The State of Technology Innovation in the Middle East [Report]

The world is not anymore in the Industry revolution era which the Arabs missed despite the Arab Oil bulge, none of them did manufacture a regional car that we can drive and be really proud of like Malaysians for example who drive their Proton car with pride. Since the ’80s of last century, the Technology & Information have been the new revolution that made corporations pioneer; however, does the Middle East have any contribution to technology innovation?

Ever since the Technology & Information revolution, entrepreneurship and innovation have continuously been playing a major and significant role in shaping the societies they work within and most of the times they are making global impact and change. The information technology, telecommunications, and new media are part of the Technology Pioneers report 2010 that World Economic Forum (WEF) established; it also covers technologies in energy, environment, and health.

The WEF Technology Pioneers report 2010 shows that within 10 years 83% of the Technology Pioneers were successful and still active, while 17% are no longer in business. This would indicate that if your product was innovative and demanded by the market/society within 3-5 years of your operating business, you have high chance of remaining in business; if you didn’t reach 3-5 years range, you are out of business because your innovative product wasn’t vital enough or significant for changing the state of the industry and/or society.

Another global figure important for you to know is that 79% of the active successful Technology Pioneers are independent, while only 21% between 2000 to 2009 were acquired by Microsoft, Amazon, etc… In my opinion, this is a mindset of “not open for acquisition” that these 79% has acquired and the most obvious example is Twitter neglecting proposals of acquisitions these days. While in the Arab World many entrepreneurs I know have the “exist hope” (since there is no proper exist-strategy) of acquisition by technology giants; I’m not sure why they want to retire in their late 20s or early 30s if they were successful.

Back to the report, the percentage of Technology Pioneers in the Middle East is really depressing, only 3% out of the total amount of technology innovations across the world came from the region. To find out if 3% is good or bad, I have considered that if 57 Million individuals in the Middle East have access to technology made 3% of the innovative technologies; while in the USA 50 Million individuals who have access to technology made 12% of the total amount of innovative technologies this would indicate that USA is four times innovative than the Middle East. Well, that is depressing and raise a big question mark…

But since there are so many question marks on the status of the Middle East from all angles and while Silatech report shows that the region is in no short for aspiring entrepreneurs, the solution to get out of this situation can be:

Arab entrepreneurs should stop planning and start executing. Also, entrepreneurial start-ups should know that copying the west in their products or services can make business-sense or have a valid business-model but they don’t make any new innovation, new standards, or the world a better place so we can be recognized of.

Vocational schools, colleges, and universities should focus on bringing actual projects out of the thesis papers or class rooms and support their students. There are many projects in the west were experimental projects and turned to big corporations with the help of their universities. If they didn’t offer you a hand, you ask for it.

Corporations should invest in research and development. If many of the Middle Eastern corporations can’t set-up a R&D Labs, then they should at least invest in promising entrepreneurs within their companies who can bring them new innovative products or services. If they didn’t offer you (as an employee) help, you should learn this for the next time you hunt for a job.

Policy Makers whom Arab youth last hope for change in middle- and low-income countries; they should help start-ups and Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) in special aid or support that avoid them sinking in debts or short on cash. If they didn’t offer you any help, knock the doors of NGOs.

At last, if we need the change for the region, it starts by you and me; what product or service  you’re working on innovating in the last 3 months?


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Tarek is the founder and chief researcher at Youngberry, a youth research and marketing firm dedicated to the region. Tarek founded and previously worked as Manager at Flip Media (Interactive Agency), (Job Site) and Consulting House Qatar (Consulting firm). He is researcher and writer on internet & disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, and youth culture.