'Starting Off' the New Year: TYO Partners with Palestine StartUP Cup

While the first few weeks of January are often spent trying to kickstart New Year’s Resolutions and recovering from a busy holiday season, eight of TYO’s female entrepreneurs took the early part of 2014 to focus intently on their businesses- and ensure their success in the coming year. Selected as participants in Palestine StartUP Cup- a unique, innovative event for business training and competition- TYO entrepreneurs joined nearly 60 other innovators from across Palestine, who came together for an intensive weekend of startup training, mentoring, and pitching their business concepts. TYO acts as a partner in Palestine StartUP Cup, which aims to coordinate an entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as a business model competition. The goal is to both jumpstart real business from very refined ideas, and to connect promising entrepreneurs to, as well as prepare their ideas for, locally available resources and support networks for further refinement.

As StartUP Cup commenced in Palestine this weekend, participants gathered for the Extreme-Build-a-Business Workshop in Ramallah, a highly experiential, mentorship-driven program designed to visually facilitate entrepreneurs through the universal steps required to start and build a viable business.  The eight TYO entrepreneurs in attendance represented a wide range of micro-enterprises, ranging from an online, hyper-local medical search engine to a high-end clothing line that blends traditional Palestinian embroidery with modern fashion design. At the end of the Extreme-Build-a-Business-Workshop, 25 candidates were selected to move forward in StartUP Cup's next phase- and 6 TYO entrepreneurs were included in that group, and will be continuing on to the next level of the competition. In the next level, they'll receive more individualized support, mentoring, and assistance in accessing finances.

Maisa Abu-Mohsen was one of the TYO entrepreneurs present- as well as one of the top 25 businesses chosen during the weekend. Below, we've talked with her about how this weekend has shaped how she'll move forward with her business- Tubassee Soap Company- this year.

Maisa poses with StartUP Cup Founder Sean Griffin, CEO/ Founder of ConnectME Randa Masri, Silatech Director of Country Operations Fairuz Taqi-Eddin, and other mentors.

Tell us about the activities you completed during Palestine StartUP Cup's Extreme Build-a-Business Weekend. 

At the beginning of the program, the leaders of the event and the founder of StartUP Cup explained the StartUP Cup model to us, and how it has been useful for entrepreneurs all over the world. The main part of our work for the weekend was creating a visual document that mapped how our business has grown- and will keep growing- from an idea to an actual enterprise. We then worked on presenting these papers to each other, and made sure we could explain our business properly in a short 3-4 minute speech. Through all this,  we were meeting with mentors present at the event- professionals from both Palestine and the United States who were there to give feedback and advice to our presentations and papers. 

Who was a mentor you met with, and what was the most impacting advice you received? 

I met with Su’ad Abu Sraur from StayLinked, a company that focuses on connecting professionals in Palestine. She’s a managing partner there. When I first met with Su’ad, I was explaining to her that I worried my prices were too high, and I should reduce them by reducing the quality of ingredients I use.  But Su'ad encouraged me to think in another way, and not sacrifice the quality of my product- instead, she suggested that I should find new markets for my soaps. She encouraged me to expand my idea about how and where I can sell my products. From other mentors, I also learned about websites like Kickstarter that can help me attract investors and funders to my business- and this is a very good way for me to find new markets and interest in my soaps. 

What's your best memory from this weekend? 

When I was presenting my business to other participants and mentors, I was very happy- I’m becoming more confident in myself, and trusting in my ability to discuss my plans and goals. The best memory, though, was when my business was selected for continuation in the StartUP Cup competition- it was very meaningful to be chosen as one of the top 25 businesses there, and I couldn't believe that all the audience was clapping for me as they announced me as a winner. 

What does this event mean for female entrepreneurs in Palestine? 

Personally, it encourages me- it gives me more motivation to not stop my business when I face challenges, and makes me want to do as much as I can to meet my goals. It's also like advertising for female entrepreneurs' projects- I can meet with other women like me, and they can know more about my business. Also, it's very helpful that Palestine StartUP Cup is profiling our businesses in their materials and online- this gives us much support, and helps others outside Palestine know about us.  

Stay tuned in the coming months to learn more about Maisa's business, as well as those of her fellow TYO entrepreneurs! Be sure to check out some of the photos from this weekend here.

- Cayce is the Women's Empowerment Program Coordinator at TYO. Inas Badawi, TYO's Women's Program Assistant, translated the above interview.