With economic malaise, domestic and regional political tensions plus a lack of government jobs, the start-up movement is gaining momentum in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
The conflict-torn country has previously been closed off economically from the rest of the world due to many years of war and significant sanctions.
However, more recent boosts in the country’s Internet and smartphone penetration, in addition to the country’s youthful population, have resulted in a riper and more dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In 2017, nearly 1,300 Facebook pages were established to sell products and services creating more than 5,500 jobs, according to the mobile telecommunications company Zain.
The Station is Iraq's first shared space for creative development
With its modern interiors and groups of huddled young techies, The Station has become the first shared space for creative development in Iraq, and it's already home to about fifteen startups.
Mujahed Waisi created the coworking space only four months ago, after he recognized the lack of resources for entrepreneurs in the country devastated by decades of war. He wanted to not merely build a space for innovators but also to rebuild the culture of entrepreneurship in Baghdad.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Trade, 3,000 SMEs were registered last year. Waisi believes, however, that only a handful got off the ground, partly because a psychological shift is needed to encourage the country's entrepreneurial spirit.
“More than 70 per cent of the ideas of the startups failed after one month or two months,” says Waisi, “There is a culture here in Iraq of pushing the youth into looking for a job in the public sector. So to get a new direction for the people [we need] more innovative individuals.”
Mujahed Waisi, founder of The Station
Online shopping platform Miswag has taken advantage of the situation and has become dubbed the 'Amazon of Iraq'. Founder and CEO, Ammar Ameen, launched his company in 2014 with a $30,000 investment. Today, his enterprise is worth around two million dollars.
“We started dreaming of doing stuff that no one used to dream of before,” says Ameen, who plans to one day expand his business outside of Iraq’s borders.
Ammar Ameen, founder of Miswag, an online shopping platform dubbed the 'Amazon of Iraq'
Part of his mission is to also enhance entrepreneurship in the country for others. He is creating a space for online vendors to sell products without being burdened with the tedious task of processing orders from customers.
Noor Hashim is one of these online sellers and she launched Hilli, a digital store on Miswag for selling handcrafted products such as jewellery, in 2016.
As a result, she’s been able to expand her business, and in the same way that The Station created a space for Miswag to provide her with an online platform, Hashim is passing on her entrepreneurial know-how by employing vulnerable and widowed women to be part of her full-time staff.
Noor Hashim, creator of digital store Hilli
Hashim is also gaining a reputation for high-quality products and plans to open a stall in Baghdad’s international airport.
“We want to show the world the positive side of Iraq through our products,” she says.
Her goal is to start exporting Hilli to countries in the Middle East’s Gulf region and the United States before the year comes to an end.
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