Sheffield businesswomen help young entrepreneurs in Gaza

Sheffield entrepreneurs Elizabeth Shassere and Laura Bennett, middle, centre, with some of the Gaza Sky Geeks.
Sheffield entrepreneurs Elizabeth Shassere and Laura Bennett, middle, centre, with some of the Gaza Sky Geeks.
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Two Sheffield entrepreneurs used their expertise to help young people in Gaza start their own businesses.

Elizabeth Shassere and Laura Bennett travelled to the Palestinian territory as part of the Gaza Sky Geeks programme.

They spent a week mentoring young people and helping them progress their businesses ideas through a competition, before choosing the winner.

Writing on her blog, Laura said she was impressed by the standard of ideas, especially in the final.

"Given that English was not the first language for any of the presenters, and that pitching in public is nerve-wracking at the best of times, I thought everyone did a truly excellent job," she said.

Many of the ideas were Arabic versions of Western applications, such as Mommy Helper, inspired by Mumsnet. Others focused on needs specific to the region, such as Easiest Hajj, an app to help pilgrims find their way to Mecca and connect with each other on the journey.

Sheffield entrepreneurs Elizabeth Shassere and Laura Bennett with some of the Gaza Sky Geeks.

Sheffield entrepreneurs Elizabeth Shassere and Laura Bennett with some of the Gaza Sky Geeks.

After choosing the winning ideas, Laura and Elizabeth gave out donated pieces of technology that the young people otherwise might not have access to.

"We each gave our feedback on the teams that we thought would be a good fit for their accelerator programme, and our feedback overall on the bootcamp," she said.

"Without exception we all said that we would be happy to continue mentoring the teams via Skype, and that we’d all love to come back and work some more with the Gazan entrepreneurs."

One of the things that Laura was particularly impressed with was the number of ideas put forward by women.

Sheffield entrepreneur Laura Bennett gives a presentation at the Gaza Sky Geeks programme.

Sheffield entrepreneur Laura Bennett gives a presentation at the Gaza Sky Geeks programme.

She said: "They really have been the absolute superstars of this whole experience.

"Without exception, the women taking part in the bootcamp are incredibly intelligent, very driven and ambitious, articulate (and in English too), lively, funny, and generally holding their teams and the whole show together.

"In the majority of the mixed gender teams that I've met with, it's been the female(s) who have either been the technical co-founder, or the CEO, or both.

"It really puts us to shame in the UK - running Founders' Network, I'm lucky if I have two female startup founders at any of my events."

Gaza. Photo: Laura Bennett

Gaza. Photo: Laura Bennett

Elizabeth had previously visited Gaza, but this was Laura's first time. During some downtime, she visited a breakwater made from bomb debris. Every time there is destruction caused by Israeli shelling, they bring the debris down to the breakwater to extend it further.

"We drove all the way to the end of the breakwater and looked back onto the Gaza shoreline," she said. "The breakwater itself, as you might expect given the provenance of its construction materials, is comprised entirely of broken concrete blocks and iron bars. So it's not exactly Brighton pier, but the Gazans told us that it provides the same sense of calm and distance from the madness, to come and walk along it and look out to the sea."

Laura added: "I was already impressed with Gaza Sky Geeks before coming out here. My admiration and respect for the work that the team is doing in Gaza has only increased."

"I feel I can be a good judge of this: having run programmes as part of a non-profit organisation in a challenging environment, I know from first-hand experience that it’s a real struggle to find the time and resources to do everything that you know needs to be done, and that was in rural (but touristy) Peru, not the Gaza Strip."

The women are still trying to fund their trip. If you would like to donate visit www.gofundme.com/gaza-sky-geeks.

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Sheffield entrepreneur Laura Bennett gives a presentation at the Gaza Sky Geeks programme.

Sheffield entrepreneur Laura Bennett gives a presentation at the Gaza Sky Geeks programme.

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