US Channels Silicon Valley to Muslim Countries
As "Arab Spring" protests have swept across the Middle East, the U.S. State Department has backed an effort among Muslim countries that could create a different sort of disruption. That U.S. project has recently offered up $60,000 to encourage local entrepreneurs to follow a career path that's more familiar in Silicon Valley than in Cairo.
The State Department created the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative in 2010 as a way to spur science and technology innovation in Muslim countries . The recent GISTech-I Competition invited young people from North Africa, the Middle East and Asia to post YouTube videos describing homegrown solutions to local problems ideas such as finding alternative sources of energy, building a drone, or making an online job-finding service for regions of the world with some of the youngest populations.
With video submissions closed Oct. 31, the top 25 semi-finalists based on YouTube "like" votes will not only have a shot at competing for a share of $60,000 in grants, but also getting business mentorship and networking opportunities at an upcoming conference in Istanbul.
"We would like to promote entrepreneurship as a career choice," said Ovidiu Bujorean, program manager for GIST. "There is not necessarily a place for entrepreneurship in those countries, but it's important for local youngsters to see this is an opportunity for them."
Many Muslim countries only offer careers in government or the more-conventional professions. Families in such countries may not even support the decision of a young entrepreneur to pursue a path with less obvious stability, Bujorean said. But the need for homegrown solutions everywhere has allowed GIST to first ask coordinating organizations in Muslim countries about their local needs.
"People are not necessarily focused on becoming entrepreneurs, but they do want to solve a problem in the community," Bujorean told InnovationNewsDaily.
The competition has also given a glimpse into possible new-entrepreneur networks that could emerge among Muslim countries. If an interest in clean energy technologies appeared in a cluster among countries as far-ranging as the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Pakistan, GIST could encourage further cooperation in that area.
The $60,000 up for grabs may not sound like a lot in Silicon Valley startup terms, but it could go toward everything from developing business plans to traveling around the world to meet investors or fellow entrepreneurs, said Cathy Campbell, president and CEO of CRDF Global. Campbell's nonprofit organization has taken charge of running the GIST initiative.
This represents just the latest effort run by CRDF Global its earlier history includes encouraging science diplomacy between the United States and the former Soviet Union. For GIST, the nonprofit has already organized three conferences in Muslim countries, the ongoing GISTech-I Competition and an upcoming business-plan competition.
"It's about the attitude and interest in entrepreneurship," Campbell said. "That's harder to measure, but these young people can become ambassadors of entrepreneurship and learn from this experience."