Members of the Forbes Under 30 community mentored 11 early-stage Middle Eastern startups Wednesday as part of a pitch competition at the 2022 Forbes Under 30 Summit EMEA, co-hosted by Jerusalem Venture Partners.
Less than 24 hours after Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a monumental free-trade agreement, hundreds of young entrepreneurs gathered in Jerusalem to pitch peaceful solutions of their own.
Situated under the vibrant cherry trees at Margalit Startup City, one of Startup Nation’s signature innovation hubs, members of the Forbes Under 30 community mentored 11 early-stage Middle Eastern startups Wednesday as part of a pitch competition at the 2022 Forbes Under 30 Summit EMEA, co-hosted by venture capital firm Jerusalem Venture Partners. In a region fraught with conflict and disagreements, Forbes heard firsthand from founders who want to move the needle toward universal solutions for coexistence.
Take Lina Zahayka, the cofounder of Palestinian startup Greeners, which is using CO2 emissions to create eco-friendly, sustainable fertilizers through a patented formula to reshape the current agriculture sector. But she’s not just focused on farmers–she’s working to help solve climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simultaneously. “There are so many factories on the borders between Israel and Palestine that harm the ecosystem. They do it on the borders to harm each other,” she says. “There are so many bad effects that affect the people because of this conflict.”
Others are helping to bridge peace through film, like Andy Hirsh, whose animation studio Olive Branch Pictures is addressing the conflict with a children’s film about two young women (one Israeli, one Palestinian) who use music to cope with trauma and combine their talents to bring peace to Jerusalem.
It’s an uphill battle, as just last month, Israeli police clashed with Palestinian mourners carrying the coffin of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, with Israel and Palestinians trading blame for who was responsible for her shooting.
Nevertheless, Thomas Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, spoke Wednesday, cautioning the young entrepreneurs to not lose sight of a two-state solution. “The way to do that is to make sure that Palestinians have a sense of connection to business and opportunity,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is about risk-taking, and being smart about risk-taking. If you want to be successful in the long term, you must give back. You’ve got to remember it’s bigger than you.”
Here’s a look at some of the young startups working to bring change to the lives of those in the Middle East and beyond:
The team: Cofounders Lina Zahayka (CEO), Noor Daraghmeh (COO) and Haytham Sharabati (CFO) and Ayar Daqa (agricultural engineer and marketing manager)
The mission: To make eco-friendly fertilizers without producing massive amounts of harmful CO2 emissions.
The solution: Absorbing the CO2 emissions and using them to make 10 different kinds of liquid fertilizers that have different nutritional characteristics for plants. Greeners is initially targeting farmers and home growers in Palestine, but plans to move to many markets in the Middle East and Africa.
Quote: “Climate change doesn’t matter if you are from this nation or that nation. It’s an issue for all of us,” says cofounder Lina Zahayka. “We at Greeners try to focus on that. We don’t want to help a small part–we need to be global.”
The team: Shai Winkler and Mohamad Nijam
The mission: To break the cycle of poverty in underprivileged communities, specifically among the 261,000 at-risk children in Israel across three different religious communities.
The solution: To match passionate volunteers with kids to teach language, math and social skills–building 15 educational centers in the next few years.
Quote: “The education system has failed at-risk youth,” says Bakehila’s Mohamad Nijam. “[Our] experience gives these kids basic skills needed to function in society, but also the self-confidence to know that they matter.”
The team: Cofounders Raya Fatayer (CEO), Mohammad Alnobani (COO) and Moath Mousa (CTO)
The mission: To provide content creators and advertising agencies with a library of diverse Arab images.
The solution: To create the “Shutterstock of the Arab world,” helping companies find images to promote their content in the Middle East.
The team: Cofounders Khaled Zbidat (CEO) and Bilal Tayh (CTO)
The mission: To bring the tools and technology used in live sports to those in the gaming industry.
The solution: To create a fully-automated production studio to help gaming streamers provide their viewers with a thrilling and engaging watching experience, allowing them to create highlight reels and replays, among other features.
Quote: “Gaming contributes to every single conflict in the world because gaming is international,” says cofounder and CEO Khaled Zbidat. “It’s across all borders.”
The team: Jafar I. Mahfouz
The mission: To help families keep track of their identification documents, such as passports, licenses and other forms of identification.
The solution: An app that reminds families of when their documents are about to expire, among other features.
The team: Cofounders Adnan Jaber, Muhammad Massalha and Rajai Barakat
The mission: To create an app that makes the lives of personal trainers in the Arab world easier.
The solution: Instead of sending lots of text messages and PDFs to clients, trainers can use the platform to build interactive training programs, track clients’ progress overtime and bill clients – all in one place.
Quote: “There are one million trainers in the Arab world and there’s not a single training platform in Arabic,” says cofounder Adnan Jaber. “We are revolutionizing personal training, so one day you and I can find more motivation to exercise and live healthier lives.”
The team: Founder Andy Hirsh
The mission: To build an ideologically-balanced comics and animation studio for intercultural conflict mediation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The solution: To create the first Israeli-Palestinian Disney princess movie (think “Frozen meets the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Hirsh says) to show children how to create healing and peace.
Quote: “[We want to] address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a story that children can relate to and instill empathy into their hearts at a young age. What makes this work is that you have the freedom of fiction,” says founder Andy Hirsh. “I hope the kids will take away learning how to channel emotions into something valuable not only for yourself, but for the world.”
The team: Amin Mamoun Hussien Dasouki
The mission: To create a social platform where tourists and locals can upload short videos about the places they are visiting or living in.
The solution: By sharing the beauty of specific places, people, cultures and traditions, people from different countries can learn about one another.
Quote: “We believe that our platform can support the peace between Palestine and Israel, by letting peoples in these places see the others’ daily lives, and understand the unclear traditions or actions out there.”
The team: Cofounders Shai Beneli (CMO), Aryeh Munk (CEO), Aaron Fertig (head of business development), Mohammad Dwaikat (CTO) and Aaron Bortz
The mission: To build an inheritance solution for cryptocurrency.
The solution: Building an encrypted, smart contract on the blockchain to store a person’s crypto account passcodes that cannot be accessed until the person passes. Upon the person’s death, the contract will be sent to the executor or heir of their will.
Quote: “We are a company built with Israelis and Palestinians together,” says cofounder Shai Beneli. “It’s part of our mission to bridge the conflict and we believe innovation is the best way to do this.”
The team: Cofounders Tony Saeed and Essam Najjar
The mission: To make vacationing in the Israeli and Arab world easier.
The solution: An online platform for renting villas and holiday apartments in the Middle East.
Videos by Ivan Clow and Jonathan Palmer


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