PITAPOLICY, LLC is excited to enlist as a member of the Polsky Exchange, the startup ecosystem facilitated by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, Illinois. Polsky is not just a co-working space, but it is a full-fledged turnkey operation for serious entrepreneurs at different stages of development:
- Polsky Small Business Growth Program
- Polsky Incubator (think of early-stage–solid concept, but ready for mentorship)
- Fab Lab (think of ‘mockup stage’ in product development)
- UChicago Startup Investment Program (laddering from the successful business class ‘proof of concept’ project and needs acceleration)
The Polsky community’s epicenter may be the Chicago area, but, startup ecosystems overlap because of their impact on their product/service delivery if it makes it easier/more accessible to their consumers. When they overlap, their local influence broadens across markets, and perhaps, carries into training, hiring, and fostering communities in different spaces. The two MENA examples of impact come from the Polsky Center. However, let’s not forget the regional examples of startup support that are homegrown in the pita-consuming region.
MENA Startup Ecosystems
The Middle East & North Africa region has a few startup hubs that encourage the startup community–especially in Information Communication Technology sector. Just look at Flat6Labs Accelerator, which originated in Egypt, but provides entrepreneurship advisory and funding (Sawari Ventures) to jumpstart startup ideas into commercialization from the MENA region. The MENA incubator supports ilboursa:
ilboursa.com is Tunisia’s first stock exchange news website. Founder Ismail Ben Sassi started the company with the intention of offering data to help investors in Tunisia make better financial decisions. The site is one of the most visited online sites in the country, averaging 80,000 visitors a month.~TechCrunch
Five years later, ilboursa has grown to provide business intelligence for those looking to invest in Tunisia. In the bigger regional picture, with the Flat6Labs success, they may propel Tunisian startups to compete with Lebanon and Egypt to lead MENA’s entrepreneurial activity. It’s definitely a competition to observe– like a close futball tournament.
Then there is Oasis500, which is another example of an incubator-accelerator hub for advisory and funding in MENA hub for early and mid-stage startups. Startup Rising by Chris Schroeder describes many of the early startups that experienced success in the pita-consuming countries following the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya… but not so much in Bahrain, Yemen, or Syria.
Example 1: Fetchr
Fetchr, co-founded by University of Chicago Booth Business School alumnus, Idris Al-Rifai, offers a logistics godsend for those trying to deliver packages in the Middle East & North Africa region. Although Fetchr was not a Polsky member, Fetchr serves as a success story for other University of Chicago entrepreneurs in the making who come from the MENA region. Why? The UAE-based company, and co-founder, represents the FIRST early stage MENA applicant to qualify and receive U.S. venture capital funding as reported by FORBES.
As business graduates and mentors continuously say: networks matter. Networks matter in the startup ecosystem when a positive “disruptive” idea for the economy and society needs an injection of funding to fuel the technology and creativity in both emerging and frontier markets.
Entrepreneurship Boost in Countries Experiencing Violent Conflict?
Entrepreneurship role is boosted by Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in many areas. But what about the role of entrepreneurship in countries embroiled in violent political conflict, like Syria? With the rising displacement of Syrians internally and in neighboring countries, the Syria’s political conflict has also displaced spaces for small business growth and entrepreneurship training. The Polsky Center dips into the social and logistical challenges by reaching out Syria’s parallel universe of refugees. Read the following and let us know if you think entrepreneurship training can loop back into countries experiencing violent conflict!
Source: Chicago Tribune: Can entrepreneurship help revive Syria? This Polsky Center leader is training teens in business
Chicagoan Steve Lehmann has taken his expertise in early business development nearly 6,000 miles away to the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.
His mission: to teach Syrian teens how to launch startups of their own.
Even as war rages in the nation, there are still students learning business and plenty of people who can’t find work. With unemployment soaring, interest in starting small businesses has grown.
“There are entrepreneurs (in Syria), just like everywhere else,” Ahmad Sufian Bayram, a regional manager at Techstars, told the Guardian. “For the majority of women, they’re starting small businesses to support their families, making handmade items, for example, jewelry, homemade clothes. (Others) are doing freelance work, such as translation services. When we asked them why would you like to be an entrepreneur, it was one of the only options left to make money.”
Since 2011, Syrian refugees in Turkey have invested about $334 million to start more than 6,000 registered companies, many of which are small- and mid-sized businesses, according to a report from the global nonprofit Building Markets.
Lehmann, who’s also assistant director of the Polsky Center’s $20 million Innovation Fund, wants to strengthen the startup trend and “instill a sense of hope” in entrepreneurial-minded teens, he said.
“I’ll be within a short bike ride of the Syrian border and one of the hottest zones in the conflict,” Lehmann said before departing from O’Hare International Airport on Friday. “You never know how these things are going to go, but I’m probably more nervous about being in front of a bunch of kids I don’t know.”
The two-week trip was planned in collaboration with local youth center Karam House, where Lehmann is staying and holding a “hands-on entrepreneurship boot camp” for 15 selected Syrian teens. The work isn’t directly affiliated with the Polsky Center.
The training sessions Lehmann is participating in focus on customer engagement, product prototyping and developing successful business models. Material also pulls from the latest research on how good startups get founded, he said, and includes insights from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps and IDEO.org’s human-center design approach to problem solving.
“Students had to apply and come with a business idea already put together,” Lehmann said. “Within the first four hours of the training, they’re going to be walking the streets of Reyhanli talking to potential customers.” click hereto continue.