Yesterday was an incredible day at Plug and Play.
His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan came to Silicon Valley, leading a delegation of Jordanian Ministers, business men and entrepreneurs.
After meeting with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston and other notable CEOs from the Bay Area’s top tech companies, His Majesty visited Plug and Play to see first-hand how the most innovative high-tech startups are changing the world, and witness the first ever structured bridge program between Jordan and Silicon Valley.
We, at Plug and Play, host close to 30,000 visitors a year at the Center, from Heads of State to CEOs of the top corporations, from prominent investors and founders of the hottest startups in the world, from academic group and delegations focusing on innovation. But in my almost 3 years here, never have I felt such excitement, anticipation and energy in the building.
Together with our partner Umniah, one of the most innovation-driven carriers in the Middle East, and with the support of Int@j and USAID Jordan, we have in 9 months accelerated 7 companies. Our goal is to have 15 companies come to Silicon Valley before the end of the year. As the saying goes, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. And without the visionary leadership of Umniah’s CEO Ihab Hinnawi, this bridge simply would not have been built.
Earlier that morning, His Majesty gave an inspiring speech at UC Berkeley positioning Jordan as the innovation gateway to the MENA region, which is exactly why I started our Middle East bridging efforts in Amman. The local startup ecosystem is by far the most advanced, the most entrepreneurial, and the most energized. His Majesty explained that ICT is the fastest growing sector in Jordan, contributing 12% of GDP and creating 80,000 jobs. As the Silicon Wadi of the Middle East, Bloomberg called Amman one of the top 10 cities in the world to build a startup. With 350 million Arabic speakers in the MENA region, online Arabic content is only 2% of total content, so who’s taking the lead? Jordanian startups, contributing 70% of Arabic online content. With a young, digital-savvy and connected population, the opportunities are huge.
Our Founder and CEO, Saeed Amidi, advises that if Jordan, a country of about 8 million people with few natural resources, wants to become a power-house in the startup world, more incubators and accelerators will be needed to fund 100-200 startups a year, each. Many will fail, few will succeed. But this is how knowledge, innovation and value creation happen. Ihab Hinnawi adds that a collaborative effort between existing accelerators like Oasis500, corporations, universities and public institutions will be crucial to strengthen the Jordanian high-tech ecosystem.
This is also why Plug and Play proudly signed an MoU to open a pioneering Innovation Center with Umniah in Amman. The details are yet to be disclosed, but as I had mentioned to His Majesty during our walk around our facility, we completed phase 1 of building the bridge through an Umniah/Intaj/USAID supported Jordanian Pavilion, which accelerates Jordanian companies through a structured three-month program in Silicon Valley. Now it’s time for Phase 2: co-investing in Jordanian startups before they even come to the US, by incubating them in Amman and preparing them for Silicon Valley acceleration. As momentum builds, Phase 3 encompasses leveraging both sides of the bridge to attract Plug and Play’s more than 200 investors and 300 corporate partners in Silicon Valley and around the world to visit Jordan, do business in Jordan, and invest in Jordan. Consistency is the name of the game– the more success stories we see coming out of Jordan, the more folks in Silicon Valley and around the world will want to pay attention to high-tech in Jordan.
On a personal note, hosting HM King Abdullah II defined the epitome of what I could achieve in my efforts to put Jordan on the global tech map. I came to Silicon Valley less than three years ago and one of my objectives was to build this bridge. And yesterday, His Majesty came to Plug and Play, the largest accelerator in the world, and met with 7 Jordanian entrepreneurs inside the Jordanian Pavilion.
The seven entrepreneurs — representing Glanse, Sowt, Red Troops, Dakwak, Noqoush, Smart Pen and Curl Stone Studios— came to California to connect with Silicon Valley and build their companies in both the US and Jordan. By doing so, they are not only increasing their chances of success, they are making a powerful statement that Jordanian entrepreneurs are passionate entrepreneurs determined to build global success stories.
It may have been a bumpy ride at times, and we will always strive to learn, re-iterate and improve. But as they greeted His Majesty, I became even more excited about what the future holds. Thanks to an awesome partnership put together by visionary leaders, and phenomenal execution from both Umniah and Intaj teams, I cannot help but be proud for making this truly Royal visit a resounding success.
To learn more about the Plug and Play Jordan & Umniah startup accelerator program, please visit our website.
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