Elaine Gold is director of Organization and Strategy for Silatech, the official host of Global Entrepreneurship Week Qatar. She also chairs the GEW Qatar Board, a group of 12 organizations that guide the strategic direction of the country’s annual Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Gold moved to Qatar in 2007 from the UK and has over 25 years’ experience of management consultancy experience. She first joined Silatech as a consultant in 2011 and assisted with the launch and development of entrepreneurship training in The Bedaya Center, a center for entrepreneurship and career setup by Silatech and Qatar Development Bank, and also the launch of the SILA Angel Network, a network for entrepreneurs and investors in Qatar and the region. In addition, Gold has worked with a wide variety of organizations supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses in the UK and the wider MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.
With GEW only a few weeks away, we checked in with our Qatari host.
When and how did Silatech first get involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week?
I first heard about GEW in 2012 from someone here in Qatar who had been involved with it whilst he was living in the United Kingdom. Youth entrepreneurship is part of Silatech’s mandate so GEW seemed like a great opportunity to learn from other countries as well as network across the region with other host organizations.
Why is Global Entrepreneurship Week important—overall and to your country, specifically?
Qatar has a very inspiring and stretching vision for the county for 2030. It recognizes the need to move from a dependency on the oil and gas industry and diversify to a more knowledge-based economy. In order to achieve this, the country needs to develop and grow more entrepreneurs. As the host organization for Qatar, we strive to help facilitate this by getting various players from the ecosystem involved. In fact, one of the first things we did when we joined GEW in 2012 was to form an Advisory Board comprised of all the key organizations that are committed to developing entrepreneurs in Qatar. Furthermore we continue to raise awareness of the value of the startup community. Board members come from the government, private sector, education and entrepreneurs themselves.
How does GEW support the work that you do throughout the year?
Silatech seeks to connect young people in the MENA region to more opportunities for economic empowerment. This means assisting them to become entrepreneurs and start their own business to provide opportunities for more young people. In past years, colleagues from various Silatech units have participated in running workshops during GEW which promote Silatech’s work and also provide us with an opportunity to get feedback on new areas. This year, we will be running workshop on how SME’s can help their business to grow via the use of interns, and showcasing a new internship manual which we have recently launched.
How has GEW grown in your country?What are you doing to build on its momentum?
Each year, we bring more partners onboard and provide more opportunities for organizations and individuals to participate. We are actively broadening the number of partners, and also seeking patronage at a high level for GEW 2014.
Are there challenges or barriers that you would like to overcome to increase participation?
Entrepreneurs in Qatar always raise the issue of policy and regulation as being a barrier to starting a business. During GEW, we initiate discussions and reporting on policy issues in order to engage a wider audience in the debate.
What makes your GEW campaign unique?
Our GEW Board is an example of what can happen in a country when all key players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem work together for a cause. Despite Qatar being a small country, we have a number of initiatives and organizations with a common aim of supporting entrepreneurship. Through our collaboration on GEW, we are able to provide aspiring or new entrepreneurs with a clear pathway through their journey. Our program of activities covers key steps on the journey, from idea generation, to business planning, to pitching their idea – with each element being led by one of our GEW Board members or partners.
What event(s) are you most looking forward to for GEW 2014?
We are looking forward to this year’s inaugural theme day to celebrate women in entrepreneurship. There are many female entrepreneurs in Qatar that don’t often receive the support or recognition they deserve. By celebrating women entrepreneurs, it will give us an opportunity to showcase these individuals and encourage more women to get involved.
How would you characterize the entrepreneurial environment in your country? If you could change one thing to make it better, what would it be?
There are now a number of initiatives that aim to make it easier for individuals to start new businesses. Entrepreneurs have found that it is quite expensive to register a company, and there are requirements related to needing to have a physical office space, which is also expensive. New initiatives such as the Qatar Business Incubation Centre are making it easier for entrepreneurs to start up and more changes are likely to follow.
What methods and mechanisms are you using to encourage entrepreneurship? What have been most effective and popular? What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Partnerships are very important so we work with our partners to combine our promotional activities that raise awareness of entrepreneurship. Our social media campaign on Facebook for example, has been extremely successful in doing this. Short term, we want to connect more aspiring entrepreneurs to organizations that can support, incubate and help them to launch a successful business. In both the short and longer term, we want to support Qatari nationals to become involved in entrepreneurship so that longer term, the shift to the knowledge economy is more sustainable
How do we: (1) Create more entrepreneurs? (2) Make those entrepreneurs more successful? (3) Help successful entrepreneurs grow larger and faster?
The key to having more entrepreneurs is an increased awareness, starting in schools. To help these new entrepreneurs grow, we need to develop a community of investors who can provide financial support to startups.
How are you researching entrepreneurship? What are you most interested in finding out?
We have an active R&P unit in our organization that has mapped the ecosystem in Qatar and is working actively with other partners in order to advocate for a number of policy changes
What are the key differences in entrepreneurship in a developed nation and entrepreneurship in a developing country?
In countries where entrepreneurship has been long established, there is an increased acceptance of this as a career option for young people. Also, the attitude towards failure in business can be viewed differently in different cultures. In many Middle East and Asian cultures for example, it is more difficult to accept failure, and some laws are very strict concerning bankruptcy.
What can other countries learn from the study of entrepreneurship in your country?
One key characteristic of Qatari entrepreneurship is the passion of young nationals to ‘give back’ and serve their country in a positive way. Harnessing this ‘service culture’ in a country can unleash a creative stream of social entrepreneurship that not only benefits one country, but many.
What kind of an impact has GEW had on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in your country?
GEW has opened up discussion at the policy level and raised awareness of entrepreneurship throughout Qatar.
Who are the local stars promoting entrepreneurship in your country?
We are fortunate to have the support of Khalifa Al Haroon, a young Qatari who formed the very popular website iloveqatar.net, and who will be our online digital partner for GEW this year. Last year we had the winner of popular regional TV program Stars of Science, Khalid Aboujassoum speak at a panel discussion on experience of being an entrepreneur in Qatar, and the local EO (entrepreneurs organization) are members of our GEW Board.