Arab country officials meet in Silicon Valley

January 16, 2012 8:54:17 PM PST
Monday, officials from 11 Arab nations met in Silicon Valley looking for ideas on how to best build technology in their countries.

A gleaming high tech center near Cairo, Egypt is an example of ambitious goals Arab nations have to become part of the connected world. Ministers from 11 Middle East countries have convened for a conference at Sunnyvale's Plug and Play Tech Center.

Mohammed Allawi is Iraq's minister of communications. He says he is on a mission, "to contact the private companies, those who are looking to invest in the country, to tell them what are the opportunities, what challenges they may face in Iraq, and also our future plans."

While each country's plans may differ, each one needs technical expertise, and in some cases, investment capital. Venture capitalist Dr. Ossama Hassanein is chairman of TechWadi, which is hosting the visit. He says there is some reluctance to invest during a period of transition.

"There is quite a bit, but at the same time, I'm surprised. For example, in Egypt there are six companies that were financed this year as compared to zero the year before, and in the case of e-commerce and mobile applications for local consumption, they're doing very well," said Hassanein.

After years of war, Iraq needs to rebuild. It has an ambitious five-year plan to connect its 32 million people to the Internet. The ministers are trying to assure potential investors not to worry.

"We are transitioning, but we are committed to the industry, we are committed to our partners, we are committed to attracting more foreign investment," said Yasser El Kady, the Egyptian I.T. Ministry CEO.

There is also a strong movement to foster start-up's, created by visionary entrepreneurs. The valley can help Arab nations by mentoring them and by helping them to overcome a cultural aversion to failure.

"In the region, there's a lot of fear failure and if you look at what made Silicon Valley great, is it's OK to start and fail and start again. There is no stigma associated with this kind of failure," said Ford Tamer, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

While here in the Valley, the delegation of ministers will tour several high tech companies. Then they will go to Washington to meet with lawmakers to discuss tech policy.