Rafat Abushaban is an author, speaker and advocate for startups in fragile environments. He is the founder of Riable: an online platform to help educate entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena), director of Startup Grind Gaza and member of the advisory board of SXSW Accelerator Pitch.
After one of the toughest and most devastating military operations against the Gaza Strip earlier this month, Gaza residents are now counting their losses. Two million people on the coastal strip that has been blocked for more than a decade experienced the most difficult moment during the eleven days of adversity. Some 240 died, including women and children, in addition to massive damage that has affected all aspects of Gaza Strip’s infrastructure. Power, water and wastewater lines were continuously focused, while the Internet and other essential services were cut off occasionally.
The region is no stranger to these atrocities, after three equally devastating wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014. What is different on this occasion was the size and amount of destruction of utilities, buildings, houses and businesses.
Gaza is often said to be home to the harshest environment for companies on the planet. But that was an understatement compared to what has been seen in recent weeks. With the bomb dust slowly fading, entrepreneurs have been assessing the damage to their businesses.
He The Gaza Business and Technology Incubator has conducted an initial survey to count the number of companies and business owners affected by this adversity and their call has received more than 1,100 responses from entrepreneurs, business owners and others . Its first survey shows that at least 25 startups were directly damaged and housed 243 employees, with 6 of them completely destroyed.
The impact on startups was huge
One of the startups affected was Tashkeel 3D, the first business to produce 3D printed materials used for medical and academic purposes. The business started as an idea to enable 3D printing of pieces for fans in Gaza and has grown to work with several local and regional organizations operating in the Strip, including Médecins Sans Frontières and the Glia Foundation. Prior to the bombing, the startup had developed a flagship medical mask for people with burns and a tourniquet to help lift injured limbs.
Upon hearing the news of the destruction of his office building, Tashkeel co-founder Mohammed Abu Matar said: “I was devastated by the news. I didn’t expect the damage and destruction to be so much. Now I’m going back to zero, but I’m going to keep this job not for me, but for the patients who are waiting for our products. “
Mohammed and the team have invested and received more than $ 100,000 in equipment and own resources over the past four years that they hope to replace with the help of the home community in neighboring countries. Check out their fundraising campaign here.
Mohammed Abu Matar shows off his new product (right) and the demolition of his office after the destruction (left). Credit: Tashkeel 3D team.
Another businessman who suffered is Motasem Mortaja, which he founded about a year ago Record media for filming and producing moving documentaries and graphics. During the bombing, the company’s new office along with $ 15,000 worth of equipment disappeared into the open air.
Although the bombing has been targeting educational establishments for years, AbdelRahman Awad, founder of Clever Toys, was devastated this time. Its start-up lost its five employees due to the destruction of its offices.
Clever Toys focused on creating interactive hardware educational games to help children better understand and learn the basics, electricity, and machinery. It had a wide clientele among several primary schools in the Gaza Strip.
“It’s hard to imagine investing all your energy and time during your start-up over the last few years and making it all disappear in a single second, until you experience it,” AbdelRahman said. “We are working to get our business back on track by rebuilding our equipment and offices with the help of friends and the community.”
Clever Toys has also launched an online funding campaign which you can check out here.
Children using the games of Clever Toys (right) and AbdulRahman Awad standing in the rubble of their startup after the destruction (left). Credit: Clever Toys team.
Peer collaboration and support was evident
Through all this destruction, the demands of grassroots youth activities to eliminate the rubble and help those affected throughout Gaza were evidenced.
The Business and Technology Incubator has offered shelter to all startups that have lost their offices and equipment until they can get back on their feet. Director Basel Qandeel said the incubator itself was damaged to some extent, but that it still has some offices and utilities to support troubled entrepreneurs.
The long-term impact of this adversity has not yet been seen, the challenges posed by the home ecosystem in Gaza and its supporters are increasing, as well as the support and attention it is receiving. Only time will tell if these entrepreneurs will be able to get out of the ashes again.