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Milan Meets Gaza

When I was first introduced to Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), a program that supports entrepreneurship in Gaza, I had little to no insight into the entrepreneurial ecosystem there. I come from a venture capital background and have been involved with a number of tech investment firms and accelerators in Silicon Valley, but Gaza was a region I had no experience with.

Gaza Sky Geeks is an initiative of Mercy Corps, an NGO that started working to increase entrepreneurship in the West Bank back in 2011 by awarding grants to top potential startup founders sourced from entrepreneurial events. Since then, Mercy Corps has helped launch a startup hub (eZone) and accelerator (FastForward) that have supported several partners such as Sadara Ventures (a VC fund started by an Israeli and a Palestinian), Arabreneur (an accelerator that works closely with the Microsoft Accelerator in Herzliya) and startups such as Yamsafer that recently raised $3.5M in Series B funding.

I was officially intrigued by GSG, and wanted to help support an evolving community of passionate individuals in a region that doesn’t always get recognized.

I was surprised when I discovered that there was a high amount of education completion in the region, yet the unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the Middle East.

That’s where programs like Gaza Sky Geeks come into play. Provided the right mentorship and resources, talented entrepreneurs from the Gaza region will be able to emerge and build scalable businesses that can make a positive global impact. Just imagine the possible economic impact possible to the region!

Gaza Sky Geeks cooperates with organizations such as Google Campus Tel Aviv, Microsoft Accelerator, Cisco, Coca Cola Accelerator, Aleph Ventures, and many other partners. This coalition of effort aims to help build a vibrant community to foster innovation and has started an accelerator program that connects top teams to global resources. All with the mission to transform Gaza’s most talented youth into the Middle East’s business leaders of tomorrow.

img_3998_1024I connected with the Gaza Sky Geeks team in November 2015 and told them about AngelHack’s HACKcelerator that I run; how we accelerate founding teams from concept-stage to viable startup within three months and our recent success stories (2 Google Acquisitions in 12 months and 1 BOX Acquisition in 2015).

By the end of this initial phone conversation, the overlap and clear mutual benefit between our two programs had become clear. There was also a clear need for increased mentorship, which, with my extensive experience in the Silicon Valley startup world, led to a partnership which would see my brought on as a key mentor for their second round of acceleration.

That brings us to today.

After I learned more about the region and both organizations, I knew that I wanted to be part of this movement that helps bridge the gap between Gaza and Silicon Valley.

After spending the weekend in Tel Aviv, I can’t wait to begin this partnership with the Mercy Corps in Gaza, where I will remain for three days mentoring GSG accelerator members on topics including user acquisition, growth hacking, and fundraising.

I’m hoping to provide a lot of value to the entrepreneurs on the ground in Gaza. Aside from running a few workshops, I am meeting with eight startups to work on their pitches, and do a deep-dive into their business concept. It’s often an outside perspective that can really make a difference, and I hope I can be that perspective.

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It’s always been a personal goal of mine to try and help foster innovation in regions with limited access to Silicon Valley-level resources, so it’s been an honor being asked to participate in this program which places me in the esteemed company of people like Dave McClure. I’m honored and excited to see what comes from this region. And I hope others will be inspired to contribute what they can, so we can all see this region grow on an entrepreneurial level.

 

 

Stay tuned!


 

Milan Koch

Written by: Rachel Katz

rachel@angelhack.com

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