Christopher Schroeder says the Middle East may become a new hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship. Here, the Doha skyline in Qatar. Credit: jikatu / Flickr Creative Commons
- Christopher M. Schroeder, venture capitalist and author of "Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East"
Christopher Schroeder – venture capitalist and author of “Startup Rising”—was at a conference for entrepreneurs in Dubai when he was approached by a young Saudi Arabian woman looking for business advice. Schroeder admits that his first response was to give her a canned, ‘believe in your dreams’ answer.
Needless to say, she was unimpressed. Immediately, she launched into a more specific technical question about the nuts and bolts of manufacturing a new invention, complete with statistics and tech specs.
Schroeder was flabbergasted. “I sort of paused and looked at her and said, ‘you know, I have a problem with my business and I wonder if you can help me instead.'"
The exchange reflects a rising startup culture in the Middle East, a place often misunderstood – and underestimated – by Western observers. In Qatar for example, a reality show called “Stars of Science” seeks to find not the next big pop star, but rather the next big entrepreneur. One winner of the show was a former swimmer from Beirut who developed Google Glass-like goggles allowing swimmers to monitor their training while in the water.
The rise of startup culture in the Middle East, Schroeder says, has the potential to shift the monopoly on tech innovation away from the Silicon Valleys of the world. But it also has the potential to change the politics of the Middle East and other emerging markets.
“Governments across emerging markets – this isn’t just a Middle East thing – are making choices about privacy, about controlling the Internet,” says Schroeder. But restricting or denying access can have serious consequences for growth.
“They will be missing an opportunity of a lifetime as they play 20th century games in what is a very changing 21st century world,” Schroeder warns.