By Safa Fadhil, Head of Exploration and Sundus Abass, Gender Advisor at UNDP Iraq. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council (UNSCR) Resolution 1325, which helps to ensure women are on the frontlines of achieving stability and peace in Iraq.

With this in mind, UNDP Iraq’s  Accelerator Lab and Gender Division partnered with French Embassy in Iraq, Ambassade de France en Irak, The Station for entrepreneurship, Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie , Zain Iraq Telecommunications Company, and Ashur Private Bank on a competition to support Iraqi women entrepreneurs.

The Raa’idat Competition encourages women to develop and grow their own enterprises. Despite the financial stress and anxiety resulting from the outbreak of Coronavirus in Iraq, the initiative captured the enthusiasm of Iraqi women keen to expand their business know-how.

To start, leaders from 20 entrepreneurial projects participated in training courses related to business planning and management, and other relevant topics prescribed by telecommunications company Zain Iraq. Seventeen projects progressed to the next stage of the competition, with leaders participating in financial budgeting training undertaken by UNDP Iraq’s Accelerator Lab.

The competition is ongoing – from these seventeen, five finalists will be selected, and then one overall winner, who will receive $ 10,000 in the form of a six-month incubation period, consultant support, recruitment costs, and purchasing specific equipment for its development. Cash prizes will also be awarded.

UNDP Iraq’s training offered participants a holistic approach to women’s economic empowerment, defining it as ‘a process whereby women’s and girls’ lives are transformed from a situation where they have limited power and access to economic assets, to a situation where they experience economic advancement’. In addition, it underlined the factors that enable and constrain women’s economic empowerment, while using the Design Thinking and Behavioral Insight methodologies to guide the work.

UNDP Iraq provided expertise to highlight the importance of women’s economic empowerment and financial budgeting techniques to enable women entrepreneurs to effectively compete in the market. The training was conducted virtually and used a combination of interactive methods to deliver the target. The Accelerator Lab in Iraq used a human-centered approach to structure the training material, commencing with a needs-assessment session before planning the three lectures that followed.

The competition was integral to amplifying women’s voices. “I want to prove myself; I do exist, and I have the right to participate in my country’s economic empowerment,” says participant Nadia. For UNDP, this sentiment sits at the heart of the organization’s work.

it also enhanced the Accelerator Lab’s mandate in fostering collaborations with local and international partners to solve the issues of tunnel-vision employment experienced in Iraq, – i.e, pressures placed on young people to attain certain jobs. The competition also led to the discovery of 17 new, local, under-the-radar solutions and opened the door to experimenting with them.

To ensure the sustainability of the project, The Accelerator Lab in Iraq will be part of the training and competition evaluation that will take place after COVID-19. This will ensure the empowerment of women is prioritized alongside sensing and exploring innovative local solutions.

(Source: UNDP)

In Iraq, a country most recognized for its oil production, it’s the micro – small – and medium-enterprises (MSMEs) that bring life and colour to the streets. Despite being the ‘small’ players in business, the private sector (excluding oil) accounts for close to 60% of employment, with MSMEs active in the widest range of sectors and with the greatest opportunities for youth.

In Basra City and Al-Qurna, two cities in the largest oil producing region in the nation, the unemployment rate has risen to at least 30% in recent years. Largely attributed to the lack of government employment opportunities and the skills mismatch of the growing youth demographic, investment in micro- small- and medium-enterprises is bringing new hope and opportunities for economic development.

Since mid-2019, the United Nations Development Programming (UNDP), in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), has provided targeted support to 319 new and established MSMEs across Basra City and Al-Qurna through business development training and cash-grants. The training worked to build skills that would enable enterprise growth, such as finance and accounting, marketing, human resources and employment management, as well as soft skills such as communication, leadership, negotiation skills, decision making and problem solving.

“I learned the importance of good leadership,” says Labieb, 57, father-of-5 and owner of a cherry and nuts store in Basra City. “I also learned how to best deal with customers and be part of a team.” Following completion of his training and receiving his cash-grant, Labieb was able to hire an additional staff member to manage increased stock and customers and enjoyed a 15% increase in profits.

But like most other cities around the world, the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 was also felt in Basra and Al-Qurna. Businesses took all precaution to prevent the spread of the virus, ensuring the safety of both staff and customers by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and adhering to the government curfews, with limited operating hours. By demonstrating solidarity, these business owners were not only able to continue making a livelihood for themselves and their employees, but to set an example for the community.

