My Salam

This ‘Google campus for Gaza’ is all about churning great startups

Gaza Sky Geeks

For a lot of people, Gaza continues to be one of the most conflict-ridden and isolated areas in the world. Now, a unique initiative within the city hopes to change that. 

When charity organisation Mercy Corps received a $900,000 grant from Google in 2011, it led to the creation of a tech hub right in the heart of the Gaza Strip: Gaza Sky Geeks. For the millions of young Palestinians uncertain about their future and living in near isolation from the rest of the world, this initiative also signalled the beginning of a new future.

“Mercy Corps, which had been working in Gaza for decades now, saw the kind of forced isolation that the people lived in and how it restricted their daily life. With the onset of high-quality Internet, there seemed [to be] a possibility to build a bridge for them to connect to the outside world,” said Ryan Sturgill, Director at Gaza Sky Geeks.

The humanitarian organisation went on to jointly work with members of Google’s new business development team on an initiative to educate people in Gaza on technology and entrepreneurship and to train them to earn income via the Internet. What started out as a vibrant co-working space soon became the area’s first and only startup accelerator in 2013, attracting the city’s brightest minds.

“The initial response to Gaza Sky Geeks was quite positive; our early efforts were focused on startup weekends and outreach programmes to spread awareness about tech entrepreneurship. These programmes have now become one of our biggest events, attracting about 1,000 applicants annually,” Ryan added.

Gaza Sky Geeks


The analogy that Ryan uses to describe the place is “Google campus for Gaza”; in other words, a space where people can learn and work, and which provides a big, open floor plan for training as well as programming. Startup incubation is a primary focus here: the core team spends months recruiting teams and incubating them from the idea stage, to making their product and getting it launched online, to their first seed investment, all so that the companies can continue to grow.

Gradually, the initiative also attracted a favourable international response, both in the form of investors from Europe and Jordan as well as a mentor network of about 300 tech professionals, software engineers and startup owners who now train and guide the teams via Skype and sometimes in person.

“Our core team is quite small: a full-time four-member team based in Gaza,” said Ryan, whose prior experience includes international entrepreneurship in emerging markets such as Afghanistan. “The bulk of our programmes are done by our mentors, who come in from Silicon Valley, Europe and the Middle East and do work pro bono, out of the interest to help these young Gazan entrepreneurs.”


Gaza Sky Geeks

With over one-quarter of the population in Gaza still living in poverty and an unemployment rate of more than 60 per cent among the youth, the Gaza Sky Geeks campus offers hope for the future.

Carpooling service startup Wasselni became one of Gaza Sky Geeks’ companies to receive investment. Other early-stage companies are still in incubation. These include Sabeel, which calls itself the “Foursquare for Muslims abroad” and shares halal food recommendations, and Walk and Charge, a device that charges your phone while you walk.

Meanwhile, Baskalat, a mobile game studio that develops games for iOS and Android platforms, has just been admitted into a Google-sponsored accelerator programme called Blackbox in Silicon Valley. But, Ryan noted, “only one of the five-member founding team finally got the permits to leave for the programme.” 

The Gaza Strip continues to be hotly debated in world forums, but this young cohort of coders, designers and programmers have resiliently taken charge of their future, and that spirit definitely merits applause.


Seed funding
Author Profile Image
Jethu Abraham