Planting the Ecosystem Seed: Nurturing the Soil for the Resource-Deprived Entrepreneurs
Executive Director, The Station
In places recovering from conflict, entrepreneurial ecosystems become vital engines for growth and stability. Imagine a startup in Baghdad navigating the challenges of a shifting economic landscape. Like many others, this startup seeks a solid foundation, resilience, and access to vital resources. It is looking for opportunities to network, share knowledge, and connect globally. More than just business growth, it is searching for an ecosystem that promotes community healing, rebuilding, and a brighter, stable future.
Building on that vision, the Iraqi startup ecosystem has shown promising signs of growth and potential. In early 2022, startups like Alsaree3 and TipTop achieved significant investments, drawing attention not just from local stakeholders but also from international investors. Such milestones highlight the evolving entrepreneurial landscape in Iraq. While the Iraqi ecosystem is still developing, its diverse presence across governorates is noteworthy. Collaborative efforts from enablers like The Station, KAPITA, and 51 Labs, and many others have played a crucial role in this evolution, increasing the available resources for startup growth and promoting entrepreneurship and investment both locally and globally.
While the ecosystem has been a catalyst for many startups, it is essential to recognize the myriad of businesses that have found success outside its purview. Many founders have carved out their niches, navigating the market's complexities without the direct support of the established ecosystem. One such entrepreneur is Khalid Al Saedy. Khalid began his journey in the private sector, accumulating experience across various domains. His business mindset led him to establish his FMCG business, Sa'fat Al Jinoob. In a competitive market, Khalid's venture stood out, marking its presence and achieving significant growth. This success was achieved independently, without the direct influence or support of the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem.
However, a transformative phase in Khalid's journey began when he engaged with The Station. Through it, Khalid got connected with the ecosystem. He was introduced to a wealth of resources, mentorship, and opportunities. This engagement propelled him to launch 'Jamila,' a digital extension of his FMCG business, offering a mobile app platform for FMCG retailers.
Reflecting on his journey, Khalid said, "A business founder has the experience to create a business and get it operating but needs the technical knowledge to enhance and plan," referring to the knowledge and insights he gained from his mentor in CoGrowth, Ali Al Hilli. Khalid summarized his experience by saying, "A founder is always a problem solver, but what he/she gains through engaging with the Ecosystem is the Founder Mentality."
Khalid's experience underscores a broader strategy that can be pivotal for the ecosystem's expansion: reaching out. While direct engagement with startups is crucial, there is an untapped potential in connecting with businesses operating outside the ecosystem's current boundaries.
One of the most potent ways to achieve this is by collaborating with small communities across the country. These communities, often deeply embedded in their local contexts, possess unique insights into regional challenges and opportunities. However, their potential often remains underutilized due to a lack of access to resources, mentorship, and technical expertise.
By providing these small communities with training and support, major enablers like The Station can integrate them into the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem. This integration does not just benefit the communities; it extends the ecosystem's reach into previously untapped areas. When these communities are empowered and equipped with the right tools, they can act as regional hubs, fostering entrepreneurship at a grassroots level and expanding the borders of the ecosystem to include more businesses.
Envision a unified network of ecosystems across Iraq, offering tailored support beyond isolated hubs. Within this structure, businesses, irrespective of location, gain access to resources and mentorship. Information flows effortlessly, promoting the swift adaptation of best practices. This ecosystem becomes a wellspring of shared knowledge, leveling the playing field for all startups and small businesses.
The expansion of the entrepreneurial ecosystem transcends the realm of startups. It is about economic revitalization, diversification, and resilience. We are not merely paving the way for entrepreneurial success. We are laying the foundation for a robust, diversified economy, poised to face challenges and chart a course toward sustainable prosperity for Iraq.