TechWadi Eyes Start-Up Potential

Google’s Sharif El-Badawi sees signs of a tech eco-system forming in the region—and Jordan is right at the heart of it.

By Camilla Caraccio

When he’s not spotting and nurturing talent in his role as a partner lead to VCs and startups at Google, Sharif El-Badawi finds time to be the head mentor of TechWadi, a US-based non-profit that aims to forge links between the Middle East’s budding tech scene and Silicon Valley.

He recently joined a group of seasoned international tech professionals on a TechWadi roadshow of major Middle Eastern cities, where they shared advice and insights with promising young startups. El-Badawi said he was buoyed by what he saw during the 10-day tour, and was particularly impressed by how Amman was progressing as a regional tech leader.

Amman has been ranked the tenth best place in the world to set up a tech company. What are the major implications of Jordan’s thriving tech landscape for the broader region?

Jordan stands to be a leading example for the region, primarily due to the availability of technical and creative entrepreneurs working in a small, well-supported ecosystem. The founders I meet in Jordan generally don’t need much bringing up to speed and are determined entrepreneurs. The Internet tech scene started earlier compared to the region and has the distinct advantage of having roots in technology, with support from its leadership and serial entrepreneurs. That said, the region is catching up fast.

How important is the role of entrepreneurial mentorship groups like TechWadi to early-stage companies looking for strategic business insights?

Mentorship programs are an excellent way for founders to learn and be supported by others, adopt structure, validate their ideas, get feedback, and all sorts of other intangibles that help them find their way and expand their network.

The US tech scene encourages entrepreneurs to fail and take risks. Is this culture starting to take route in Jordan?

Startup culture may have originated in Silicon Valley, but it’s taken on a life in every corner of the world. Even in the United States, this culture is making its way into larger corporations, nonprofits, and civic projects. We’ve seen a model that focuses on innovation, trial and error, and thinking beyond the incremental and obvious, to be the one that works in good and bad economies, mature and emerging markets, leading to exponential growth in revenue, socioeconomic status, and job creation.
It takes grit and guts to think you can change the status quo, to stick through it and build something that makes people’s lives better.

How do you think young entrepreneurs can overcome the burden of funding?

Despite some remaining gaps, the funding scene is rapidly improving through the creation of several new funds in the region, as well as an unprecedented increase in foreign investment from Europe, Asia, and the United States. We’re also starting to see a small increase in exits, or liquidity events, that generate returns for investors.
Ensuring that your startup can make it to the next milestone is paramount for a founder. They need to be structured in their fundraising efforts, keeping track of conversations, making a target list of potential investors, prioritizing these targets and keeping diligent notes on the connections and feedback. Competitions, incubators, accelerators, grants, friends and family, and angel groups are all ways to piece together seed financing. Bringing awareness to what you’re doing and acting on the feedback to improve your value proposition are key ways to figure out what you need to do next in order to get to the following funding round.