Fostering Tech-Based Innovation and Growth
Despite the challenges it faces, Jordan has long been known as a hub for ICT talent, earning the country an edge for regional competitiveness. In August 2009, for example, Yahoo! acquired Maktoob — a popular Jordanian-developed Web portal offering search, payments, and social networking functionality for Arabic-speaking users—for an estimated $85 million. On the heels of this and other groundbreaking acquisitions, Oasis500, a tech-focused seed investment fund and business accelerator was established in 2010. With technical assistance through JCP, Oasis500 has implemented a series of boot camps, investment events, and entrepreneurship competitions that have led to more than half-a-million dollars being invested in 13 startups and another quarter-million leveraged through follow-on investment. And since studies have shown that the right seed investments can help establish companies that, together, account for up to half of all new jobs created, JCP has extended its technical assistance to the technology hub iPARK, which, with USAID support, has helped propel more than three-dozen new firms into sustainable operations, creating more than 200 high-value, knowledge-economy jobs.
VIDEO: USAID Contributions to Jordan's ICT Sector
This video highlights JCP's many contributions to Jordan's ICT sector over the past five years, including through groundbreaking partnerships with leading multinational firms like Microsoft and Intel. Microsoft's Country Manager for Jordan, Hussein Malhas, says his team's work with USAID was "one of the most important partnerships" leading to Microsoft's growth in the Kingdom. During JCP's tenure so far, Microsoft expanded from a small office adjacent to that of JCP to occupying two floors in the same building, adding dozens of young Jordanian graduates to their payroll. The growth is part of what JCP Chief of Party Wissam Rabadi calls "Industry 4.0." In the video, he shares examples of JCP's investments in the Jordanian ICT sector, including sponsoring the Kingdom's first Maker Competition, assisting in the establishment of the first FabLab in the country, and working with Microsoft and Intel to train hundreds of students and recent graduates in app development and cloud computing.
SUCCESS STORY: A Jordanian Entrepreneur Traces Her Success to a USAID-Supported Youth Training
Like the rest of the Arab world, Jordan faces a “youth bulge” — a population of young people whose numbers are outpacing the employment opportunities being created for them. The challenge is also an opportunity, however, and that is why international donors, working hand-in-hand with the Jordanian government, have invested millions of dollars in mobilizing new graduates in the service of the country and its economy.
As part of its commitment to supporting young entrepreneurs in Jordan’s knowledge economy sectors, the USAID Jordan Competitiveness Program (JCP) has offered training and job placement opportunities to hundreds of young Jordanians. Many of these have been students or freshly minted graduates — like Shahd Douglas.
“We had an intensive practical training in the most important aspects of organizing, financing, marketing and managing a small business,” Shahd says about her participation in the JCP Youth Entrepreneurship Program, which concluded in 2017. THe program, implemented in partnership with the King Abdallah II Fund for Development (KAFD), provided participants “with the ability to find and act upon opportunities to translate inventions or technology into new products,” Shahd adds.
Since her participation in the USAID-supported program, Shahd, who holds a graduate degree in public health and health education from the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST), has gone on to launch her own start-up. In 2018, her ICT firm, "TechTeb," was awarded the Spirit of Tech-I award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST).
Shahd attributes her success to her formative training through JCP: “We left the training with business ideas and with complete business plans,” she recalls. “And, of course, meeting other colleagues from different backgrounds who share the same [belief in the] power of change enhanced my experience.”
SUCCESS STORY: Gaming the System
Jordan is a small market for the international gaming industry. Yet it is one that, despite its size, has produced some of the most successful enterprises in the region like Maysalward; the first of Jordan’s mobile game developers and largest in the Middle East and North Africa market. Critical to the gaming sector’s success in Jordan is the ability of participating companies to do two things: Respond quickly to market trends and establish partnerships that expand their customer base outside of Jordan into international markets. Expanding horizons - of both knowledge and contacts - is critical to Jordan’s success.
Enter the Export Development Program – a joint effort between USAID and the ICT sector association Int@j to give Jordanian companies the general business skills and specific export knowledge required for expanding their business and growing sales in overseas markets. As part of this effort, three Jordanian gaming firms were given the opportunity to attend two conferences held in San Francisco: the Game Connection (GC) and the Game Developers Conference (GDC).
Nour Khrais, CEO and founder of Maysalward, noted that his company was “lucky” to be able to be amongst the more than 800 exhibitors and 30,000 attendees from more than 50 countries. His three-member team was able to gain the world-class exposure to new technology, market knowledge, and access to partnerships they need to boost their revenues and promote their technologies. Mr. Khrais considers this visit a success, “the GDC is not easy to participate in, and this is the first time my team and I experience such variety of knowledge. Thanks in no small part to the program; my team now has just the right mindset, the knowledge, and connections to excel in their work of programming.”
Such connections also mean business deals, critical for small and medium businesses to grow. “Maysalward managed to sign a partnership with a US based company and launch our games in the USA. Now 3 or our games are downloaded and played” said Nour. As a result of their trade mission to the U.S., Maysalward has closed a number of deals with a value of $460,000 and achieved tangible growth in revenues.
The Export Development Program, supported by USAID, has helped around 70 other ICT companies increase their export readiness, identify new markets, facilitate their access to new business opportunities and partnerships, and contribute to sector promotion and exposure on both regional and international levels. Maysalward are keen to be part of that global expansion and have a vision to do it.
“Maysalward will be building more partnership with global studios and co-producing and publishing new titles. Jordan’s stability and role as a regional gateway in ICT gives robust offerings to our services and products serving the region and beyond”, says Nour.