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Building an IT startup on the Gaza Strip isn't simple: electricity is sporadic, there is no 3G network. You can sell your product outside Gaza's tightly controlled borders, but it can be difficult to move the money back into Gaza. Nonetheless, half a dozen entrepreneurs from Gaza recently pitched their ideas for consideration in a unique program, one that could catapult their businesses into the global marketplace.
NPR's Emily Harris reports.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Lina Shamia is a soccer fan. Real Madrid is her favorite team, and she and friends gather at a cafe or apartment in Gaza City to watch televised games whenever they can. She noticed that a lot of people in Gaza do the same.
LINA SHAMIA: After the end of the game, they have a social talk, discussing the game itself and analyzing it, and sharing their opinions of it. So we thought about translating this idea into an online world.
HARRIS: Specifically, an online social network centered around sports. Lina co-founded Datrios, a Gaza startup that just won $14,000 in seed funding from Oasis500, a Jordanian firm. Salwa Katkhuda is Oasis' investment manager.
SALWA KATKHUDA: There are several sports networks. But this specific company has certain unique selling points, like the Arabic interface, like allowing crowdsourcing, which is something that these networks don't have.
HARRIS: Another just-funded Gaza startup is developing an app to help people who are colorblind choose clothes. Color Vision takes a picture of what you want to wear, then tells you the colors using text, or music.
MANAL SLEEM: Every color has tune of a piano. So when red, do.
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HARRIS: Manal Sleem came up with this idea thanks to a friend who is colorblind, and uses a stand-alone device to help her distinguish between colors.
SLEEM: But this device is too expensive. It's from Germany. Yeah, but I get the same solution by one point nine nine dollars.
HARRIS: One dollar ninety nine cents.
SLEEM: One dollar - $1.99.
HARRIS: And even though it's hard for Manal herself to travel outside of the Gaza Strip, her app could be sold anywhere.
One hundred sixty four Gazan entrepreneurs applied for a chance to pitch their ideas to the Jordanian investment firm. Seven got a shot. Three, so far, have been chosen for funding. Salwa Katkhuda of Oasis500 says she's looking forward to working with these groups from Gaza.
KATKHUDA: They are hungry to start their own business. They are ready to work really hard. They are ready to beat the odds and they have that culture embedded in them.
HARRIS: In addition to the $14,000, each startup will participate in several months of intensive training then have a chance to pitch other investors for a lot more money. This business accelerator is a partnership with the humanitarian aid organization Mercy Corps.
John Ross directs Mercy Corps Digital Economy Program. He wants to build a blueprint from this experience in Gaza.
JOHN ROSS: A model that can be replicated in other countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa; we're looking at Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, West Bank and Gaza.
HARRIS: Young IT entrepreneurs in Gaza hope this recent chance to pitch outside investors won't be their last.
Emily Harris, NPR News
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