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Amman, Jordan is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The city is Jordan’s political, cultural, and commercial capitol; and from February 13th to February 15th, Amman hosted a Startup Weekend for the third time.
Encouragingly, Jordan’s third Startup Weekend in two years attracted ideas around education, mobile, and health technology.
“I come from Iraq, where talk is cheap,” Ali Hilli, one of the organizers of Startup Weekend Amman, said. “The first time I participated in a Startup Weekend was back in June, when Startup Weekend Baghdad took place… [Now,] I live in Jordan where people are barely having a chance to excel.”
Prior to 2012, Startup Weekend had little-to-no representation in Jordan, and the process of organization there was untested. Hilli was initially concerned that Startup Weekend would follow the formula of summits like TedEX: full of motivational speeches, with little actionable direction for participants.
“Iraq and Jordan don’t need talk: they need action!” Hilli emphasized. “I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of SW Baghdad… I participated in Startup Weekend Erbil two months later as a mentor, and was invited to Startup Weekend Basra as a judge. Only then did I look at Jordan, the country I live in, and decide to revive the Startup Weekend soul that [had been] absent for a year and a half.”
But it wasn’t easy: Hilli and other organizers faced an exhausted national economy, a tense political climate, and a dramatic shortage of resources. According to Hilli, the complexity of the Jordanian economy makes people cautious about providing direct funding.
“I contacted more than fifty entities to sponsor [our event] and more than 45 of them closed their door,” Hilli says. “Eventually, I gave up asking for cash and started asking for services. Coca Cola gave us beverages; Nescafe [did], too. Zain gave us internet connections, and TAG, which I’m connected to as a consultant, gave us the venue…we provided food expenses from the ticket prices. “
Judges examined each team’s evidence for customer validation, product execution, and general business modeling. The judges also looked at how teams presented the concept and its potential in the market, as well as the direct functionality of the product for Jordanians.
Droid Press won first prize, creating a mobile-application generator that allows users to build Android and IOS apps. People with existing websites can build an app within 10 minutes using the Droid Press software.
e-Roshetta won second prize, through seeking to reduce the amount of errors genrated in writing prescriptions. According to the team’s research, this phenomenon is widespread throughout Jordan. Through the e-Roshetta database, doctors will electronically submit prescriptions directly to the pharmacy, which can be picked up by the patient using a unique patient code. This process is intended to reduce human error and allow patients’ medications to be tracked more accurately.
B Roll won third prize, a GPS-based platform through which users seek and exchange services for payment. The prize for “Best Design” went to simappz, which allows users to access their cell phone data through an online network, and allows them to make calls or restore information without physically possessing their phone.
“[Jordanian entrepreneurs] need to focus on the normal needs of a human being,” Hilli said. “During the event, participants focused on solving problems that occurred in their daily lives… Once these simple problems are solved, and hope is restored for entrepreneurship and growth [in Jordan,] peace will be served on a golden dish.”
The Jordanian economy is largely dependent on tourism. Compounding this influx of foreign traffic, refugees flood into Jordan intermittently to escape conflict within their own nations. As a social consequence, Jordan has struggled to provide equitable, basic resources for its population. Continuous government borrowing from the International Monetary Fund, and continued political unrest in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have made matters worse.
“My country has a weak economy and a budget deficit of 17 billion JDs,” Hilli said. “You might say, ‘America, too, has a large deficit,’ but the two cannot be compared. America’s deficit is in dollars, and America can control the [value of the dollar]… the Jordanian dinar is a currency that is [inherently] attached to the dollar by its value.”
Population growth, the depletion of groundwater reserves, and other variables of climate change are likely to aggravate this economic plight in the decades to come. Jordan is considered among the ten most-water-scarce countries in the world, and its hydrological future is largely dependent on the efforts of its young, hopeful engineers. Jordan’s major surface water resources, the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, are shared with Israel and Syria; a transnational dependency which leaves a proportionally small amount for Jordan.
Amman is at the center of Jordan’s entrepreneurial community building effort, and will continue to attract innovators as such. The content of Jordan’s first three Startup Weekend events hints at the intellectual fertility of the tech community, as well as the progress left to be made. Jordan’s technologically-intrepid minority, while proudly building products in the vein of social service, must also battle the social and economic conditions within Jordan that limit technological access to such products.
See photos from the event here.