We had a wonderful welcome from the Gaza Sky Geeks and Mercy Corps team once we got to Roots Hotel, where the 5-day bootcamp is being held. First up, another security briefing...
Then we were introduced to the team of local mentors, comprising of GSG alumni, local entrepreneurs, bankers from the Bank of Palestine, programmers, coders, developers, university lecturers and more. Every tech ecosystem depends on the willingness of people to give back / help out / contribute in some way, and that sentiment was here in abundance.
I was introduced to my amazing translator for day one, Huda. This incredible woman speaks flawless English despite having never left the Gaza Strip! She has just finished her first year at university studying business, and is working as hard as she can to get the best possible grades to increase her chances of getting sponsorship to study a Master's in the UK. I will not be at all surprised if she gets in touch in a few years time to say that she's living in England - she's got the intelligence, dedication, and passion to make it happen. Oh, and did I mention her English is perfect??!
We hit the ground running, arriving at around 11am and we had all the introductory talks, sponsors' speeches, alumni founder stories, and the accelerator overview until around 2pm. After a quick lunch, one of my fellow mentors, Dario, was straight into his session on the Business Model Canvas. Basel, the MC / compere / facilitator did an awesome job live translating his workshop, and I have to say, Dario was amazing for giving such an engaging workshop on next to no sleep, and on the very first day too!
The afternoon was dedicated for mentoring sessions. We had four teams each, and half an hour with each team. The ambition of these entrepreneurs is sky high: when I asked them who their customer was, they pretty much all said the entire populations of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (!). I'd ask, but what about Gaza? It's right here, you can talk to customers, see if your product works, keep lean and nimble... and honestly they looked so disappointed! Their ambition is admirable, and I have no doubt that many of them will achieve great things. But... start at the beginning, keep small and flexible, test your assumptions... it's all new to them, but that is exactly the point of this bootcamp. Sometimes their English was good enough for me to speak directly to them, other times Huda stepped in to help out.
We were pretty exhausted by the end of this first day... up at 6am, a long journey, the border crossing, straight into the talks, and then intensive mentoring... so after a quick trip to the local supermarket to stock up on water, it was straight to the hotel where a few of us grabbed dinner before heading to bed (/writing these blog posts in my case). Looking forward to tomorrow!