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Jordan tech sector taking off

It's no Silicon Valley, but in the Arab world the desert kingdom has become something of a techie's mecca.

Though Israel is still far ahead of its Arab neighbors, and the UAE offers more job opportunities than Jordan, Humeid says that the cost of starting a company in Amman is much lower than in Dubai, for example, where office space is much more expensive. Additionally, there is no government interference or Internet censorship in Jordan, compared with Arabian Gulf nations where governments block many websites.

Since taking the throne, Abdullah has also pushed hard for the country to become a leader in the IT sector. Among the most notable programs, the government has also sponsored iPark, a business incubator program that offers fledgling technology companies office space and logistical support, such as secretarial services, at a nominal fee. Since its launch in 2003, 20 companies have graduated from the program, and of those only two have failed.

Wissam Rabadi, director of iPark, says the companies have created more than 600 jobs at a cost to the government of only $1,400 per job. Among the most valuable aspects of the program though, is its role in helping to foster the culture of innovation in Jordan, Rabadi says.

Successful companies like Maktoob.com or graduates from iPark “have a passion for [technology companies] and they believe in this industry, that it could produce multiples of return. They will become the next generation of investors looking at this type of investment,” Rabadi says. Even outside the IT community, he adds that unlike the older generation, “The new generation is more techie. I think they will be more comfortable looking at these deals.”

In a darkly positive twist of fate, the global economic crisis may also help to strengthen Jordan’s IT sector. The small Arab nation has remained relatively unscathed by the financial meltdown and a number of citizens have returned from the Arabian Gulf after losing high paying jobs there. Those in the tech industry are hoping the returnees may stay on to develop their own businesses.

Additionally, the Princess Sumaya University for Technology, one of Jordan’s leading technical universities, is having a much easier time finding graduates local jobs. Just five years ago, Yahia Al-Halabi, the dean of PSUT, estimates that only a quarter of graduates could find technology jobs in Jordan. Today, nearly 60 percent are able to find work in their home country.

Despite the increasing availability of jobs in Jordan, Al-Halabi says Jordan is still lagging in terms of the salaries it can offer.

“We try to find them jobs here,” he says. “But there is a big difference between the salaries here and in the Gulf. If I was a graduate and somebody offered me four times my salary here, I would go.”

While Jordan is still a long way from creating anything like Silicon Valley, Humeid of Ikbis says that, “We are remotely part of that culture.” He and his colleagues signed their first major sponsorship deal with Nokia when their headquarters consisted of a table, some computers, and a few chairs in their friend’s office.

“We are the representation of that culture, in that you can start with a couple of computers in a garage or in a bedroom and with not much capital,” he says.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/jordan/090923/jordan-tech-silicon-valley-yahoo%21