نظام الفلافل

A while ago I was reviewing some of the entrepreneurship ecosystem mapping I did for Jordan during previous projects.
I found some interesting trends over the past 15 years in Jordan. I would say the entrepreneurship ecosystem is like our Falafel ecosystem.
Have you ever noticed that when a new Falafel restaurant opens in a new area, within few months you will notice that more and more Falafel restaurants are opened in the same area. Not only that but if someone introduced a new kind of bread, all nearby restaurants will copy that. At the end, all restaurants will be providing almost the same sandwiches, same quality and even same decoration.
In this ecosystem most of the surviving restaurants will have groups of loyal customers from the neighborhood who will buy exclusively from their restaurants. Yes I mean it “their restaurants” because those customers would have relatives or friends who work in these restaurants and most probably they will continue buying regardless if there is any changes (positive or negative).
Moreover the restaurants owners will keep checking the feedback or opinion of their customers (friends) about what they can improve without checking with the nontraditional customers to have wider/different opinions.
The same approach is followed by almost all other sectors. For example today I noticed that a third pharmacy will open close to my home copying models of existing ones without providing any clear value to me other than it is new and I like to find out about.
The purpose of this article is not to highlight that entrepreneurs or startups are copying each other as this is a different story, but what is interesting that the entrepreneurship support organizations are following the same trend of the Falafel ecosystem.
Jordan has faced different waves of kinds of entrepreneurship support activities/initiatives over the past 15 years that ranges from incubation, training, policies to different funding’s.
In general what we lack in our ecosystem is not any of the entrepreneurship ecosystem elements, but it is the abundance of the same specific support offered at the same certain time period.
Over the past years I noticed the following waves of support

  • incubation programs that host startups
  • wave of scattered investment levels but not structured toward specific target
  • almost at the same time many microfinancing banks and programs start to appear
  • a wave of lot of grants mainly funded by international and local public institutes
  • at some time some success stories from the IT sector start to appear which increased the focus on IT and web startups
  • following that some initiatives of angel investors start to appear and form some networks to support early stage investments
  • then the time of seed investments start to appear along with local and regional acceleration initiatives
  • this was directly followed by the rise of local and regional VCs focusing on the large investments
  • besides that lot of mentors and mentorship programs start to be developed and services are offered to enhance the startups quality
  • at a certain period many donors and public institutes start to notice that most of the startups are generated in Amman and other areas are left behind so many programs came out to provide grants and support to people from those areas and forgot about startups in Amman
  • Although Amman was left behind most of startup grants, much development happened in the area of co-working spaces and areas where entrepreneurs would meet brain storm and develop their IT projects mainly.
  • at that time many  entrepreneurship culture awareness activities  started to create lot of buzz around Jordan through development of workshops, events, promotion, tools, and even books.
  • many people and companies start to take the advantage of that and started offering lot of entrepreneurship training programs and capacity building so where ever you go you will find an entrepreneur who is willing to offer such kind of training and support program.
  • on the other hand large companies local and international wanted to get engaged and offer similar programs to the community
  • at the same time several governmental organization noticed that they are away behind the progress of policies and strategies of entrepreneurship and they want to get involved through developing national policies and strategies, which include but not limited to entrepreneurship strategy and innovation strategy.
  • when the Syrian crises start to affect the Jordanian markets, many donors driven by public organizations start to focus in social entrepreneurship especially outside Amman, refugee camps and women startups.

What is funny that similar to the Falafel ecosystem, each active program has their own active customers or beneficiary for their services. Which makes not only the development of these programs difficult because they are surrounded by the same customers and stakeholders, but also the startups would not be easily survive if they jump outside their micro entrepreneurship ecosystem. Alternatively, some entrepreneurs shop around for the same service from different supporters but with achieving major growth target.
In general I like the development of our Falafel entrepreneurship ecosystem and having many initiatives, but the challenge is to offer what and when by all actors.
Entrepreneurs and startups themselves evolve as well and need new kind of support but each time a new entrepreneur start his or her idea would need to go to various stages of support. If they need for example seed fund, mentor or shred co-working space they should be able to find not wait till the next wave of support rise again to get access to these services.
In short what I wish to see is a mature ecosystem that each actor would focus on their core competency and develop it rather in innovative way rather than jumping to the next wave of support because others are moving in that direction or some donors are ready to fund it.
For example currently if I want to find a good active mentorship program in Jordan for my entrepreneurs in my programs I can not find any active one, or if I want to help them in applying for a grant or seed fund which we used to have abundance of them, I can find only one or two who could offer that for the stage the entrepreneurs I support at the German Jordanian University. On the other hand, currently, I am promoting on weekly basis different competitions for students but no follow up programs are offered.
All kind of services are needed at all times to have healthy entrepreneurship ecosystem. As the entrepreneurs need all and different services at their different stages of development.
I cannot blame the donors and program funders on the duplicated efforts but it is more on the coordination and development of innovative programs generating impact rather than looking for simplicity and short term results.
Finally I agree that there are many people who are (and will continue) looking for Falafel with homos, or foul or tahina but there are others who might like to have Falafel with peanut sauce or Falafel made of oat and lentil for example.
These thoughts and ideas are not really based on scientific facts but they are based on my general observations over many years. For that I appreciate your feedback and suggestions to improve this article.

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