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Competing to Innovate

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Microsoft hopes to foster a culture of entrepreneurship in the region through its Imagine Cup competition.

Hundreds of young people from around the world will gather in St. Petersburg, Russia on July 11 to compete in the final round of Microsoft’s global student technology competition, the Imagine Cup. Teams will bring along their most innovative ideas and business plans in the hope of being judged the winner and clinching the top prize of $50,000.

Ali Farmawi, corporate vice president of Microsoft and its president in the Middle East and Africa region, believes the competition is not only helping students cultivate a sense of entrepreneurship, but it’s also giving them the chance to become tech innovators at a young age.

Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition just concluded in Jordan. What do you think it has added to the technology industry in the country and the region?

The competition enforced the mentality that innovation can come from anywhere, and that this whole notion, that the world is “flat,” is real. Additionally, the competition is encouraging our youth and giving them the belief that they can compete, connect with everyone else, and become part of a bigger space.

You say that Microsoft is fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in the Middle East through this competition. Is it succeeding?

Yes, we are succeeding. It is about finding enough opportunities to do what they want to do. Innovation and smart technology solutions are one thing, and personal and team capabilities are another. Entrepreneurship is also different from those two. Some people want to be entrepreneurs and run their own show, while other people only want to focus on technology. We at Microsoft encourage innovation for both types.

How can governments in the Middle East prompt a wider adoption of technology tools in all its sectors?

When you talk about ICT in a country like Jordan, there are four basic factors that need to be considered in order to drive growth and sustainability: advanced infrastructure, an attractive investment climate, institutional capability, and technology and idea innovation. The development of any emerging market as well as its technological industries depends on the availability of these four factors.

What do you think is more important for giant tech companies – developing mass-market services and tools or providing tailored tools to local markets?

The width and breadth of any local market is important for global companies because they can try different things and learn from them, as well as develop new, tailored services. The stories of Nobel laureate Najib Mahfouz were all set in local settings. He said that “submerging in the local led to the global.” The nature and growth of any market is one of the most important factors for global companies.

A number of global companies—including ones in ICT—have previously mentioned they are considering exiting the Jordanian market. What could be the reason?

The Jordanian market did not grow as expected during the last few years, and this is partly because of external reasons such as the political turmoil in neighboring countries. I think this could be a reason why some tech companies would consider leaving the country.

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