by female startup founders in the Middle East. From her experience, she believes that women groups and meetings are really important, where women can share their challenges and thoughts – and most importantly, be able to support and help each other. Meeting frequently will also help them to know they are not alone in starting a new venture.
After visiting the US with TechWomen, I was really surprised that women in America face the same problems we face in the MENA region! The challenges facing women entrepreneurs are the same everywhere – traditional societal expectations for women, unconscious bias, etc.
I also learned that we need to think of our challenges as opportunities and learn how to guide them. Figuring out how to succeed as an entrepreneur in a very difficult place like Gaza will make it easier to succeed every where else. If we share our collective stories of challenges, failures and successes – we can encourage and help each other move forward toward our shared vision of a thriving Gaza startup ecosystem full of startups building value, growing teams, and creating economic prosperity for Gaza.
Dedicated to improving access to quality education in the Palestinian Territories, Mai is part engineer, part CEO, and part entrepreneur. She hopes to see basic electronics and technology education incorporated into school curriculum in her country. Having founded the Amateur Club Training Center, which provides technical STEM training to youth, Mai has already made great strides toward her mission. Prior to starting her own business, Mai held many different job titles and responsibilities, from tech support, to technical training, to engineering. Collectively, these experiences help ensure each student she works with at Amateur Club gains dynamic and practical skills in technology. Not one to stay in her comfort zone, Mai is energized by challenges and complex problems. One of Mai’s proudest accomplishments is becoming the first Palestinian female Amateur Radio Operator. @AmateurClub2