Photo Credit: Startup Weekend Gaza
It’s hard to believe, but just two months ago, at least 20 of the female participants in this year’s Startup Weekend Gaza had never heard of a startup. Fast-forward to June 19: 36 of the 71 pitches presented were made by women, with many of the top ideas coming from the newest entrepreneurs.
At Saturday’s award ceremony, a team led by 14-year-old Eyas took second place, for Fun Labs, a web-based game that teaches science, and judges awarded a special prize to 16-year-ld Sofiyia for a community that supports young mothers. Best women’s team went to Bizra, a community for home gardeners, while Lilac, an interior design program, took first prize overall.
A testament to their intense commitment—one woman even brought her baby to the pre-event training sessions—participants’ rapid strides mirror the growth of the competition itself. Launched in 2013 by Google, Mercy Corps and several other partners, this year’s edition received nearly double the number of applicants, up to over 650 from 350, and with a whopping 150 chosen to take part.
The main difference, says Iliana Montauk, director of startup accelerator Gaza Sky Geeks, is that after last year’s event, “startups in Gaza received investment for the first time ever, so people now see [a startup] as something they can actually achieve—and regionally, investors see Gazans as representing the top talent.”
Being based in Gaza poses its own difficulties, with lack of access to markets topping the list. But travel restrictions which make it easier for women to travel than men mean female techies are invaluable members of startups looking to network regionally and internationally.