“As a business owner, I am empowered to build something successful – that I created the plan for, and that enables me to give back to the community,” explains Hisham, 40, father-of-2 and owner of a small five-a-side football stadium in Abu Al-Khaseeb.

For Kawthar and Jenan, both mothers-of-five and owners of successful beauty salons in Basra and Al-Qurna respectively, hygiene and care are always a big part of their daily work. “After receiving the grant, I was able to hire three new staff members and saw my profits increase by 40% – this is because I put together a good business plan, but also because we take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and others safe,” says Kawther.

MSMEs continue to face challenges to their growth during COVID-19 pandemic, limiting their capacity to hire additional employees, but with the recognition and support they need, could MSMEs be the way forward for economic growth in Iraq?

Sustainable livelihoods through small business development and job placement in Basra

Together with NRC, and generous funding support from the Government of Japan, UNDP has supported 319 MSMEs through training and cash-grants and placed 125 individuals in jobs through private sector partnerships, since mid-2019.

(Source: UNDP)

By Fatimah Oleiwi, for Iraqi Innovators. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

People face many situations in life. Some are positive and bring us joy, whilst others carry challenges that make us realise things we did not before.

Some situations can be more difficult to accept than others. However, the perceived difficulty of any situation depends on that person’s personal experiences and outlook.

Though some may find quarantine to be extremely tough, others may be enjoying the time they have at home.

Coronavirus in Iraq and across the world has given us a collective experience that will make us rethink our approach to difficult situations and how we must adjust.

Click here to download the full report

(Source: Iraqi Innovators)

By Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Co-Founders of Five One Labs. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s Startups will Overcome Coronavirus – And Be More Important Than Ever

Over the past months, coronavirus has changed the world as we know it. Almost every person’s family, community, and livelihood has been affected. Societies have had to adapt to social distancing, and economies have suffered the consequences.

After forecasting that the world’s economy would contract by 3% in 2020 – the worst downturn since the Great Depression – the Chief Economist at the IMF noted, “The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes.

As is happening across the world, startups in Iraq are suffering from the ripple effects of coronavirus and the country-wide lockdown, which, in Iraq, has included closing all non-essential businesses and restricting movement between and within cities. At the beginning of April, Five One Labs sent out a survey to all of our alumni, startups that have graduated from our full-time startup incubators, and community  to see how they were affected by coronavirus.

Out of the over 40 startups that responded, close to 60% of them were experiencing challenges with financing their businesses and funding delays. Another 60% were not able to sell or deliver their product because of the lockdowns, and around 40% responded that they either could not get the materials to make their products anymore or the demand for their products had suffered due to the lockdown and subsequent economic downturn.

In response to the needs of our entrepreneurs, Five One Labs recently published our “Startup Survival Kit: Rebuilding After Corona.” The guide has resources and tools for managing a startup through crisis, but also has case studies and lessons learned from other startups in Iraq in terms of how they’re adapting to the situation.

As the case studies in the Survival Kit and our recent Facebook Live interviews have shown, there’s no end to the resilience of Iraqi entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are buckling down and doing what needs to be done to survive: 50% have reduced non-staff expenditures, and 10% laid off staff or reduced salaries to make ends meet. Entrepreneurs are reporting that they’re spending more time communicating with their customers, learning new skills, and working on building out their strategy for the future.

With the lockdown also came an increased demand for delivery and app-based services. In Kurdistan, startups like CharaPlus in Sulaimani (a pharmacy-delivery service) or Tdallal in Erbil (grocery delivery) are experiencing a growth in demand. On-demand delivery service Lezzoo added new features, like delivery of water, gas, and groceries from Carrefour in both Sulaimani and Erbil. With even local governments sharing information about grocery delivery services to encourage their use, the lockdown has introduced a larger part of the population to e-commerce. This shift could have a lasting impact on the success of tech startups moving forward.

What we’ve seen in Iraq is that startups here are built to weather crisis and fluctuation. Many startups have approached growth as “camels,” a new term coined to show a potentially smarter approach than the “unicorns” made famous in the Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs in Iraq grow sustainably, ensuring that their costs in general don’t exceed the revenue they’re bringing in. They make sure they have reserves on hand to adapt to the ups and downs of the economy, and they’re innovative in the face of obstacles.

This resilience after crises is more important now than ever. In Iraq, coronavirus comes on the heels of the economic hit caused by the global drop in oil prices along with growing regional instability. The coronavirus response has shown the ability of startups to adapt quickly to local challenges.

