Jordan–the Middle East’s Axis of Innovation

Amman is making waves in the IT industry Photo credit: Trip.me

Amman is making waves in the IT industry
Photo credit: Trip.me

It’s no longer news that the Middle East has seen a surge in technology activity across the region. It’s almost important to remember though that the Middle East is not a homogeneous region (far from it!); technology innovation and adaption is taking place at different speeds and starting from different points across the region. So when we saw this piece in The Financial Times about the strengths and weakness of the Jordanian tech market, we were intrigued with its analysis at the country level, rather than the usual regional level.

As the author deftly notes, Jordan has carved out a niche “as a centre of IT, outsourcing and ‘Arabisation’, the translation and cultural adjustment of English-langauge media and web content.” That’s certainly something we see at WOMENA: over 10% of the companies we’ve looked at are currently based in Jordan with many more startups with Jordanian founders based out of Dubai or, on rare occasions, out of another MENA country. For a country of 6 million people in a region of 300 million plus people, that’s a phenomenal rate and attests to the level of entrepreneurship in Jordan.

Why have so many startups emerged from Jordan? There are multiple reasons and as the author alludes a well-educated population and supportive government are key among them. We think other key reasons are:
The network effects from Maktoob’s acquisition by Yahoo! (which we discussed here) and its hugely positive impact on Jordanian entrepreneurship
It’s geographic position right in the heart of the Middle East with good transport links
The lack of other opportunities in the country, as it has so few natural resources, push people to innovating on their own accord; its human resources are its most valuable and important resources

So what can Jordan do to make sure it remains a MENA tech hub? These are a few of our thoughts:
Make sure Jordan keeps on producing great startups for one! Jordan has built a reputation for impressive innovation and entrepreneurship and when the quality drops questions will begin to be asked
Increase investment in technology education from primary school all the way up to university
Break down the barriers for women to become entrepreneurs; there are some great female Jordanian entrepreneurs but they are outnumbered by men

What do you think? What can Jordan do to continue punching above its weight in MENA technology innovation?

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