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  • 1980s: Iran implements resource-efficient “Research-Manufacture-Test-Research again” scientific cycle.
  • 2009: Iran national science budget increases from 0.4% to 0.87% of GDP; a target of 2.5% in 2015
  • 2011: Government introduces “Comprehensive Scientific Plan”, deliberate plan to increase Iran’s scientific infrastructure by implementing 224 scientific projects by 2025
  • Highly successful examples of Iran diaspora as tech entrepreneurs demonstrate wealth of potential in Iran’s borders
  • Wide range of budding startups belies the untapped potential in the Iranian market

To say that Iran has had a tumultuous relationship with the Western world would be a bit of a cliché and an understatement. No clearer is this seen than in the way its technology has developed.

In the 1950s, back when Iran and the USA were still on non-satanic-devil-name-calling-basis, the Iran’s Shah scholarships seeded universities with mainly US-sourced professors who helped to grow and modernize the Iranian education system. Exactly one embassy, a war with Iraq and an embargo later, Iran was forced to implement a resource-efficient “Research-Manufacture-Test-Research again” cycle in its scientific endeavors in the 1980s. This scientific philosophy that emphasized creative resourcefulness is a trait that many Iranians have deeply empathized with.

The emerging Iran

Behind this backdrop of self-sustained growth, the recent gradual warming or relations between Iran and the Western powers has resulted in a shift in priorities for the Iranians.

In 2009, the Iran national science budget increased significantly for the first time in 15 years from 0.4% to 0.87% of the GDP, with a target of 2.5% in 2015. The government has also undertaken a focused and deliberate plan to increase Iran’s scientific infrastructure with the 2011 release of the “Comprehensive Scientific Plan” to implement 224 scientific projects by 2025.

It is therefore not surprising that alongside these public scientific endeavors, enterprising local industries have also taken advantage of this growing window of opportunities. Since 2012, grassroot events such as Startup Weekend have come into Iran to mobilize the local tech scene.

The success of Iran diaspora

A small indicator of the potential that lie within Iran’s borders is how successful the Iranian diaspora have been overseas.

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Arash Ferdowsi (pictured) is the co-founder and CTO of Dropbox (2007)

Several highly successful technology entrepreneurs include billionaire Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay in 1995, who is now exploring ventures in new media & investigative journalism; Alex Mehr and Shayan Zadeh, founders of Zoosk in 2007; and Salar Kamangar, Google’s 9th employee and CEO of Youtube since 2010.

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While in Iran earlier this year, I have also had the privilege to get a glimpse into the wide range of growing Iran business startups that have sprung up across Iran. As can be seen in the info-graphic above, this wide range of budding startups belies the untapped potential in the Iranian market.

While the political future of Iran, although promising with recent international and political reforms, may not yet be set in stone yet, it is clear that the economic and technological landscape is not waiting for politics to catch up.