A View from Matthew Kalman
A Palestinian Startup Success Story
A popular job-seeking Web app highlights an entrepreneurial groundswell.
Palestine is perhaps not a place you’d immediately associate with cool new Web startups. But here’s a success story that shows how the territory’s tech industry is starting to blossom.
Souktel, a start-up based in Ramallah on the West Bank, offers a Web-based employment application called JobMatch that blends high and low-tech job-matching services in a way that could be particularly suited to the developing world.
JobMatch is a mobile and web-based platform that helps potential employers find suitable job seekers by filtering out unsuitable applicants, thereby saving time and cost in the recruitment process. The service now operates in 20 countries in five languages, with more planned. Its creators say it is a big hit in both Rwanda and Somalia.
Job seekers register via SMS, voice, or the Web and create a mini-CV listing their basic qualifications. A search command with a custom-matching weighted algorithm in the back-end filters applicants, matching them with jobs. Employers can look for applicants, browse CVs, or have a vacancy matched to specific CVs.
“The benefit of this is you’re only finding content you need, relevant to what you’re looking for,” says Vanessa Farquharson of Souktel.
Once registered, job seekers can actively search for jobs, receiving listings via sms or the Web. The technology suits developing markets where many people lack access to the Web but have basic mobile devices.
“Our key proprietary feature is the mobile match engine,” says Kristen Roggemann, Souktel business development manager. “We get a lot of traction in the Arab world with women. Their families might not want them moving to a big city by themselves to try to find a job,” she says.
Souktel currently has 700 employers registered in six countries and has matched more than 5,000 job seekers with jobs or training. The company is also behind the AidLink service which has become a key tool for aid workers in developing countries and is now helping streamline delivery of aid to Syrian refugees.
Souktel’s success reflects a rising entrepreneurial groundswell in the Palestinian tech sector that has seen its contribution to the economy leap from less than 1 percent of Palestinian GDP in 2008 to around 8 percent last year. In September, Sadara Ventures, the first early-stage IT VC partnership established in Palestine, announced the inaugural allocation from its $30 million fund, a $1 million investment in the travel startup Yamsafer.