Tech Center: Facebook’s Incubator, Canadian FinTechs And Gaza Startups

Tech Center Global Innovation

Around the world, global tech centers are standing out for increased innovation, funding and tech opportunity. In this week’s Tech Center tracker, Facebook gives the French tech ecosystem a big boost of support, Canada’s FinTechs reach record high investments and young entrepreneurs in Gaza catch the eye of Silicon Valley.

Facebook To Open Startup Garage

For the launch of its first official startup incubator, Facebook has chosen to become a founding partner in what many consider to be the world’s biggest startup campus, Station F in central Paris. The social network giant is set to launch its “Startup Garage” initiative at the campus in April, which will provide desks and working space for 10 to 15 startups.

“France is home to some of the most innovative technology companies in the world,” stated Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, at the time of the announcement. “We’re excited to support a new generation of French startups with enormous potential to grow the economy and create jobs.”

While the company will not be investing directly into the chosen startups, it will provide them with guidance and expertise to help them navigate their respective industries, the Financial Times noted. The Startup Garage will be Facebook’s first physical location that will be used as an accelerator for startups, as opposed to the digital startup mentorship programs the company has run in the past.

Station F is a historical monument that’s expected to house nearly 3,000 desks for tech companies across a variety of industries. The project is being financed by French billionaire Xavier Niel and will be led by Roxanne Varza, who previously ran startup activities for Microsoft in France, TechCrunch reported.

“We’re thrilled to be a founding partner and start the Facebook Startup Garage here,” Sandberg added. “My guess is that we’re going to learn even more from working with you than you working with us.”

FinTechs In Canada Aim High

For the first time in nearly two decades, Canadian financial technology companies have drawn in a new crop of venture capital funds. Citing data from PitchBook, Reuters reported venture capital financing of Canadian FinTechs was $137.7 million in 2016. That’s up nearly 35 percent from the year earlier. Just five years ago, the investment dollars hovered around $21 million, showing a significant shift. In 2000, it was $7.3 million, according to the report.

Data from Reuters revealed an almost 74 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 in terms of investments in Canadian FinTech startups. While the investment dollars are tiny compared to the $4.27 billion invested in the U.S. during 2016, investments are increasing in Canada at a time when there’s been a slowdown of investment dollars flowing into FinTechs in both the U.S. and the U.K.

“From a global stage, Canada is a relatively small market,” noted Adam Nanjee, who heads the FinTech group in Toronto’s MaRS research hub, in the report. “But it’s one of the best markets to build a company around innovation because we have a great test market, great infrastructure for financial services.”

Reuters reported investments in FinTech in the U.S. dropped by 30 percent or more in 2016. In the U.K., investments fell 25 percent, and in Singapore, 65 percent. The weak activity in the U.S. and U.K. was driven by Brexit and the U.S. presidential election, the report explained.

Tech Gurus Eye Gaza

Tech leaders from companies such as Uber, Google, SoundCloud and 500 startups have all made mentoring young entrepreneurs in Gaza a priority.

That’s because they see the tech innovation and opportunity brewing right underneath the surface.

In Gaza, Recode recently reported, startups are using their access to technology to solve big problems and build out significant opportunities, even in a region that’s been impacted by closed borders, terrible conflicts and increasingly high unemployment rates.

Despite these challenges, it has achieved one of the highest levels of education and internet access in the Arab world, making it a top producer of young entrepreneurs who are eager to solve complicated problems with creative solutions.

Coworking space Gaza Sky Geeks was launched back in 2011 and has now become an acceleration program that connects the leading startup ideas and entrepreneurs in Gaza and connects them with training, coaches and mentors that can help them create a business from their concepts.

Needless to say, Silicon Valley and other global tech centers have taken note of the changing technology tides in Gaza.

Companies ranging from Google to Coca-Cola, Uber to Hitachi and more, have made efforts to help mentor startups in Gaza. Recode noted that Gaza Sky Geeks was able to leverage this support back in 2014 when it launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund its operations — it sought to raise $70,000 but made over $267,000 in just weeks, with money pouring in from more than 60 countries.

“This is what we do at the Wamda Group,” explained Fadi Ghandour, founder of the Wamda Group, which is the largest VC firm in Gaza. “We support entrepreneurs and help nurture the ecosystem in the region. Gaza Sky Geeks is where techies come to get their dose of hope in achieving part of their ambitions under a blockade system that punishes everyone. This is about Gazan Geeks becoming entrepreneurs and building businesses like everyone else around the world. It is ambitious, talented youth exploring, venturing and succeeding.”