Open Hands Initiative (OHI) commits to expand its short-term fellowship for 20 young female entrepreneurs (half American and half Jordanian) by offering all participants a year of complimentary membership in a professional womens network and awarding four winners of a pitch competition in-kind placement in a startup accelerator or one-on-one mentorship, according to their business needs.
Together with the fellowship program, the goal of the commitment is to support female founders with in-depth training and business development services for early-stage startup companies, transformative one-on-one mentorship, seed funding, networking opportunities with accomplished business people from around the world, and an unprecedented chance to learn alongside entrepreneurs from new markets and industries. The combined activities also advance OHIs overarching goals to expand people-to-people connections between Jordanians and Americans, promote mutual respect, and foster understanding of the two countries by leveraging the power of entrepreneurship.
The fellowship comprises a week of educational programming, including lectures, site visits, mentorship sessions, and collaborative team projects. In select sessions, OHI will invite a minimum of five business students from the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship, a non-profit dedicated to developing the startup technology sector in Jordan, and Ruwwad, a non-profit focusing on youth empowerment, to learn and observe the great potential of aspiring entrepreneurs. To develop and deliver curriculum, OHI will partner with both Jordanian and American organizations, including Oasis500, a leading early stage and seed investment company in Jordan, and Angel Resource Institute (ARI), a U.S. based entrepreneurial training center.
At the conclusion of the fellowship program, OHI will host a Demo Day for fellows to pitch their ideas to local and international investors. OHI will award $25,000 in seed funding to four winners, two from each country. Further, each of the four winners will be awarded placement in a startup accelerator in their home country according to their business needs. Potential placement opportunities include: MatterVC, TechStars, 500 Startups, Oasis500, iPark, and Silicon Badia. Acceleration placement will last from three to six months and may include investment (in return for equity), as well as other in-kind benefits, such as office space, mentoring, or training.
In the case that acceleration is not required or desired (depending on the company stage), the founder will be matched with a dedicated mentor who will provide guidance in scaling the business for six to 12 months following the program. Open Hands Initiative has conducted outreach for mentors through individual partner recommendations and is currently in conversation with Mowgli Mentoring, a United Kingdom-based entrepreneurial and mentoring center with a strong MENA presence.
All participants in the program will also receive in-kind placement with a networking association in order to get additional support from female business leaders. American participants will be given year-long membership to Ellevate, and Jordanians will receive membership with the Business Professional Womens Association.
Fellowship participants were selected by OHI based on a competitive application process conducted between June and July 2015.
- Training and Exchange Program: October 15-25, 2015 (Amman, Jordan)
- Demo Day: October 24, 2015 (Amman, Jordan)
- Announce Demo Day Winners: October 24, 2015
- Disburse $25,000 Grants to Four Winners: By December 8, 2015 (Within 45 days of program completion)
- Assessments to Determine Whether Acceleration or Mentorship Will Be Awarded: By December 8, 2015 (Within 45 days of program completion)
- Development of Partnerships with Accelerators and/or Identification of Mentors: By December 8, 2015 (Within 45 days of program completion)
- Acceleration and Mentorship: November 2015 through April 2016 (Jordan & United States)
- Membership in Professional Associations Offered to All Fellows: By December 8, 2015 (Within 45 days of program completion) (Jordan & United States)
Jordan is a country with a rich culture and valued traditions. From its strategic position at the crossroads of the Middle East, Jordan is a leader in promoting stability, peace, and regional development, and is a hub for young entrepreneurs and startup companies. Since 2010, more than 300 tech startups have sprouted in Amman, which touts one of the most evolved ecosystems in the MENA region, according to The Economist. There are now half a dozen incubators and accelerators dedicated to the growth of startup companies in Amman, as well as university-based innovation centers and programming dedicated to entrepreneurship. King Abdullah II has also helped spur development of the information communication technology (ICT) sector with ongoing initiatives, including the creation of the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship.
The era of the startup is in full swing all over the world. According to the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, in the United States, [startup activity] rose for the first time in five years in 2015
the largest year-over-year increase from the past two decades. The 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Index shows that the MENA region experienced higher year-over-year growth for startup activity from 2014 to 2015 than any other region in the world. Paul Colleges Center for Venture Research, which has been tracking the angel investor market since the early 2000s, shows that this key driver for job creation and economic growth has increased from a $15.7 billion market in 2002 up to $24.1 billion in 2014.
Entrepreneurship is a driver of growth, a catalyst for job creation, and a powerful tool for empowering communities. Women, however, suffer from lower entrepreneurial activity, both in the United States and in Jordan, compared to their male counterparts. A major hurdle facing women entrepreneurs is limited access to financial capital, through both formal institutions and informal channels, as well as a shortfall of quality mentors, who are critical to guiding early-stage and micro, small and medium size enterprises to success. Only recently have cultural and gender-specific challenges for female entrepreneurs been addressed within the startup ecosystem. More work must be done both to encourage women to enter the field, and to empower their success.
Many Americans are unaware of Jordans multifaceted role in the region and on the world stage. Likewise, many Jordanians do not fully understand the positive elements of American culture and values. By convening and developing emerging female entrepreneurs from Jordan and the United States, Open Hands Initiative strives to help female entrepreneurs overcome common barriers, and build cross-cultural trust and understanding.