In summer of 2017 we decided to support Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG). A start-up hub, incubator, accelerator and community centre for coders or learners of code in Gaza. Gaza Sky Geeks was founded in 2011 in partnership with Google and Mercy Corps.
The idea came about because Gaza has a highly educated population however because their boarders are closed there are extremely high levels of unemployment. Mercy Corps and Google came up with the idea to train Gazans who were interested skills to get them employment online since this isn’t blocked. Mercy Corps and Google created a software development safe space and promoted it a lot towards women to encourage them to join also. They have different areas, a co-working space, facebook developer circle, behance portfolio review, Zain internships, data science club and techcamp Ramallah. They also have three key programmes that they run, Code Academy, International Mentorship and finally Women Inclusivity initiative.
The GSG co-working space can support 300 devices and has a generator allowing it to run 6 days a week (Gaza often doesn’t have electricity because of its political climate). This year 2018 they are also planning to extend their opening hours. They are also adding activities to involve more of the public such as coding for everyone. They also interviewed the people attending and found that most of the participants who worked here were willing to pay. They are planning to expand this co-working space and charge users. This means its operation costs will become covered by users thus making the space self-sufficient.
GSG has created Facebook Developer Circles, a way to connect any of their programmers or programmers in Gaza to facebooks platform to help grow their business. They are planning to form a partnership with Facebook this year (2018) to provide extra developer support to GSG.
Behance Portfolio Review is an GSG organised event where designers and digital artists can share their experience and knowledge. Behance is an Adobe-owned network of websites and services specialising in professional self-promotion, consulting and online portfolio sites.
GSG secured different tech company internships, one it piloted was with a developer internship programme with Zain, a regional mobile telecommunications company in Amman that operates in 8 countries and has over 45million users. Another internships GSG has secured is with Careem a taxi-hailing company Careem based in Dubai, Uber of the middle east operating out of 53 cities. Careem will take 6 interns with their engineer team in Berlin.
TechCamp Ramallah, GSG supported US state department TechCamps, it provides university students with critical thinking. Improves link between students and businesses by having students develop tech solutions to pressing business problems.
GSG Code Academy
GSG launched a Code Academy in January 2017 in partnership with UK-based coding bootcamp, Founders & Coders International (FAC). FAC Alumni come to GSG and teach a curriculum, test-driven development, project-based learning, prototype development and much more. The Coding Academy also got the participants to work in groups, work with clients and manage the lifecycle of a software product’s development. The students have developed interesting apps such as a Ride-sharing app for international NGO staff to optimize transportation between Gaza and Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Code Academy was set up also to try and make sure it will become self-sufficient and run by local graduates of the programme. They have recently hired one of their graduates who will start working there as a teacher.
GSG created a ten-week freelancing mentorship programme. This is a programme for young people who already have web development, graphic design, translation, social media, and front-end web development skills so they can become successful freelancers.
The mentorship sessions help the mentees build competitive online freelance profiles, learn social media marketing and learn professional English. There were 1300 applicants in 2017, with 72 chosen for mentorship and 62 successfully completed the programme.
The Freelance Academy also has a 10-week technical skill training programme to equip unskilled youth with market-driven technical skills, such as wordpress, front-end development and android development. The technical topics were chosen from freelance platforms such as upwork, freelancer and peopleperhour. Graduates from the technical training were invited to the mentorship programme. 1,124 applicants applied and 68 people completed the programme.
Startup Incubation and Acceleration
10 startups were selected to transform their ideas into prototypes and get their first paying customers. After this the companies were narrowed down to five companies: Momyhelper, Tashbeak, VidMass, Baskalet and Mockapp.
These five startups were introduced to institutional and angel investors in Palestine. The CEO of each startup was allowed to travel to participate in two entrepreneurship conferences, MENA Angel Investor Summit in Bahrain and Startup Istanbul. The CEOs were able to pitch to the investors, access high-quality mentorship from influential entrepreneurs and get media exposure. One of Gaza Sky Geek CEOs won second place at Startup Istanbul out of over 100 invited startups from across the MENA region. $15,122USD was raised to allow for these CEOs to travel through crowdfunding campaigns from contributors around the world. The five startups all able to raise funds and get investments at these events.
GSG has a great network of international mentors who come to Gaza on a volunteer basis and spend time at GSG co-working space.
International mentors come and provide professional development, an international and professional advice and perspective. The mentors led workshops for the GSG and general public. These workshops included topics such as “Top Startup mistakes and how to fix them” and Managing technical product development.
This is a great opportunity for local Gazans to get international help and learn from experienced players.
GSG also created Tech Girls’ Circle, a weekly two-hour meetup where women from the Code Academy give workshops to women in the GSG community on technical topics and provide extra office hours for current students. There are 15 attendees to Tech Girls’ Circle per week on average.
GSG also runs a year-long business mentorship with the help of Cherie Blair Foundation.
GSG are doing really well, their startup incubation and acceleration programme is doing really well with all their companies receiving funding when going to pitch at MENA summits, their mentorship programme has proved to be extremely successful as well and they have been able to create an inclusive welcoming environment for women. Finally they have also been able to create a freelance Academy and Code Academy, with some students going back to teach at the Code Academy. Finally to find out more check out Gaza Sky Geeks.