Google is launching a new accelerator programme for startups in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). The three month programme will begin in November with a cohort of 15 startups from across the region.
The Google for Startups Accelerator Programme is a global initiative that provides mentoring and support from a combination of Google’s own and external mentors alongside workshops, assistance with technology, product, design and leadership training. The company is also offering $1.1 million worth of Google.org financial grants to organisations like Mercy Corps, Arab Tourism Organisation and Youth Business International, to mentor businesses and entrepreneurs across the region.
“We did this [accelerator] in Latin America and it was transformational,” said Lino Cattaruzzi, managing director for Google Mena. “This is the first time we are launching this here, it is the most comprehensive programme we have. We have a huge angle on the tech side and we see this as an enabler programme. We look for an amplifying effect...we are trying to focus on the impact these companies will have in the space they operate.”
The accelerator is part of a wider initiative, “Grow Stronger with Google”, which was announced today to help boost the Middle East’s economic recovery through digital transformation by offering digital tools, training and financial grants to support local businesses and job seekers.
The company is attempting to ease access to capital by offering $3 million in loans to support thousands of underserved small businesses ($2 million of this will go to Egypt) in partnership with Kiva, an online lending platform and is also offering $9 million in ad grants and credits for governments and businesses, taking its total regional investment to $13 million.
The Grow Stronger with Google initiative also includes the launch of Market Finder, a product that helps local retailers identify new markets and acquire global customers. It is aiming to get 50,000 local businesses online, particularly those in retail and tourism, by listing them on Google my Business and training them in digital marketing. Data from Google shows that searches related to online shopping rose by 36 per cent in the UAE, 28 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 43 per cent in Egypt.
“Online shopping has grown by 65 per cent over the last few months. Reaching new audiences by exporting abroad should be easier, it should not be just for medium and big businesses,” said Cattaruzzi.
Google is also pledging to help one million people and businesses in Mena learn digital skills and grow their businesses by the end of 2021.
"Online tools have been a life-line for many during the pandemic. Making the most of the online opportunity can help people, businesses and communities in the UAE and in the wider region bounce back stronger,” said Cattaruzzi. “Through our programme, we will help people learn new skills and find jobs, and help businesses grow online, especially those in the retail and tourism sectors that have been most affected. We remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of this region, and confident that working together with local partners, we can boost recovery and build on the rapid acceleration of tech adoption we’ve seen during the crisis."
According to Kearney Middle East, consumers in Saudi Arabia have been spending 95 per cent more time online because of the pandemic, while those in the UAE have been spending 79 per cent more time.