17th March 2017 London, UK
From overlooked to overachieving – through UK tech
Like many teenagers, Maria Nassar was fascinated by popular fantasy books, depicting dragons, monsters and doomsday scenes. At just 16 years old, this native of Nazareth in Israel came up with a great idea, pursued it and five years later she now jointly owns an electronic platform for independent story-tellers with millions of monthly unique users.
Being a hi-tech entrepreneur in Israel, often nicknamed the Start Up Nation, is common. But Maria faced unique challenges in growing her business: coming from Israel’s Arab minority, she needed guidance, connections and access to finance – all of which are much easier for her Jewish counterparts in the centre of the country to find.
This is where the UK Israel Tech Hub stepped in. We saw Maria’s potential and encouraged her to join our “Go Global” programme for Arab entrepreneurs in Israel, which develops their skills and connects them to opportunities in the UK. Maria travelled to the UK and met major players from the publishing industry to present her idea. By now, we’ve helped several start-ups from the Arab community sign significant business deals with British partners. While details are confidential, this is a real breakthrough – creating the first role models of international business success for entrepreneurs in this community.
The UK Israel Tech Hub, established at the British Embassy Israel in 2011, isn’t working with innovators like Maria as a philanthropic project. We see a fantastic business opportunity for the UK – this untapped potential can bring real business value with a fresh stream of innovation. Furthermore, the unique mix of tech talent and Arabic language skills is an asset to any British company looking to target the vast Arabic-speaking global markets.
We have recently begun to focus on other minority groups often underrepresented in the tech world: women, ultra-orthodox Jews, LGBT. Technology is colour-blind and speaks the language of results, not perceptions – which makes it a great platform to promote diversity. Our Ambassador has made it his personal mission to support this, hosting over 200 members of an LGBTech meetup group at his Residence, and traveling to launch programmes in remote areas in Israel. The UK is recognised for its diversity and openness – Israelis are often surprised when they meet UK businesspeople “who don’t even have a British accent”!
The UK was the first country to ever establish a tech hub at a diplomatic mission – in Israel. The model is working: in five years, the Hub has delivered over 80 tech partnerships between the UK and Israel, with estimated value to the economy of £600m. In March, as part of the UK’s new Digital Strategy, it was announced that the Tech Hub model developed in Israel would be rolled out to five new locations, in developing markets. The potential to support talented individuals like Maria and connect them to the UK is greater than ever.