Endeavor– a non-profit that encourages high-impact entrepreneurship in the emerging world– likes to go to counties where people wouldn’t expect a lot of sophisticated high-growth entrepreneurship to be. Thirteen years ago when Endeavor started that was easy, just go outside Western Europe or the US. But today, entrepreneurship is exploding in places we wouldn’t have expected from Russia to Singapore to Colombia to — Sarah’s recent favorite– Kenya.
Leave it to Endeavor to skip over much of Asia and Africa and head straight for the one place that may still be resistant to embracing Western-style capitalism and venture capital: The Middle East. Our guest on “Why Is This News?” is Linda Rottenberg, founder of Endeavor who joined us to talk about the strategy and what they’re finding.
We’re not talking about Israel, which has long been a hub of great returns and innovation despite the political turmoil. Rather, Endeavor has offices in Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. It will be announcing a new office in Lebanon in a few weeks and has plans to go into Saudi Arabia and UAE.
What interested Rottenberg most about the opportunity is the need for jobs: 60% of the region is under the age of 24 and they need jobs– about 100 million jobs. Returns aside, creating highly-paid innovation-based jobs for the region would be unquestionably a good thing for the world. When people don’t have jobs they fall into radicalism.
There are obviously a lot of security and moral issues about investing in these countries– and even logistical ones as we suspect a lot of VCs have too many Israel passport stamps to get in. The most interesting question will be whether cross-pollenation between entrepreneur-savvy Tel Aviv and its neighbors can ever truly take root. Consider it a more high-stakes version of that oft-cited business tug of war between greed and fear.