Moving forward, there’s a chance for startups to have an outsized impact on Iraq’s economy moving forward as they fill gaps in the market and help the country diversify its economy. So, to all the entrepreneurs out there – time to start rebuilding!

If you are interested in reading our Startup Survival Kit, you can find it here. Five One Labs published the Startup Survival Kit with the support of the German Federal Government through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. We will also be running a series of brainstorms and workshops for startups on how to rebuild after coronavirus. If you’re interested in joining one of the workshops, please email us at info@fiveonelabs.org.

___________

Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are provided with training; mentorship by world class entrepreneurs from the USA and the Middle East; and a community of creative changemakers to share their experiences with. 

Our vision is to develop an inclusive network of innovators and entrepreneurs that have the support, skills, and connections to positively change their communities and countries.

By John Lee.

The Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) has announced that the repayment of loans obtained under its ‘1 and 5 trillion dinars’ finance initiatives for small and medium size businesses (SMEs) will be suspended for three months.

According to a statement from the Government of Iraq, the move is an attempt to ease the financial burden caused by coronavirus (COVID-19).

(Source: Government of Iraq)

By John Lee.

Applications are open for Re:Coded’s Mosul Bootcamp, which starts on 4th April.

Everyone between 18-35 can apply for a full scholarship, which is taught in English and is free for those who are accepted.

Check the application form for more information or reach out to us via email at re-coded@re-coded.com.

The application deadline is 9th March.

More here.

(Source: Re:Coded)

A group of organizations supporting start-ups in Iraq have joined forces to create the Iraqi Innovation Alliance (IIA).

The initiative, which includes Fikra Space, Kapita, The Station, 51Labs, Basra Science Camp, and Re:Coded, aims to empower and support technology and entrepreneurship communities around the country.

The process to create its brand identity was led by CrazyTown X Solo Creative Studio, which worked together with the alliance members to present an identity that interprets the values of the alliance and its core functions.

(Source: IIA)

Roadmap to Startup Iraq, your guide to register a startup in Iraq. It is a guideline for every entrepreneur in Iraq to know how to register her/his startup legally and know from A to Z the requirements of registration.

It will show you why you need to register your startup, detailed road from reservation of the name to the memorandum of association and beyond. Contains addresses and contacts of the agencies shall be addressed during the road to registration.

KAPITA’s research team aimed to set things clear for those willing to legally register their projects by comprehensively stating every essential detail about this matter to come up with a simplified guide, that’s freely accessible, easy to understand and has all in-depth knowledge needed.

This guide is funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands and Orange Corners Baghdad, it has been written & proofread by professional researchers and experienced lawyers and it shall provide you with the information necessary to register your project in an obstacle-free & timely manner.

الطريق للمشاريع الناشئة في العراق, دليلك لتسجيل مشروعك الناشئ  في العراق. هي دليل اساسي لكل رائد اعمال عراقي ليعلم كيفية تسجيل المشروع الخاص به قانونياً و معرفة المتطلبات اللازمة للتسجيل من الألف الى الياء.

ستوضح لك خارطة الطريق اسباب حاجتك الى تسجيل مشروعك بشكل قانوني بدءً من حجز الاسم إلى مذكرة التأسيس وما بعدها. يحتوي على عناوين و جهات الاتصال للدوائر التي يجب مخاطبتها خلال طريق التسجيل.

يهدف فريق البحث في كابيتا لتوضيح خطوات التسجيل للراغبين في تسجيل شركاتهم عن طريق ذكر كل التفاصيل اللازمة حول هذه المسألة و إعداد َهذا الدليل المبسط ، والذي يمكن الحصول عليه مجاناً، والذي صمم بطريقة سهلة الفهم ، محتوياً على  جميع المعلومات المطلوبة.

هذا الدليل ممول من قبل السفارة الهولندية و اورنج كورنرز بغداد وتمت كتابته وتنقيحه من قبل باحثين مختصين ومحامين ذوي خبرة ، ونأمل أن يوفر لك جميع المعلومات اللازمة لتسجيل شركتك بدون عواقب وفي أنسب وقت.

Download Arabic Version

Download English Version

(Source: Kapita)

By Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Co-Founders of Five One Labs.

Investing in Iraq: Lessons Learned from 2 Startup Deals in 2019

2019 showed an exciting development for Iraq’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: the investments in two Iraqi tech startups – e-commerce company Miswag, which received investment from Iraq Tech Ventures, and Lezzoo, the first Iraqi startup to join Silicon Valley’s premier accelerator Y Combinator.

