i360 Accelerates Startups In The Middle East

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Getting a business off the ground is hard. Doing it in the Middle East? Harder. Dubai-based accelerator i360 is embarking upon a three-year journey, stopping in multiple locations for at least 60 days each to provide mentorship to local startups. Here’s a look at some businesses already pushing to put the region on the startup map and the challenges they’re working around.

Illustration by Peter Oumanski

1 Lebanon: Butterfleye is building heart monitors for swimmers. Founder Hind Hobeika struggled to find funding--local investors are slow to commit. But an entry in the MIT Arab Business Plan Competition earned her $50,000.

2 Jordan: While building Istikana (aka the Arabic version of Hulu), the founders lacked a formal network of contacts and instead depended on tech-minded friends for brainstorming. Now, i360 is creating a full-time portfolio of mentors.

3 Egypt: While trying to launch a software company, Ayman Abdel-Hameed couldn’t find suitable office space. So Betak­online was born. The first Middle Eastern site to connect real estate buyers and sellers is expanding to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

4 United Arab Emirates: A lack of common practices makes marketing extra tricky. Connecting with the U.S. or EU early is key--which is what GoNabit did. The first group-buying site in the Middle East was purchased by LivingSocial.

5 Saudi Arabia: Inspired by his sister’s search for work, Khalid Alkhudair launched Glowork, a site that connects female job seekers with employers and has received recognition from the UN. To find VCs, Glowork is looking abroad.