When considering entrepreneurship in the Middle East, most individuals think of countries like the United Arab Emirates, Israel, or Lebanon. Fewer people think of Afghanistan, which has been hampered by too little capital and too much political unrest to support many emerging businesses. Since the early 2000s, however, the Afghan startup scene has been taking steps towards success, thanks to a number of pioneering entrepreneurs who have unlocked the potential of budding companies.
Today, there are a number of Afghan startups providing technology services and products, while other players have begun to expand into other sectors. No matter where they focus their work, each of these startups is contributing to a more diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem and a stronger economy in Afghanistan. However, these companies cannot drive the nation’s startup scene alone. In recent years, a number of ventures have emerged that support the success of entrepreneurs and their businesses.
Read on to learn more about a few of the companies and organizations that make up Afghanistan’s growing startup scene:
Entrepreneur Naikbeen Naikpay established SmartMaktab to help create a better educational system for students. To reach this goal, the startup is revolutionizing the way that instructors present school subjects ranging from mathematics to English. Through its online platform, SmartMaktab digitizes education for nearly 10 million students. School instructors can sign up through the startup’s website and publish courses that students may engage with at any time. Accessible via both desktop and mobile devices, SmartMaktab is making it easier for students to receive the educational support they need, anytime and anywhere.
Based in Kabul, Daftar is the first co-working space in Afghanistan. Here, startup owners, freelance workers, and those who operate small- to medium-sized enterprises can enjoy a shared office space that provides all the professional amenities they need to support their businesses. However, Daftar is much more than a place to work; it is a space where professionals can inspire each other, cultivate networks, and share their expertise. Part of the Afghanistan Center for Excellence, the co-working space rents out desks on a monthly basis but also provides its members with everything from access to multimedia rooms to assistance with business marketing operations.
In 2005, Netlinks became one of the first Afghan startups in the realm of information technology (IT). At the time, few individuals in the country possessed skills in this field, and there was no Afghan tech industry to speak of. However, founder Farshid Ghyasi jumpstarted Afghanistan’s IT market and turned Netlinks into the leading software development company in the nation. In order to achieve such success for his startup, he sends local employees abroad to train in India so that they can help fulfill Afghanistan’s need for skilled workers. Now with more than 150 staff members, Netlinks is able to engineer customized IT solutions for nearly 3,000 clients.
Ibtikaar is another enterprise aimed at supporting the growth of startups across Afghanistan. Primarily focused on technology companies, the venture supplies entrepreneurs with necessary resources and professional mentorship. In addition to offering access to work space, Ibtikaar operates a startup incubation program that takes on entrepreneurs looking for mentoring, skills training, and help in accessing funding. Over the course of two years, the venture supports participants through the Afghanistan Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. By the end of the incubation period, startups emerge ready to run their own operations and offer fully developed products to the local public.
Since its inception in 2013, Aria Gems has proven that Afghan startups can play a big role in combatting illegal and black market trade in the country. Founders Habib Mohebi and Forrest Snowden created their company to help prevent the country’s emeralds from entering illegal markets. Aria Gems facilitates mining operations in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. At facilities there and in the United States, the startup processes each emerald for legal trade in Afghanistan and global markets, helping to ensure that miners receive a fair price for their gems. Aria Gems also educates locals on the safest methods of extracting and refining these jewels, so that they may gain valuable skills that can help them earn a living.
One of the most prominent players in the Afghan startup scene is TechSharks, which has led the growth of the nation’s online business solutions industry since 2011. A member of the Afghanistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries, the startup offers everything from web hosting services to mobile app creation. With this level of technology service, TechSharks hopes to transform the face of the web for those living in Afghanistan. In addition, the startup welcomes Afghans to submit innovative ideas that will help support the growth of the national information and communication technology (ICT) industry.
Established in Silicon Valley in 2010, Startup Grind has since expanded to more than 200 cities across the globe. However, it was not until 2015 that it reached Kabul, where the organization has focused on fostering the growth of Afghanistan’s startup scene. More specifically, Startup Grind is looking to stimulate more entrepreneurial interest among Afghan youth by providing startup resources and other networking opportunities. Startup Grind began its work in the country by hosting an introductory event that garnered the attention of more than 150 local entrepreneurs and investors.