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Jordan seeks to nurture IT talent

22 октября 2009

A string of successes in its information technology sector has prompted Jordan to set up a special fund to help start-ups with finance and logistics.

The initiative is meant to build on recent achievements such as the acquisition of Maktoob, an internet portal, by Yahoo and a European prize for best internet start-up awarded to Talasim.com, a social networking site based on comedy.

Marwan Juma, the head of Intaj, Jordan’s IT association, says that this month King Abdallah asked his organisation to produce a business plan for the fund before the end of the year, to start operating in 2010.

The request followed a meeting between the king, who takes a hands-on interest in the sector, and Jordan’s main IT players. The country is relatively poor in natural resources and hopes to make education and technology a focus for development.

“The idea is to set up a fund that will be funded by local resources, a combination of banks, maybe some government participation and we’ll talk to the major players who have invested in Jordan, the Microsofts and the Yahoos of the world,” says Mr Juma.

In August, Yahoo acquired Maktoob, an Arabic language portal. In a related field, another Jordanian success story is Rubicon, the region’s largest digital animation studio, in which GrowthGate Capital, a Gulf buy-out firm, bought a 30 per cent stake this month. Each deal was reported to be worth tens of millions of dollars for companies that were built from scratch in Jordan.

The country’s IT sector has grown from turning over barely $100m in 1999 to more than $900m this year, says Mr Juma. If telecommunications is included, the ICT sector is worth $2.5bn, or 12 per cent of gross domestic product, according to his figures.

Exports last year were some $200m and Mr Jumah says 85 per cent of that comprises high value added products.

Yarub Qudah, who heads the government’s Jordanian Enterprise Development Corporation (JEDCO), says the success has been achieved despite a lack of concerted action to aid IT. “For the last 10 years, the support was there but it was not up to the expectations and the real need of the IT sector in Jordan,” he says.

More capital is needed for a “breakthrough”, he says. “Real support that we are providing is really minimal compared to other countries in the region and in the world.”

The new Jordanian fund will not only give seed money to start-ups or capital for expansion to more established companies, it should also provide assistance in marketing and administration, says Mr Juma. “A lot of these companies don’t fail on the IT side.”

Even more ambitiously, the initiative is aimed at changing the country’s investment culture.

“One thing that requires long-term work is changing the culture in Jordan, which is not conducive to investment in IT,” says Mr Juma. When people think of investing, they often think of real estate, he explains. Education also has to be strengthened, he says.

The initiative should also highlight existing resources in the country. Among these resources are JEDCO and the Queen Rania Centre for Entrepreneurship.

The latter was particularly helpful to Talasim, says Sabri Hakim, the company’s co-founder. The start-up won a Google-sponsored award of $10,000 from the centre last year, before going on to win €50,000 ($74,800) from the European Seedcamp competition last month.

Mr Hakim says he and his partner “take comedy truly very seriously” but they have not lost sight of the business side.

“We have monetised everything we have. We sell our photos and articles to newspapers and magazines; we have a radio show; we sell our content to television stations; we have mobile channels; we also do scripts for short comedy sketches – there are lots of ways,” says Mr Hakim.

The company, which is barely three years old, is now valued at more than $1m, he says.

The Queen Rania Centre has organised annual competitions for technology businesses for four years. Each year, 10 are awarded modest cash prizes and also helped with finding investors, public relations, marketing outside Jordan and other services, says Hussein al-Natsheh, technology commercialisation manager.

While more seed money is needed in Jordan, he says the eight technology incubators in the country help reduce start-up costs and the sums required are relatively small.

He estimates the success rate for companies supported by the centre is about 30 per cent, based on market valuation and number of employees.

“These success stories really motivate young people. And we run a lot of seminars, network events with entrepreneurs and students. So the awareness and the motivation has been increasing over the past few years,” says Mr Natsheh.


Источник: Financial Times

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