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.
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.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.