In October 2019 Five One Labs hosted its second delegation of regional and international investors to the Kurdistan Region to expand understanding of the Iraqi business environment and startup ecosystem; to build bridges between international and Iraq business communities; and to expose local entrepreneurs to global best practices.

Through conversations with both early- and growth-stage entrepreneurs and discussions with local businesses and government representatives, the group of 17 investors received first-hand information about the business environment and entrepreneurship ecosystem on the ground in Iraq.

We spoke with the investors from the trip and had conversations with Yadgar Merani, co-founder of Lezzoo, and Laura Olivier, Executive Director of Iraq Tech Ventures, to dive into key challenges and opportunities for investment in Iraq, from the investor and entrepreneur perspectives.

Iraq’s lack of market data and challenging regulatory environment make it hard for investors and entrepreneurs to agree on the level of risk and opportunity.

According to Merani, one of the main challenges Lezzoo faced when speaking to investors outside of Iraq was convincing them of the country’s market size and providing them with accurate answers to specific market-sizing questions. Obtaining accurate estimates of the market is of course important for investors as it impacts projections of cash flow and potential valuation.

While data on numbers of pharmacies or schools, for example, are publicly available in other countries, the lack of easily-accessible market data and the reluctance of certain government ministries to provide this data has forced entrepreneurs in Iraq to rely on assumptions when sizing the market. Merani says that while Lezzoo tried to gather this information from various ministries, the team was often told that the information Lezzoo was seeking was either unavailable or confidential.

Additionally, the lack of general understanding of the Iraqi market and the risks of investing in a post-conflict environment mean that entrepreneurs may need to provide potential investors with additional information — and this is a point that has been expressed by a number of Iraqi startups seeking to raise their seed rounds. Merani said that on multiple occasions when trying to raise funds in the US, he was repeatedly asked questions like, “What happens if the internet goes out in the whole country? What would you do?” And this uncertainty or concern over volatility in Iraq may result in lower valuations for startups.

This added scrutiny also extends to the investment itself. The syndicate of investors that invested in Miswag’s seed round (four angel investors and one institutional investor) experienced legal challenges from the outset. When trying to create a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for Miswag in the financial free zone Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), ADGM repeatedly asked for more documentation given the startup was incorporated in Iraq. After several months, the investors eventually decided to invest directly into Miswag’s bank accounts in Iraq rather than through this SPV.

Olivier of Iraq Tech Ventures also mentioned another challenge:

“One difficulty we experienced recently was that many of the investors’ transfers were heavily delayed due to banks needing extra documentation due to the scrutiny that goes into processing transfers to Iraq.”

However, local and regional investors are willing to put in the work, and entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge.

One of the Five One Labs investor trip participants, Anas Elayyan, said:

“Since inception, iMENA Group has been on the lookout for extraordinary founders and startups operating in under-served markets. The new wave of founders and entrepreneurs that we met in Iraq in the last few months are the real assets for Iraq’s future. Those entrepreneurs have been hustling in the system to mark a new digital era for Iraq. We, at iMENA Group, are very excited to be part of that era.” 

For Miswag, the success of the syndicate’s investment can likely be attributed in part to the fact that the investors were familiar with the market. Four of the five investors were Iraqis who work in Iraq but live outside of the country. Because of their knowledge of the operating environment, they were willing to invest directly rather than establishing an offshore entity.

Both on the investor and entrepreneur side, there are key innovators who are willing to take higher risks in order to show that high-growth startups can be built and grown in Iraq. “There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs in Iraq to take the lead,” Merani says, “because Iraq needs so much.

Looking ahead to 2020, we look forward to seeing more investments in Iraq’s tech startups and to welcoming another delegation of international investors to the Kurdistan Region later this year.

Please click here to download the full report in pdf format.

___________

Five One Labs is a start-up incubator that helps refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses in the Middle East. Launching first in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we aim to empower individuals to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to contribute to the economic growth of their communities.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are provided with training; mentorship by world class entrepreneurs from the USA and the Middle East; and a community of creative changemakers to share their experiences with. 

Our vision is to develop an inclusive network of innovators and entrepreneurs that have the support, skills, and connections to positively change their communities and countries.

By John Lee.

Forty-five start-ups have presented their projects to a jury at a competition in Baghdad.

They were selected from an initial list of 250 applicants, with a final 20 being chosen to participate in the Orange Corners incubation programme.

Orange Corners Baghdad is an initiative of the Dutch Embassy in Baghdad, and is implemented by the business company KAPITA.

(Source: Orange Corners)