Silicon Valley and its entrepreneurs with Middle Eastern roots

There are an estimated 30,000 Arab-Americans currently residing in the greater San Jose area

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It has become the norm that when an entrepreneur conceives a novel technology or high-tech process anywhere in the world, he or she looks for support from a powerful eco-system similar to what exists in Silicon valley in Northern California in the US.

The quality of university-led cutting-edge R&D, the large concentration of some of the world’s leading and largest technology corporations, venture capital companies, angel investors, tech evangelists and mentors make the mix so effective and enduring as well as helps in creating value. No wonder, that California, as per the latest news reports, is now the sixth biggest economy in the world, surpassing France.


In the next three days from Wednesday (June 22-24), entrepreneurs from around the world will be congregating again in Silicon Valley for the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, being held at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

This Summit is the seventh installment in a series previously hosted by the United States and the governments of Turkey, the UAE, Malaysia, Morocco, and Kenya.

In bringing the Summit back to the United States, President Obama is indeed making an important gesture, highlighting his commitment to building bridges that help tackle global challenges together.

Big factors

On Friday, the final day of the summit, a breakout session will be focusing on ‘Entrepreneurship in the Middle East: Youth Tech and Entrepreneurship: Unlocking the Middle East’s Economic Potential’.

The rapidly increasing access to technology in the Middle East and the region’s comparatively young population (over 30 per cent of which are between the ages of 15 and 29) are considered the two main factors contributing to a quiet technological and societal transformation in the Middle East. Creating an economic ecosystem conducive to technology-enabled entrepreneurship is crucial for this transformation.

Throughout the region, from Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Riyadh and Dubai, one can find governments and other key stakeholders increasingly formulating policies and programmes to kickstart and encourage hi-tech start-ups.

It is against this backdrop, that the successes of businessmen and women of Middle Eastern origin who have made it to the top rung in the leading companies and start-ups in Silicon Valley need to be highlighted.

Studies have pointed out that immigration reform in the mid-60s made a major contribution to directing talent from around the world to Silicon Valley, especially to the high-tech workforce. It is also a fact that immigrants tend to start businesses at a disproportionately higher rate than native-born Americans.

According to the Arab American Cultural Center of Silicon Valley (AACC-SV), founded in 1989 to serve the needs of the expanding Arab-American community in the South Bay Area, there are an estimated 30,000 Arab-Americans currently residing in the greater San Jose area. These include generations of native-born Arab-Americans and recent immigrants who arrive in the South Bay to study, live, work and join their families.

As per the policy brief by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) released in March 2016, immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion or more. They also make up the key members of management or product development teams in over 70 per cent (62 0f 87) of these companies. The startup companies by immigrant founders have created an average of approximately 760 jobs per company in the US, and the collective value of the 44 immigrant founded companies is $168 billion.

Helping companies grow

California was the headquarters of 32 of the 44 immigrant-founded companies. It has also been found that most of the immigrant entrepreneurs entered the US as an international student and later went on to establish successful ventures.

Immigrants also help companies grow and innovate by filling key management and product development positions – like chief technology officer, CEO and Vice President of Engineering, the NFAP report points out. Here too one can find an outstanding array of innovators from the Middle East.

High on the list of outstanding immigrant entrepreneurs in the US are those from the Middle East – Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of Moderna Therapeutics and 37 other companies; and Amr Awadallah, co-founder and CTO of Cloudera, which allows organisations in various fields to profit from their data.

This list of outstanding tech innovators and leaders of Middle East origin in Silico Valley is lengthy and by no means exhaustive: Osama Bedier, Founder and CEO, Poynt; Shaygan Kheradpir, CEO of Coriant; Mo Al Adham, Board member and former CEO of Telly, which he co-founded; Bassel Ojjeh, CEO of LigaData; Osman Rashid, Founder and CEO of Galxyz; Fadi Bishara, founder and CEO of Blackbox, Omid Kordestani, Executive Chairman at Twitter, and so on.

On a lighter note, in a list of the 15 most-loved CEOs of 2016 in the US compiled by Glassdor and based on feedback received from employees, there are two of Middle Eastern origin -- Dara Khosrowshahi, President and Chief Executive Officer, Expedia and Rami Rahim, CEO of Juniper Networks.

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