June 13, 2024

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When Rabea Zioud, co-founder and CEO of Hasoub, stumbled upon an entrepreneurship center at university, he didn’t know anything about the startup world. Photo: Youtube/Screenshot
CTechWhen Rabea Zioud stumbled upon an entrepreneurship center at university, he didn’t know anything about the startup world and neither did most of the people he knew. As he worked with a startup and finished his degree, he shares that he became convinced that there was a lot of untapped entrepreneurial potential in Arab society. He co-founded Hasoub to help change that. The non-profit was first a side project for him and the team, but now he is CEO and it is his main focus. The organization’s goals include building the infrastructure for an Arab entrepreneurial ecosystem and training Arab businesspeople on becoming angel investors. He explains that they help foster the networking that can help people succeed in the high-tech industry and work to connect the Arab ecosystem with other high-tech ecosystems. Zioud says that developing an entrepreneurial mindset is helpful for everyone, as it helps people think differently.

With Hasoub, you are looking at the grassroots movement, you are looking at the Arab tech entrepreneurs and the ecosystem. Take me back to your own upbringing. How does this issue even become top of mind for you?
I’m born and raised in Shefa-Amr. I am the oldest brother of five siblings with an amazing mom and dad who didn’t have the chance to complete their higher studies. They said, “We didn’t have the chance, so you are going to have this chance.” I remember stepping out of my comfort zone when I was a kid when I went to play football in Maccabi Haifa. I was the only Arab there. This stepping out of my comfort zone while being a kid taught me a lot of how to go out and to explore and push your talent to the boundaries.
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In high school, I went to study in Haifa. I took the bus more than one hour a day just to go and do the high school in Haifa. It was a very unique school called The Arab Orthodox College. And when I finished high school, on one hand—my youngest siblings were born with cerebral palsy—I had a lot of connection to do something for people with disabilities. I registered to study physical therapy. But on the other hand, I have a lot of passion for business and to start things, to fix things. I saw that there are a lot of pupils coming from tough backgrounds who cannot bridge the gaps that they have in their school. So I was 20, I started my first business. It was called Our Future, so I can give a platform for pupils who don’t have the support at home to get the support from teachers after school hours. Then in the same year, I started to study physical therapy at Tel Aviv University. The year after, I had a scholarship and I had to spend 60 hours volunteering. I saw the Tel Aviv University Entrepreneurship Center. I said, “Perfect.” The word “entrepreneurship” was something that I didn’t know.
So your whole journey for entrepreneurship actually started because of the volunteering that you needed to do for your physical therapist scholarship to Tel Aviv University?
Yeah. I really started liking the vibes there, the things that were being done. I didn’t know anything about all these startups, fundraising, exits, and it’s happening here. It’s one hour away from where I used to live. I know nothing about it. I know a lot of talented people that I know know nothing about it. I started going to a lot of events and started to organize some events. Every time I went there, I was the only Arab in the room.
I got accepted to a fellowship about economic empowerment through entrepreneurship in Michigan. I met an amazing entrepreneur called Danny Weissberg. He was developing his startup called Voiceitt, the first voice to voice translation solution for people with disabilities. He invited me to come and work with him on his startup. All this as I was a student in Tel Aviv University.
I was about to finish my degree, but I couldn’t help seeing all the amazing things happening around me in the ecosystem in Tel Aviv and the experiences that I have abroad and looking at the community I’m coming from. I say, “Okay, we are 21% in this country, but each time I go to a place, I’m the only Arab in the room.” I’m sure that we have much, much more potential to fulfill in the high-tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem. But many people are not aware; many people didn’t have someone to direct them to the place where they can prosper and fulfill their potential.
I connected with a friend, Hasan Abo-Shally, and we started this grassroot movement that turned into Hasoub later on, with some other amazing guys who used to work in all these high-tech companies. In 2014, we met on a weekly basis in Hasan’s place. In 2015, we went out and we registered a nonprofit.
What happened in those meetings that led you to want to register this as a non-profit or as a more comprehensive organization that you are actually going to be dedicating a lot of time to?
We saw that there is a huge need for just this platform. We didn’t have a curriculum that we were giving there. People brought up their laptops. One table wanted to learn how to develop an Android. Another table did iOS, web, design. Every time we started to host, someone gave a lecture about a specific topic. People wanted a place where people share the same passion, the same things sitting together. If you go to Arab cities and Arab villages, you don’t have these meetups or something that you can go to in the evening and have a lecture. There is a huge, huge gap and lack of these things. We had people from high school and people who were senior engineers coming. All the people felt that they belonged to this place.
When we saw all this huge need for such a platform, we went and registered as a nonprofit. But there wasn’t a huge strategy. We were busy with our different work that we did in parallel. We started doing all these meetups in universities, in Arab cities and villages, participating in different conferences, in hackathons. We kept doing all this in volunteering work for four years until 2017. There was a moment in 2017 that we said, “It can’t be going bigger and bigger without anyone taking responsibility and taking the lead.”
How do you articulate that responsibility? What was your responsibility organizing this thing?
The responsibility was that people felt that they wanted to learn more. Every time that we organized something, it was a full house. I remember myself working eight, nine hours in my job and another eight, nine hours in Hasoub. It was crazy years that you are doing both as a full-time job. We arrived at a point that we said, “Okay, it’s either we keep it very small or we really take it seriously and someone will do the work as it should be and start building an organization here.”
I remember me taking the lead when going to the States, starting to establish all the foundations for an organization. Fast forward to 2022, we are six people in the organization and growing. We went from zero budget to managing a few millions in budget every year in activities. We are working a lot on networking. Because at the end of the day, it’s the people that you know. We are working a lot with students and with engineers on how they are developing their entrepreneurial mindset, even though not everyone will end up being an entrepreneur. But we believe that if you develop an entrepreneurial mindset, you will be a different person. You will approach things differently.
Today, we are focusing on three main areas. The first area is fulfilling the potential of the Arab entrepreneurship talent into high-tech and entrepreneurship. Also, infrastructure: we had a huge renovation for an old building to turn it into the first innovation center for the Arab society in an Arab city, in Ar’ara. We are having the official grand opening on September 16th with our fifth annual conference. The third thing that we do is we train Arab businesspeople to become angel investors. So far, our alumni have invested around one million dollars.
Today, Hasoub is an ecosystem builder that works with talent, angels and founders, and also building the needed infrastructure. We don’t believe that we should stay isolated, so we are connecting all of this to the local and global ecosystem.
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