x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Start-up support network launched

Regional internet entrepreneurs have created an organisation designed to bring together crucial elements of business success.

The founders of three successful start-up internet businesses have created an organisation devoted to supporting technology entrepreneurs in the Middle East. YallaStartup will act as a support network, linking entrepreneurs with venture capitalists, advisers, lawyers and others needed to get their businesses off the ground. Its founders say such support is sorely lacking across the Middle East.

"An entrepreneur with an idea or a prototype should be exposed to a large set of investors and should be able to find not only investors to fund their project, but people who can add value to improve their chances for success," said Elie Khoury, the co-founder of Woopra, an application that helps web publishers monitor traffic. Mr Khoury developed Woopra while studying at a university in Lebanon, and has since found funding and support for the company from a US investor. But he said the lack of support networks such as YallaStartup put his company at a disadvantage to others in better developed markets.

"What we have done in three years could have been done in one year," he said. "Young entrepreneurs need help connecting with the right people, and we need more success stories to encourage young people to innovate, start businesses and succeed. The most important goal is to create an ecosystem in the region." Another member of the team launching YallaStartup is Habib Haddad, the founder of Yamli, an online resource that helps Arabic speakers use the internet. "The Middle East has the talent, the money, the problems to solve - and therefore the opportunities - and the expertise," he said. "We just need to put the pieces together."

The third member of the team is Sami Shalabi, a Jordanian whose online mobile applications business was acquired by Google in 2007. Mr Shalabi has since been a senior engineer at Google, where he was a co-founder of Google Friend Connect, a popular service that lets website publishers add social networking features to their sites. While governments across the region have identified the development of entrepreneurship and knowledge-based industries as national priorities, there remains a lack of support for start-up companies, entrepreneurs and investors say.

Just a handful of funds exist to invest in small technology businesses, and even fewer are willing to provide seed funding, the small, early investments needed to get a business started. Also in short supply are mentors and advisers who help young, inexperienced technology graduates navigate complex business environments. @Email:tgara@thenational.ae