Four entrepreneurs in Gaza have an idea born out of deep need: A piezoelectric device that charges your mobile phone while you walk. In Gaza, say Omar Badawi, Sameer Alnunu, Ghaidaa Hussein, and Saeda Nassar, people cope with about four hours of electricity a day after last year’s war between Hamas and Israel. Gazans’ mobiles are lifelines to the outside world, which means keeping them charged is a critical need.
The entrepreneurs have a name, Walk and Charge, and they’ve successfully produced an electric charge from a small device that sits in shoes. The app, they hope, won’t be a problem. “We have a lot of challenges,” said Badawi from a small room at Gaza Sky Geeks, the tech incubator and accelerator that itself exists improbably in one of the hardest places in the world to live and work. “But we believe in our idea.”
The team was one of about a half-dozen tech startups I met via a recent reporting trip to the West Bank. (I didn’t travel to Gaza, but reached entrepreneurs there via Skype). Israel is famous for its tech prowess, but there’s a small but vibrant ecosystem in the land Israel occupies, the Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza. The tech community is sustained by a combination of donor money, a growing commitment from investors, and the passion of the entrepreneurs themselves, some of them Americans of Palestinian heritage.
They are entrepreneurs like Peter Abualzolof, who was born in the town of Beit Sahour, left when he was 8 and then returned for a 10-day vacation — and then, stayed.
After working as a sales manager for PepsiCo and for a tech startup in San Francisco, he had an idea for a tech company. When he visited, he felt a connection and then he thought, “Here’s something I can add to Palestine. This felt like home.”
His company, Mashvisor, collects information for part-time real estate investors who might want to invest in, say, a single family home. It includes information on typical prices, price appreciation and costs.
With two full-time employees, including himself, and five part-timers, the bootstrapped startup launched in February and has had 38,000 visitors so far, 23,000 of them from the United States.
He operates from a sunny building in Ramallah, which houses a two-year-old West Bank accelerator called FastForward. FastForward provides grants of $20,000 in cash and $30,000 in services to get startup ideas off the ground; it’s pushing a handful of companies, including a gaming company and a package delivery idea, toward funding by a couple of VC funds active in the area.