Startups thriving Iran: when life gives you a lemon

Those of us living in the west, especially in North America, have been conditioned to think of Iran as a third world pariah nation besieged by American and Western sanctions aimed at containing its nuclear ambitions. Not many have direct connections with folks in the middle east or Iran; and much of the second-hand information is filtered by the mainstream media.

Iran, a.k.a, the Islamic Republic of Iran has over 79.92 million people happens to be the world’s 18th-most-populous country. With a land area of 1,6 million square kilometers (636 K sq mi), It happens to be the second-largest country in the Middle East and the 17th-largest in the world. With a rich history, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Elamite kingdoms in the fourth millennium BC.

The country also boasts of a well-managed K–12 primary education system and higher education is under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology. It is, therefore, not surprising that the country boasts of a vibrant hi-tech industry that thrives despite western and American financial sanctions.

Iran is also home to an emerging ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs and startups that are flourishing thanks to government infrastructure and a cadre of young Iranians educated both in the country and abroad.

Iranian Startups learn to make lemonade

Thanks to U.S government sanctions, Iranian startups are constrained from accessing Apps, platforms and technologies that entrepreneurs in the rest of the world take for granted. Large global tech giants like Amazon, Google and Apple are restrained from offering services in Iran. Even in cases where they do operate in Iran, the services are highly restricted. (ref: Google Search and Assistant Help Forum, Apple, Citing U.S. Sanctions, Removes Popular Apps in Iran (NYT) )

Iranian entrepreneurs are resilient and have learnt to work with the constraints; in a sense, to make lemonades when life gives them a lemon. A recent Reuters article highlights how

“the absence of U.S. giants such as Amazon and Uber has allowed their Iranian equivalents Digikala and Snapp to grow rapidly. Many other local internet firms are following suit.

Ramin Rabii, chief executive of Turquoise Partners, which facilitates foreign investment in Iran, said Trump’s rhetoric could paradoxically help the tech sector.

“If he keeps talking about sanctions, that would increase the risk of investment in Iran, but at the same time it will keep a lot of competition out,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview from Tehran. “Major global players are not here.”

No figures are available on foreign investment in Iranian tech firms. Rabii, however, estimated it at hundreds of millions of dollars since the nuclear deal came into force.

According to reports, Iran has invested heavily in internet infrastructure, hoping to attract foreign cash and create more jobs.

  • More than 62 percent of households are connected to the internet by March 2017.
  • 3G and 4G wireless is much more commonplace than it was a couple of years ago
  • Smartphone ownership has also rocketed. The number of smartphone users hit 40 million in 2016.
  • American companies are being left behind in the Iranian tech revolution, but European and Russian firms are filling the void
  • Iranian banks are engaged with the country’s startup scene. According to Iranian officials, over 100 billion Tomans (26 million dollars) has been invested in knowledge-based or startup companies by an Iranian bank.

Entrepreneurs in Iran are successfully developing their own Iranian-born versions of online services similar to YouTube (video content aggregation), Facebook and Twitter (social media) and Google (search and Apps). In some cases, the Iranian Apps are ‘copies’ of the originals, but in many cases, these are innovations that can stand in their own right. Services like SnappTap30 and Carpino, and  Dunro engage millions of users. Homegrown services like the startup Maman Paz allow users to order home- cooked food. Check out “8 Popular E-Commerce Websites in Iran”

Endnote: Quoting Eddie Kerman of London-based Indigo Holdings  “American companies like Amazon might not be able to enter the Iranian market, but there is a significant possibility that European or Asian companies buy the larger Iranian players”


Links and References

All rights reserved | Article compiled by Mohan K

Leave a Reply