09 May 2009

Innovate Syria ~ Crafting Venture Clusters, Plus...

I was quite privileged and pleased this past week to participate in an Innovate Syria exploratory event. MIT graduate student Saeed Arida is one of the key orchestrators who drew us together with the Syrian Ambassador to the US Imad Moustapha. I've had the honor of welcoming the Ambassador to MIT before and, in fact, of walking him about on my special MIT Innovation Tour together with then EECS doctoral student Maya Said and Syrian-American entrepreneur Bob Ayan. This time our dinner discussion centered around building entrepreneurial clusters in Syria with the goal of increasingly linking all the top-cities and regions of the country in an economically vibrant network. So Latakia might become a translogistics and tourism cluster, while Aleppo an agriprocessing and solarpower cluster, and so forth. To catalyze such a promising future, however, we need urgent and tangible action today.

What Saeed's team advocate are Innovation Centers, starting in the center of the top-city, Damascus. Such nodes serve as attractors of talent from in-country, from the "brain-drain" diaspora, and beyond to come together to found, build, and lead a new wave of technology empowered entrepreneurial ventures which will change the prosperity dynamics of Syria. Saeed and his colleagues -- and for that matter Ambassador Moustapha -- aim for nothing less than transforming Syria into a prosperous and vibrant tomorrow. And I think they can do it too. Syria's strategic, natural, and cultural assets are unparalleled: beautiful environment, lovely location, rich and deep history, tasty cuisine and lively lifestyle, a largely safe and secular society, vital educational and intellectual strengths, and an entrepreneurial ethos pervading the people that has simply to be tapped, nurtured, and enabled. As my MIT visiting colleague Sigi Atteneder articulated in his award-winning Hummus 2050 project, Syria is central to the vital Levant which is the heart of a growing and glorious MENACA region more generally. This is a country which should be as (or more) properous per capita as California or Kuwait -- and that's for reasons independent of their respective gas and oil wealth! I look forward to helping Saeed, his colleagues, and Ambassador Moustapha to Innovate Syria!

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