Nazareth Accelerator Offers Arab Women High-Tech Hopes

By Shiri Dover Globes, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Minerva Mazzawi's start-up seeks to solve a very familiar problem. 29-year-old Mazzawi, from Haifa, has developed the smartphone app Philia to reduce relationship problems, and to help resolve conflicts, before they even arise.

"I'm an expert in family matters," Mazzawi explains in an interview with "Globes." "I have a master's degree in family studies, and a bachelor's degree in psychology. My exposure to the field of relationships caused me to want to bring awareness of its importance to the forefront. I considered getting a master's degree in psychology, but I decided not to, because there's a stigma associated with seeing a psychologist. Couples go to therapy as a last resort, and this is even more pronounced in the Arab community, though it's true all over the world."

The next step Mazzawi decided upon was to make use of technology. She received assistance from the start-up accelerator NaserahTech, which was founded in Nazareth in 2014 and works with the Arab sector. The app Mazzawi is developing is intended not just for the Arab sector, but for the whole world.

"I sat with the business manager, and I thought about how to share what I have learned with the world, and I decided on an app. I did research, and I saw that divorce rates in Europe are even higher than in the US, and are currently between 60% and 73%. In Arab countries the rates are lower, because people are so traditional, but I still found that divorce rates range between 20% and 40%."

"Over the course of my studies, I realized that there are tools that can be used before conflicts surface, and the app utilizes these tools. Once every two weeks, the couples receive a fun, easy exercise. I didn't want anything too serious. All the exercises are based on psychological tools, social intimacy, and communication."

Mazzawi did not neglect the technological side, or the business plan. The app is being developed for iOS and Android devices, and after a two-week free trial, she estimates that the cost will be roughly $4. "I already had the idea, and then I heard about the start-up accelerator NaserahTech five days before they stopped taking applications. I signed up, I was invited for a series of quick interviews, and I was accepted."

Q: What stage are you at?

A: "Right now, I'm working mostly on content, mostly adding exercises. I have more than ten trial couples -- Arabs, Jews, and also some people who live outside of Israel. I hope to launch by late September. I am looking to forge partnerships with psychologists and coaches."

Q: Are there investors?

A: "I'm looking for investors. I have made a few pitches already, and I have already received feedback."

Q: What does the name "Philia" mean?

A: "It's from Greek, where there is not one word for love, but four. Philia is the highest level of love between two people. It's a very high level of friendship and respect that is not dependent on anything."

Difficult to translate Another entrepreneur working at the accelerator is Eva Najjar, 35, from Haifa, who founded a satirical website called iSheen for the Arab sector.

"It's difficult to translate," says Najjar, trying to explain what sounds much better in Arabic. "It's kind of like saying 'to die for.'" The idea is to take the daily news, and to create satirical content.

Q: Also the difficult news?

A: "Primarily the difficult news. My husband, Razi, is a satirical copywriter, and he is in charge of content, while I am responsible for designing and building the website. It's a joint venture of ours. We will include promotional content, and the structure will be similar to sites like BuzzFeed.

"There is nothing similar today, other than maybe one website in Jordan. There is always room for another quality website that's open to the entire Arab world. The accelerator helped us mostly to clarify these goals and targets."

Q: How is it working with your husband?

A: "Not easy."

Q: You can use Minerva's app.

A: "Yes, Razi said that too."

36-year-old Reem Khalaf, also from Haifa, has developed a personal-finance app through NaserahTech. "The idea is help individuals and families plan budgets together. We are in early stages -- I joined only in February. I don't have a firm business plan yet, but I have experience as an investment advisor at Bank Leumi, and as a long-term investment marketing manager at Harel Insurance, in northern Israel."

Q: Is the Arab sector your target market?

A: "Not necessarily. The idea is for it to be a global app."

Q: In what way is the accelerator geared towards the Arab sector?

A: "There are fewer entrepreneurs in the Arab sector. The bottom line is that the fact that it is located in Nazareth and not in Tel Aviv gives us tremendous opportunity. There are 12 start-ups in the accelerator today, three of which are founded by women. This is pretty rare, even in the Jewish sector, but even more so for us. I, personally, am not in favor of classifying by sector or gender. Everyone needs an opportunity to express his or her abilities."

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