It has assumed increasing importance in many Arab countries and countless aspiring entrepreneurs have launched start-ups. As of 2019, the United Arab Emirates is the leading country1 in the region by number of deals and amount of funding for start-ups, and the country has implemented policies to officially support entrepreneurship and start-ups.
Lebanon and Jordan each has 5% of the funding and having declined in the rankings.
Many countries, such as Jordan, have several centers that promote entrepreneurship, such as Umniah’s The Tank, and Oasis 500, a non-governmental organization that selects and supports entrepreneurship in the country. Zain and Orange have accelerators, not incubators. Umniah and Oasis 500 organize workshops and help their start-ups with many competitions and meetings. Umniah’s The Tank, for example, is an incubator with annual application cycles and invites many investors and entrepreneurship experts from the region. Umniah also has a consulting partnership with TTi where the latter provides trainers and workshops.
What this indicates is that entrepreneurship is exploding in the Gulf Cooperation Countries!
The incubators and this explosion indicate one conclusion:
Many entrepreneurs are persuaded, understandably,
that their start-ups can be or will be self-sustaining.
In Jordan, for example, entrepreneurs have launched start-ups in agriculture, technology, financial technology (fintech), transportation, and education—catering to the gaps and needs for innovation in almost every industry.
In Oman, an anonymous expert said that there is great public sector support in the country for entrepreneurship. He has been working with and monitoring entrepreneurs in the country for two years, and said that there is a great deal of money and many resources available until the seed stage. Oman is a relatively small country, of about 4 million people, so entrepreneurs have access to many resources, something that is impossible in other countries for their already large populations. The country’s small population is a boon to entrepreneurship.
The advantages in Oman, this expert shared, are that it is a
“wide open market; it has a desperate need for technology solutions;
and it has cash available to pay for it.”
“There aren’t many complaints,” the expert said.
These have been driving forces behind entrepreneurship in Oman. On the other hand, the ecosystem is still in its infancy and slowly gaining traction and momentum.
There is inevitably a small number of entrepreneurs or start-ups in every country that do not self-sustain, especially in countries with large populations. But Oman enjoys government largesse in that the government itself is highly invested in entrepreneurship and start-ups, and their success. So, start-ups and entrepreneurs want and have every reason to succeed.
Very importantly, unlike the situation in Jordan, Oman has an almost 50% – 50% split in entrepreneurs with business backgrounds vs. technical backgrounds. This is an important distinction since entrepreneurs and those they hire need to wear many “hats” as they manage their star-ups. “We have more business people than technical people. They’re untapped,” the Oman entrepreneurship expert said. Jordan has a small number of people with business backgrounds—marketing, human resource management, finance, and others. Oman has many more, and they are in the university stage.
“The Oman government has not tapped into them—they are a resource, not fluff or superfluous,” the expert opined. “There are technical people in the university but the investors aren’t investing in them yet.” “When you have a hunger for something, you go for it and pursue it. You don’t wait,” the expert said.
So the open market, the cash flow, and the strong need for technology have been driving entrepreneurs in Oman. They see these factors as opportunities.
For some entrepreneurs in Jordan, as an example, workshops and networking events may become repetitive or too routine, meaning any added value from them diminishes.
“This is not the case in Oman,” according to the expert.
“We cut the fluff out of our programs because it’s run by entrepreneurs.”
This White Paper highlights latest trends in entrepreneurship, so that policymakers, governments, investors, and even entrepreneurs can be cognizant of them and / or incorporate them in their decisions. The factors that make the Arab region especially promising are:
1. Its predominately young population
2. Its rapid adoption of digital media and technology
3. Enormous room for innovation in public and private sectors
4. Its predominance of family firms
5. Its very few industry duopolies
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