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North Africa, Middle East Entrepreneurial Programs Unveiled

Morocco desert pueblo (Bachmont/Flickr)Two new programs aimed at spurring innovation based on science and technology in North Africa, Middle East, and South Asia were  unveiled at a kick-off meeting in Rabat, Morocco last week. The Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) in Arlington, Virginia manages the programs, with funding from the U.S. Department of State.

One of new programs, called GIST Accelerator Network or GISTNet, is a Web-based network to encourage connections among scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and investors. GIST is short for Global Innovation through Science and Technology, the overall State Department-funded initiative to spur economic advancement through science and technology. GISTnet seeks to provide mentorship, resources, and tools for young entrepreneurs for collaboration with investors, and to accelerate technology commercialization.

At a press conference today at CRDF offices to discuss the initiatives, Eric Novotny, the group’s vice-president, said GISTNet aims “to build a user community from normally specialized areas” and  overcome the barriers of distance that can impede entrepreneurs and innovators from interacting.

A competition of innovation ideas called TECH-i — the second program announced at the Rabat meeting — is designed to attract young entrepreneurs in 43 nations to develop solutions to complex economic development challenges. Beginning July 2011, GISTnet users submit can their pitches in the form of two-minute Web videos. Winning submissions will be selected by votes from the GISTNet community and expert reviewers.

Prizes range from $20,000 for the overall winner to $2,000 for five honorable mentions. Entries for TECH-i close on 31 October 2011.

GISTNet and TECH-i join the Mahgreb Virtual Science Library (MVSL), a CRDF program for North Africa already underway. MVSL provides online resources for scientists, engineers, and technology entrepreneurs in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria to access the full text of up-to-date international journal articles, to more effectively communicate and disseminate the results of research in the region.

Photo: Bachmont/Flickr

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