A country has two-thirds of its population under the age of 35, with one of the largest Internet reaches in its region. Mobile penetration is over 120% — meaning many people have more than one device — and 3G or better coverage will be rolled out everywhere over the next two years. Among its neighbors, the country has one of the highest per capita GDP, and its graduates are among the highest share of software engineers. eCommerce is in its infancy and little travel is booked online, though it has one of the world’s largest consuming populations and has some of the greatest, under-visited tourist destinations on Earth. Its geographic location puts it at the center of global trade between North and South, East and West.
Where is this place? Latin America? Eastern Europe? Try Iran.
Here in Iran, Government has founded 31 tech “Incubators” –so called Science & Technology park- in the country, helping young people to innovate. About 40% of people there are women, Most of them Computer engineers.
The government-funded incubators, however, according to one of entrepreneurs, aren’t where the real action will come.”The government incubators are fine, but tend to be focused on startups around government economic planning.”
In the last year private approaches are getting stronger and more diverse, more familiar to software development in the West. Some accelerators are being launched, and like in any new emerging market a few success stories will change the game. DigiKala.com – the largest eCommerce platform here with well over $100 million in revenue this year alone – was one of the first Startups in Iran.
Jiring and Zaring pal are 2 examples of Startups in the field of online payment systems that are nowadays successful business platforms, benefiting from a very innovative team. Snapp was getting a raw Idea from Uber- the famous transportation service around the world which is unavailable in Iran- and added many features to that. The idea was so responsive that another group named Tap30 – also a Startup – followed their way, to compete with Snapp and both are successful Startups.
While few might be aware of the growing community’s presence on the global playing field, Iran can boast a quickly developing startup community. “Iran Startups”, an organization dedicated to bringing together entrepreneurs from around the country through a series of major events dedicated to continuously growing the startup scene, has been on the forefront of recent growth.
Another successful and internet-based Startup is Aparat.com which is a website for sharing movies and videos online. Today Aparat is ranked number 5 in Iran by Alexa.com and 499 around the world.
Due to Banned foreigner websites and applications as a result of Sanctions, many Iranian Startups are mostly trying to offer almost similar services as the foreigner matches.
Challenges and opportunities of Startups in Iran
The challenges are real. The ecosystem for startups is nascent. There are still few accelerators, shared workspaces, or grassroots networks of entrepreneurs, and mentorship and angel investing is in short supply. The broader political and business environment remains difficult to navigate and unpredictable with the tensions and sanctions with the west. There are some difficulties reaching some websites or disconnections of internet. The brain drain is significant. Some estimate as many as 400,000 Iranians — in a population of near 80 million — go abroad each year with their return uncertain.
There is also a cautious hope that the future is changing. The best in global technology is accessible to the creative. There are over 6.5 million iPhones in the country despite the sanctions and near impossibility to access apps. For all the bans on social networks, everyone has workarounds to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and beyond.
And there is a good flow of information and practices between East and West — not only in access to blogs and web sites, but books. US-based mentors are engaging with Iranian entrepreneurs through Skype and Google Hangouts. The young entrepreneur’s greatest hope is that, in opening relationships more broadly, there will be an even greater flow of information, engagement, and then investment.
When things change here, they will change faster than anyone expects, and that all the ingredients and pent up demand will make Iran a leading tech ecosystem in the region and the world.
Investing in Start-ups in Iran
One of the main steps to have a successful Start-up, is finding the right Investor, as in many Iranian Startups have problem with that. Whether the owner of the Idea has not calculated the financial aspects of the Idea or the Iranian investors in private Sector are not that wealthy to support the Ideas and the Government sector has its own bureaucracy which sometimes makes it hard to go on with.
The most successful Startups that were financed from the private sector were the ones associating with a family company, as the most trusting relations are the family bounds of the most Iranian. But nowadays, there are many other accelerator Companies that trust the young work force with Ideas, to help next generation build their own Future.