“Where are startups in Egypt?”

As the bus arrived in Cairo, Nalan emailed one of her mentors and contacts: Rahilla Zafar, the author of a book about women entrepreneurs. “Where are there startups in Egypt? Is there an accelerator somewhere?” she asked.

The next day, Nalan was at Flat6Labs, one of the top startup accelerators in the Middle East. A friend of Nalan’s from Gaza Sky Geeks, one of our international mentors, a global fellow at Acumen, and former google designer, Asim Janjua helped her make the right connections. Asim saw a lot of potential in Nalan’s startup idea and in her resilient character so he connected her with a promising online marketing and public relations startup in Cairo.

Next steps

Nalan’s next steps are still unclear. Her family will likely stay in Egypt because they have already been through several conflicts in Gaza and do not want to go through another one. Though the family is prominent in Palestine (several of them are leaders in Fatah.), resources are now tight. They are trying to settle in Cairo and find paid work. Nalan is applying for master’s programs abroad as well.

Currently, Nalan earns $400 per month to work at the startup in Egypt. “They don’t work as hard as we do in Gaza,” she said. “I can’t believe it. They leave work by 4pm. Not like us at Gaza Sky Geeks!” She hopes to earn more in the future saying, “someday, we’ll earn what we deserve.”

Nalan also continues to be involved with the Gaza Sky Geeks team and represented us at Rise Up Summit in Egypt, speaking after Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups. “Gaza Sky Geeks is the reason for me to smile and have hope in life every day.  I swear this place is magical!” she says. She is often up until 3 am messaging me on Whatsapp about our work. (Yes, I’m often up until 3 am working too.)

Nalan still hopes to launch her startup, but at the moment it is in a holding pattern. She has to get her life to a more stable place first.

Nalan Rise Up Summit


Losing her father

I adore Nalan for her guts, her determination, her optimism, her smile, and so much more. She is one of my favorite people from Gaza – and there are many.

I also wish that I could heal her wounds. The biggest is the loss of her father 6 years ago. “He left through the border crossing with Israel to get health care when he was ill,” she says. “He came back through the border crossing with Egypt, in a coffin.” Like many Gazans, Nalan was not able to leave Gaza to be with her father at his deathbed.

Nalan dad

A post from Nalan’s Facebook page on May 1, the anniversary of her father’s death

I grew up in Silicon Valley, but I did not fall in love with startups until I arrived to Gaza. Here, startups are one of the only ways that wonderful people can take their future into their own hands and connect to the rest of the world, even if mostly online.

The advice and encouragement I give Nalan, I give to all Gazan entrepreneurs: “I hope you will go create something incredible. Build something. Break something. Fail. Get up again. You are a true leader – and by leading others, you will heal yourself and our world.”

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by staff writer

Iliana Montauk

Gaza Sky Geeks Director, Mercy Corps Digital Economy Program Director