On June 19th, 150 Gazan women and men gathered for the fourth Startup Weekend Gaza – but this particular event promised the presence of at least 50% women, as one of the events participating in this year’s Startup Women initiative.
One woman in attendance was Mariam Abultewi, winner of the previous Startup Weekend event for her startup Wasselni, a taxi-ordering/carpooling app. Notably, Mariam is the first Gazan woman to receive startup funding – a feat that may offer inspiration to other young women evaluating the entrepreneurial leap.
The journey of the entrepreneur is a difficult one, and though her startup has been moving forward actively for about four months, she continues to face unique challenges including the eight-year, international blockade of the region following Hamas’ ascension to de-facto political control of the Gaza strip.
Additionally, Mariam has also faced difficulties that are largely tied to the basic fact that she is female; it took a long time to convince her father to approve of her decision to focus on her startup, but Mariam’s persistence led her to have her first solo traveling experience and convinced her father of the value of entrepreneurship – so much so that he is now considering starting his own venture, and has encouraged Mariam’s siblings to do so as well.
The Organizing team for Gaza Startup Weekend 4.0 (Mohammed AlAfranji, Nadine Badereddine, Alaa Saqer, Said Hassan, Iliana Montauk, and Mohammed Skaik) focused on marketing and outreach that welcomed more women to the event, and their efforts were successful: over 650 applications were received with 150 attendees selected, 71 people pitched and 26 were women, 25 startup teams formed, and 16 were led by women.
Since the launch of the Startup Women initiative, we’ve seen “Womens Edition” events take shape in communities all around the world; from Tokyo, to Kansas City, to Kiev. This year’s Startup Weekend Womens Edition in Kiev was made possible by a dedicated Organizing team who dealt with ongoing political upheaval and violent protest in the midst of preparation for the event.
“My story is about how one weekend changed my life,” Tetiana Siyanko, Co-Organizer of the Kiev event, said. “I want to help others make this leap.”
Equally encouraging is the constant support from men in communities around the world for a greater emphasis on welcoming women into the world of startups – or simply highlighting the stories of female entrepreneurs more intentionally. As Akram Dweikat, Gazan Startup Weekend Organizer, says: “My top priority is empowering women in my community.”
Stories like Tetiana and Mariam’s have altered the scope and potential of the Startup Women initiative significantly. Given the demand and passion of women in the entrepreneurial space, UP Global aims to seed 1,000 thriving startup communities internationally by 2016, and to focus on the unique barriers to women throughout this growth.
Taking on this goal also means that we are working to define thriving in tangible terms. Through initiatives like Startup Women, UP Global recognizes the critical challenge of ensuring that early-stage communities integrate diversity into their conception of “thriving.” This challenge demands an evolving dialogue around the value of diversity in innovation, and its solution stands to solidify the socio-economic legacy of start-up communities internationally.