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Iraq's first 'Tech-Entrepreneurship Academy' to launch in Erbil

By A.C. Robinson 9/8/2018
People gather at a tech event in the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Re:Coded FB
People gather at a tech event in the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Re:Coded FB
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – For the first program of its type in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, Re:Coded teamed up with the UK:MENA HUB to create a workshop in Erbil which will provide aspiring tech entrepreneurs with an opportunity to turn their ideas into viable technology-based startups and a chance to work with mentors from the United Kingdom.

"This is a program that specifically focuses on technology-based businesses," Zahra Shah, Re:Coded Iraq's Program Manager told Rudaw English on Thursday.

"We are focusing on these youth who have all of these ideas but just don't know where to start, how to turn the idea into a prototype, into a fully functioning business generating revenue," Shah said. 

She added that the program will teach students how to use the Business Model Canvas, identify market gaps, and identify customers.

The Tech-Entrepreneurship Academy, a four-week training program beginning in early September, will be taught by experienced instructors who will travel to Erbil from the United Kingdom.

The program will be offered free to eligible candidates, those who have a strong command of the English language. Teams of 2-5 people are encouraged to apply with their tech-business ideas, although solo entrepreneurs will also be considered.

"We're encouraging applications from teams because we want to highlight the power of collaboration and foster teamwork," Shah said. "We also know that in the startup world, strong teams are often more successful."

She said the goal was to bring in 25 students but more may be accepted if there are strong candidates.

Shah also explained that participants who are accepted into the intensive program must believe in their idea and understand that they will be learning a lot of new information, and their ideas could change upon further research and training.

"They'll figure out that actually what they thought was going to be a best seller isn't really wanted by consumers or the local community," she said. "And that's fine, it's all about learning and adjusting and this is a core part of our training because if you're a technology-based startup, you have to be agile, you have to always change dependent on the needs of your customer."

While Re:Coded usually targets potential students between the ages of 17 and 30 years old in all of their programs, Shah said they "always make exceptions for anyone who shows remarkable ambition."

Once the program is completed, each participating team will walk away with an “MVP” and at least two businesses will be eligible for funding. UK:MENA HUB will work with the startups long-term to "link them with investment and growth opportunities in the UK ecosystem and beyond." 

Co-Founder of Re:Coded, Marcello Bonatto stated in a press release earlier this week that, "We not only wanted to provide training to Iraqi youth in becoming entrepreneurs but also turn their ideas into actual businesses. It's important for us to show that tech-businesses are a viable future for the youth in Iraq."

Tom Strodtbeck, Co-Founder of UK:MENA HUB said in the press release, "We're very excited to be working with Re:Coded on this exciting programme. We're bringing together the connectivity at the heart of UK:MENA HUB with the amazing Re:Coded network to give some of the brightest startup talent in Iraq the chance to shine.

"We want these entrepreneurs to become leaders in their community and drive these countries forward through technology as they rebuild.”

UK:MENA HUB is a London-based growth incubator for startup tech companies from the UK, Middle East and North Africa.

Re:Coded is a non-profit humanitarian organization working to provide a variety of technology-based workshops and training to conflict affected youth.

Applications for the Tech-Entrepreneurship Academy are being accepted by Re:Coded through August 25. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a "matchmaking" weekend including training and a chance to pitch their ideas on August 31 and September 1.

Classes will begin on September 2 and run through September 29 at the Re:Coded headquarters in Erbil daily between Sunday and Thursday. A Demo Day event will be held on September 29 with the location yet to be confirmed.

Shah also told Rudaw English that a stipend will be provided to eligible students to cover travel expenses so that they don't miss out on a chance to participate in the program.

"I really want the youth in Kurdistan and Iraq to take advantage of this opportunity," Shah said. "This is a chance for youth to build their own future and create jobs rather than wait to be given jobs."

The Tech-Entrepreneurship Academy in Erbil will be funded by GIZ, a German development agency in cooperation and support from the German government.

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