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Creative Startups accelerator launches in Middle East

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kuwait’s first business accelerator will launch this summer with a Made-in-New Mexico stamp.

Albuquerque’s Creative Startups program signed a license agreement in January with the private equity firm Messilah Ventures to use its curriculum and resources for training and mentoring entrepreneurs from around the Middle East. The first two startup cohorts will take place this summer and fall.

Creative Startups co-founder Alice Loy is in Kuwait City this month to set up the program, and to visit Dubai, Jordan and Lebanon to recruit participants.

“This will be the first accelerator program of any kind in Kuwait, and the first one focused on the creative industries in the entire region,” Loy told the Journal.

It marks Creative Startups’ first successful thrust into foreign lands under an effort begun last year to expand the program to other states and nations. That expansion is funded, in part, by a $190,000 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which aims to help people attain economic independence.

The first non-New Mexico program started last summer in Winston-Salem, N.C., organized by the Center for Creative Economy after licensing the Creative Startups curriculum. The Maryland Institute College of Art has also signed an agreement to begin in Baltimore this year. And Startup Angra in Portugal is completing the licensing process now to launch its first cohort this summer, Loy said.

The accelerator, which began in 2014, provides intensive, eight-week training courses for new businesses in the creative industries. That includes everything from design, games, software and film to music, publishing, and performance and visual arts.

In Kuwait, it will focus on food, at least at first, reflecting that country’s reputation as a food capital, said Messilah Ventures founder Rashid Sultan. Later cohorts may expand to other industries, such as digital media and gaming.

“The startup ecosystem here is still in its infancy,” Sultan told the Journal. “We want to grow it in Kuwait and across the Gulf region.”

For New Mexico, the program expansion brings international recognition, plus gateways to Middle Eastern markets for New Mexico startups, Loy said.

“It’s an opportunity to put New Mexico on the map with a stake in the ground that says we are global leaders in the creative economy,” Loy said. “Our startups also need access to growing markets, and Kuwait is a huge oil state with a burgeoning middle class. We’re building trusted relationships that can help New Mexico companies crack open opportunities here.”


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