Campaign En Route to Gaza’s First Coding Academy

Mohamad Salhab, Jan 11 2017

Incubator and co-working hub Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) launched the crowdfunding campaign #PowerUpGazaGeeks last month. The initial purpose was to raise $95,000 to be allocated to buying a generator and fuel which would help in extending the working hours to include evenings and weekends. Ten days later, the campaign far-exceeded the amount and this prompted GSG to extend the target to $400,000 with the intention to launch Gaza's first coding academy, facilitate 22 internships for Gazans in European and U.S. tech firms, and train high school girls to code.

The campaign that isthat is operated by international NGO Mercy Corps wasencouraged by international support for the emerging tech scene in Gaza. Eric Ries and Marc Benioff joined Paul Graham, Brad Feld, Dave McClure, Fadi Ghandour, Samih Toukan, Skoll Foundation, Freada Kapor Klein, and other leaders in tech in providing match donations. The #PowerUpGazaGeeks campaign will run until January 13th.

“We’re facing the worst energy crisis we’ve had in Gaza, with some homes getting as little as four hours of electricity each day,” said Said Hassan, GSG’s manager and a startup founder himself. “At the same time, our tech sector is gaining traction – startups are closing more investments and generating revenue. We need electricity and access to the internet so we can grow our companies further. We live in what is essentially a disaster zone, but with a good internet connection, we can build our future even here.”

Back in 2014, on the verge of shutting down due to lack of funding, GSG ran its first crowdfunding campaign, which became one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in the Arab world.  Since that time, GSG has developed into a leading emerging market tech hub, and the startup tech sector has picked up pace throughout the Palestinian Territories.

“Gazans are smart people working on ideas for companies,” said Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups and an advisory board member for GSG. “They deserve support and investment just like any other startup founder anywhere else in the world. To some extent, they have even more hustle because they’re working in such a tough environment. They may actually be some of the best entrepreneurs in the world.”

"When I was at Microsoft, I helped set up our outsourcing to the West Bank,” said Blaise Aguera y Arcas, Principal Scientist at Google, “My team was impressed with the talent of the Palestinians we worked with. I've always been struck by how isolated Palestinians are, and how much of an opportunity the tech sector presents for job creation in that environment."

GSG was voted by the Google for Entrepreneurs Partner Network as winners of the Google for Entrepreneurs’ citizenship award in 2014. It was also selected out of hundreds of organizations as one of the first four grantees of the Techstars Foundation, which provides grants and resources to organizations making a scalable impact in diversity in tech entrepreneurship. It is worth noting that GSG created more than 100 jobs and $91,000 in revenue via startups and freelancing and was accepted for into a startup bootcamp in Silicon Valley.

 

 

 

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