January 30, 2012

Nurturing competition in west bank

After hosting a string of successful regional Business Plan Competitions at four universities in the Palestinian Territories, SPARK’s partner organisation at Birzeit University has begun reaching out to young entrepreneurs on the national level.

On 5 December 2011, the Najjad Zeenni IT Center of Excellence at Birzeit University (CoE), along with SPARK and SPARK Cooperation partner BiD Network, awarded the best of 69 total participating business plans in the National Business Plan Competition 2011. More than 50 people attended the final ceremony at Birzeit University, to hear about the top three winning young enterprises.

Speaking to the spread of entrepreneurialism in Palestine, Ibrahim H. Abu Kteish, Director of the CoE at Birzeit states: “We are hoping to transform university campuses into active entrepreneurial environments in which talented students, graduates, alumni and faculty members are given the chance to jump-start their own ventures and to receive business support services in order to grow them and make them sustainable.”

Conflict in the Palestinian Territories has had a severe impact on their economic development. Many young, educated Palestinians are out of work, with few prospects and much frustration, which is nurturing ground for conflict. SPARK, by offering training, coaching and fiscal support to engaged partners, like the CoE at Birzeit University, works together with its partners to help ambitious young Palestinians develop business plans to carry themselves forward. As the plans develop (winning awards and support sometimes along the way), they help stimulate an entrepreneurial climate within the West Bank and Gaza, contributing to economic growth in the region.

“Creating new ventures translates into increased job creation opportunities,” emphasises Abu Kteish of CoE. “The nationwide deployment of the [Business Plan Competition] programme will help tackle graduate unemployment and will assist in building and sustaining a venture capitalist ecosystem in Palestine.”

Ayman Arandi (Computer Engineer) won first place in the National Business Plan Competition, along with hours of business consultancy from the CoE, 5000 euros, judges’ feedback, and the recognition he says he needs to get his young business Marhaba Palestine off on the right track.

Marhaba, which means “hello” in Arabic, is an application designed for smart phones and tablets aimed to help tourists, leading them to maps, Palestinian music, Arabic language help, events, and other information and entertainment. “Tourism is able to generate good income [for] Palestine, if it’s utilized right, and help to develop people’s lives and build a better image to Palestine throughout the world,” says Arandi. “I truly wish the Marhaba Palestine will push tourism in Palestine, allowing the tourists to get clearer and more beautiful image of our beloved country, and help them discover Palestine, love it, and tell other people about it.”

Arandi is also a winner of the SPARK-CoE 2010 Business Plan Competition, for his business Iris Interactive Solutions.

The National Business Plan Competition follows four 2011 summer competitions organised by the CoE in partnership with three universities within their network (Palestine Polytechnic University, Al-Quds University and Arab American University Jenin). The CoE guided the universities in carrying out their own Business Plan Competitions, all of which were financially supported by SPARK. Entrants of the 2011 National Competition also relied on skills gained from SPARK trainings, including business plan writing.