Jordan’s start-up sector is poised for major growth in the coming years, with the kingdom standing as one of the largest and most dynamic tech hubs in the MENA region, supported by government policy and, increasingly, private sector investment into tech entrepreneurship.
Jordan has more than 600 tech companies, more than any Arab country, of which more than 300 are start-ups, according to a December 2015 report by Asian Century Institute. Active across a host of sectors, including software development, business solutions, finance, health and games, the kingdom’s start-up culture benefits from broader growth within the ICT industry and tech exports expanded eight-fold between 2001 and 2013. In addition, with more than two-thirds of Jordanians using social media and the kingdom producing over three-quarters of global online Arabic content, start-ups and tech entrepreneurs have been left well positioned to capitalise on future growth.
State & Private Support
Government support has been critical for start-up success, with King Abdullah II launching what would become the region’s largest seed investment company, Oasis500, in 1999. First-round funding at Oasis500 is set at between $30,000 and $50,000 for the tech sector, and $31,000 for cultural and creative industries, with start-ups able to apply for a second round of investment with the company. Over 100 start-ups have benefitted from a relationship with Oasis500 since it was launched, as the company offers entrepreneurship training, mentorship and guidance, business incubation and acceleration, and follow-on investment and funding.
The private sector is also increasingly involved in Jordan’s start-up scene, with a number of private firms launching programmes. For example, telecoms operator Zain Jordan launched the Zain Al Mubadara programme, which supports young tech entrepreneurs; Amman-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals announced that it had launched a $30m fund through its investment arm, Hikma Ventures, devoted to health care start-ups; and Orange Jordan launched BIG, an accelerator programme aimed at young tech entrepreneurs.
There are a number of notable success stories within the ICT sector. IrisGuard, for example, manufactures iris biometrics and iris-recognition camera systems for commercial and government clients, with the UN High Commission for Refugees adopting this technology to register Syrian refugees in Jordan. Another is Globitel, a Jordanian telecoms and contact centre solutions firm, now offering services in more than 35 countries. The company provides a variety of product lines including roaming, value-added services, and network and customer care solutions to telecoms providers, financial service providers, contact centres, government, and the education and health care sectors.
Other companies have also chosen Jordan to launch their operations, recognising the benefits offered to entrepreneurs in the kingdom. Ahmed Moor, co-founder of Amman-based, sharia-compliant crowdsourcing platform liwwa, said he and his business partner chose Amman over Dubai when the company first launched operations. “It’s far less expensive here than it would be in a market like Dubai – money that would cover three months of living expenses in the UAE lasts a year in Amman,” Moor told OBG. “There is also a real depth to the economy here, the growth potential is there, and the small and medium-sized enterprise sector is huge, which is not true for other regional economies.”
Moor also pointed to areas in need of improvement if Jordan is to attract and retain talent. For example, domestic banks require a JD50,000 ($70,300) deposit to open a business bank account for foreigners, while trade licensing procedures stipulate that, to be approved, businesses must be based in commercially zoned premises, which is not always possible. “Securing a trade licence was definitely one of the biggest challenges, although the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. If I were a policymaker, this would be one area to address immediately,” Moor told OBG.