efe-epaBy Laura Fernández Palomo Gaza

A large open plan office with graffiti on the walls and a constant flow of hip young people with laptops under their arm is home to the largest tech incubator in Palestine.

Nestled in a narrow Gaza street, Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) is the first technological laboratory to launch as part of the Gaza Tech Hub which has supported new digital initiatives of both emerging start-ups and Palestinian freelancers since 2011.

Ibrahim Al Huds is one such freelancer who after graduating worked with several foreign companies, tripled his salary in three years and today is the incubator's coordinator of community participation.

Al Huds strolls through the co-working space where dozens of locals await the start of the incubation and acceleration courses which are taught in the adjoining rooms named after capitals cities.

Ola Rantisi, 25, is one of them.

She joined GSG after "knocking on all doors" of a region where 70% of young people are unemployed and it was whilst being interviewed by Efe that she learned he had received her first commission from an American graphic designer.

The young woman's main goal at GSG is to earn more money, develop more skills and meet people whilst enjoying this opportunity.

Like many initiatives in Gaza - an overcrowded territory with endemic poverty, a small private sector and which has been blocked by air and sea by Israel since 2007- GSG emerged out of a partnership between NGO Mercy Corps and Google that aimed to create an innovative hub that against all odds is a bustling and vibrant space.

The sector in Gaza faces many obstacles but a particularly big one is isolation.

The fact Gazans cannot travel abroad limits any contact with international markets so one key objective is to bring mentors from abroad every month to facilitate dialogue.

Due to the blockade, all work proposals are developed remotely and online, but this has opened up a whole host of international opportunities.

"Another obstacle is getting payments, as you know Gaza has a lot of restrictions when it comes to receiving and transferring money, so we have a lot of obstacles.

"We have tried many times to work with PayPal but unfortunately we couldn't get a payment gateway here in Gaza, so we have tried setting up other methods," Al Hubs told Efe.

Despite the huge challenges GSG has managed to become the largest innovation space in the Palestinian territories, with some 120 daily visits paired with complete incubation and acceleration processes it offers for local entrepreneurs and start-ups.

In 2014, the laboratory began to develop its curriculum for incubation of digital initiatives and the first high-risk investments in Gazan companies were carried out.

"In Gaza we have over one hundred start-ups in different fields, it doesn't have to be in tech, but the startups that we work with closely has to be into tech and it has to provide services online," the coordinator said adding that this opportunity is open to people regardless of their age, the important this is to put an innovative idea on the table.

"This is a good opportunity for us to let the world know about us.

"People coming to Gaza don't expect to see places like this, they expect only to see wars and destruction," Al Hubs lamented.

But GSG aims to challenge this view by presenting Palestinians as people who, like anywhere else in the world, work and learn.

"We promote life here," he concludes. EFE-EPA

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