An Israel-based business project that aims to help small companies looking to develop Arabic language tools for the online and mobile market is currently in the planning stages.
The ‘technology incubator’ will focus on Israeli Arab entrepreneurs hoping to capitalise on burgeoning internet use within the Arab world.
The proportion of the Arab world’s 350 million-strong population who regularly use smartphones or the internet is still relatively low, according to Israel daily newspaper Haaretz. It cites figures from a Dubai School of Government survey that shows less than two in five people in the Arab world (around 125 million) surf the web.
But the market is ever expanding, with growth rates of up to 30% a year.
Smart entrepreneurs are already beginning to target the ever-growing Arabic online market. Website Internet World Stats places Arabic as the seventh most popular language on the internet, while social networking sites are currently used by more than 53 million people in Arab countries throughout the world.
Business incubators are programmes designed to support the successful development of start-up companies through an array of business support resources and services, masterminded by the incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through a network of contacts.
The Arab community in Israel has given rise to a number of promising start-ups over the last two years. However, up-and-coming businessmen and women in the region face a number of barriers, not least of which is acquiring capital investment, especially in the early stages.
At the other end of the spectrum, world-renowned technology companies find it difficult to break into the Arab market. Experts from these firms say that expansion into the region can be hindered by issues of language and culture.
This places Israeli Arab entrepreneurs in a unique position to act as a bridge between the local online community and interested multinational firms.
One of the aims in mind behind the incubator is to facilitate this process. The new project is the brainchild of venture capital investor Chemi Peres, Israeli-Arab entrepreneur Imad Telhami and the Jerusalem Venture Partners fund.
The incubator will provide an office environment for potential clients. But crucially, several million dollars in total will also be available to promising start-ups. Individual investments will range from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr Telhami was the founder and CEO of Babcom Centers, a provider of call centre and software development services. Babcom, which employs about 1,350 people, 70% of whom are Arabs, was bought by Israel’s largest computer services company Matrix in 2011.
The backers of the incubator, along with Israeli-Arab businesspeople, are in the final planning stages and raising funds.