Twenty-year-old Mais Atari, from Jenin, is co-founder of Fudfed, a new online psychosocial counseling service. Her new enterprise is one of four youth-run start-ups to win a six-month incubation opportunity through Leaders Organization's New Generation of Technology Entrepreneurs project. The program provides entrepreneurial and life skills training and business plan development for young Palestinians to establish science- and technology-focused enterprises.

The New Generation project is part of the Youth Entrepreneurship Development program, a partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to build the capacity of local universities and NGOs to provide employability, entrepreneurship, and service learning opportunities for young Palestinians. In 2012, Leaders trained nearly 200 young men and women from the West Bank through New Generation of Technology Entrepreneurs and plans to train an additional 150 youth by the end of 2013. Overall, the project aims to establish eight new youth-led enterprises.

Before participating in the New Generation project, Mais studied computer information systems at Birzeit University. She dreamed of starting her own business but wanted to strengthen her skills: “I always wanted to open my own enterprise but I didn't know how to do it. Participating in this program gave me greater confidence in my ideas; I learned how to develop a business plan and how to convert it into reality. I also learned communication skills, team work, and many other life skills.”

The program culminates in a business plan competition in which new business concepts are selected as winners during one of six local demo days. As part of the competition, aspiring young entrepreneurs pitch their plans to an evaluation committee that includes representatives of private sector companies, universities, and entrepreneurs.

Winners of those competitions are then considered for participation in the national demo day, when participants compete for incubation and mentoring opportunities. This incubation support includes registration and legal support, financial planning, and business development training on issues such as marketing, quality assurance, client networking, and management advice.

At the most recent National Demo Day competition, four new businesses were selected for incubation. In addition to Fudfed, the winners were Fasilo, an online commerce site; Ehram, a mobile application to enhance the Hajj and Umrah experiences for non-Arabic speakers; and RLaAama, a mobile application with Arabic games that promotes social and environmental awareness.

Feras Nasr, General Manager of I-CONNECT, who served on the judges panel for the Local Demo Day competition, emphasized the importance of supporting young entrepreneurs. “The DNA of the Palestinians contains the entrepreneurial spirit. They love the risk and developing themselves, but they need guidance and help to be creative. I really appreciate the work of programs like Leaders in doing this job.”

Aya Jarrar, a 23-year-old woman from Arraba-Jenin who studied Industrial Engineering at AnNajah National University, was another young woman who pitched her plan at the National Demo Day. Her new enterprise, called iCare, is an online database that provides information on medical centers; clinics; hospitals; and pharmacies, including locations, opening hours, and doctors’ specialties.

Aya sees entrepreneurship as an opportunity to fulfill her own professional goals while helping her community. “My dream is to have my own business in which I can be creative and also be satisfied with myself,” she says. “I will be happy if I can open my business, and through that I can help to reduce the unemployment problem by hiring new employees.”