“Qatar’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is evolving quickly and there is a need to support Qatar’s economy with a large, mixed entrepreneurial hub that will provide incubation and acceleration services to startups at both the idea and growth stages,” highlights Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al Khalifa, Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC) and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Development Bank (QDB). QBIC is renowned as the largest mixed business incubator in the Middle East and North Africa region for developing innovative enterprises. Although QBIC was founded in 2011, it is officially operational since this year by QDB and the Social Development Center (SDC). The center’s main objective is to develop QR100 million companies in Qatar. In order to achieve this goal, QBIC empowers entrepreneurs to start and nurture organizations by incubating, developing, connecting, and investing.
QBIC provides entrepreneurs with a range of globally benchmarked services, designed in partnership with leading experts, to help their projects become fully viable. These include office space and industrial workshops, as well as administrative, technical and financial assistance. “Any entrepreneur can apply through our website. There is a selection process and a personal interview. We will accept applications from any entrepreneur or startup residing in Qatar or any willing to relocate to Qatar with a Qatari partner. Applicants do not need to be Qatari at the time of company registration, although non-Qataris must enter into a joint venture with an active Qatari partner,” explains Al Khalifa.
To date, QBIC has received more than 200 applications. There is no limited age requirement and applicants range from age 18 to 54. “We encourage anyone with a business idea or a business venture to apply.” Al Khalifa says that they’ve freshly accepted 15 companies, which graduated from their flagship LeanStartup Wave I program, and an additional eight companies from the winning teams of Enterprise Qatar and Injaz Qatar competition. LeanStartup is a 10-week entrepreneurial program that provides real-world, hands-on experience on how to successfully start a company. “We are the incubation partner for Injaz and Enterprise Qatar. Also, we will accept five to six industrial companies to utilize the industrial workshops.”
Enterprise Qatar promotes and supports the prosperity of the SME sector in the country. Some of Enterprise Qatar’s services include education, guidance, research, and financial facilities to assist entrepreneurs and SMEs to achieve their ambitions. Injaz Qatar works closely with schools and the business community with the aim to address the gap between the skills pupils learn through formal education and the skills they require in order to succeed in the workplace- especially dedicated to equipping students with leadership and entrepreneurship skills. “We are building an entrepreneurship club that even non-incubated companies can join. We are also building an angel investors club,” continues Al Khalifa.
“We are receiving equal amounts of applications from both genders, but we are seeing a huge appetite for launching entrepreneurial businesses from Qatari females. This fits with a global trend.” More importantly, QBIC is trying to be a role model for the region by implementing corporate entrepreneurship in Qatar. “We will support any Qatari who wants to start his or her own business by providing flexibility in our offerings, which will allow entrepreneurs to continue their day jobs and at the same time work on their own projects, particularly during the earlier stages. We have evening training programs, and our long opening hours enables entrepreneurs to stay late at our offices. Apart from that, we have the speaker series, QBIC gatherings, and a wide range of other projects are in the pipeline.”
Nominated startups are entitled for a conditional seed fund of QR100,000 during the first three months of incubation. “Based on an agreed milestones plan, the companies which successfully accomplish them can apply for another QR200,000 equalling to a total of QR300,000 in exchange for a maximum of 30% of equity shares in the new company,” explains Al Khalifa. In addition, all incubated projects are permitted to remain for a period of two years for free, and the rent is subsidized 100% by QBIC. The incubators are situated 23 kilometers from the heart of Doha in the new industrial area. Al Khalifa adds that QBIC provides loans for a period of two years: “The loans can be renewed for one more year at a special rate. However, they are not required to return the seed fund if they are willing to keep QBIC as a shareholder. They can even buy back their shares for a flat, one-time rate of 5% at any time. QBIC allows all scaled-up projects to apply for a loan from QDB through its Al-Dhameen program. Moreover, applicants can apply for a loan of up to QR4million.”
In regards to the selection process of the various projects presented, QBIC has a distinctive selection filter and criteria for shortlisting incubated projects. These depend mostly on the idea readiness, the scalability factor and determination to achieve the overall main objective. “We have a wide range from promising new ideas, and we are optimistic that many of these ideas will excel and become the next QR100 million companies in Qatar.” Pursuing this further, Al Khalifa underlines how QBIC positions itself as a mixed-use incubator; therefore, they do not concentrate on a specific vertical segment.
In essence, QBIC is open to all fields of business. “We support all kinds of innovative ideas in most of the businesses that are aligned with Qatar’s 2030 vision, other than the hydrocarbon business such as Green Energy, Mobility, ICT, and fashion to name a few.” Consequently, he advises young Qataris how persistency, hard work and a willingness to learn from their failures is the ideal recipe for success for any entrepreneur. “We teach our entrepreneurs how to do a business model using a business model canvas. The business model is a nine-block canvas which is based on real-world business parameters, and we also show successful applicants how to deliver their value propositions to customers.”
In the long run, Al Khalifa is certain SMEs are crucially relevant for the country’s national vision: He highlights how supporting SMEs means creating new jobs, converting challenges into opportunities, educating the workforce, enforcing business behavior changes, and nurtures the business skillset of Qatar. “Many projects will be based on market and private, and academic sector needs and requirements; and this will strengthen our economy.”
The recent Lean Startup event hosted by QBIC announces 15 winning projects to be incubated
Barkom – App to assist consumers in making purchasing decisions
Moneybuzz – A mobile payments solution
Ar Next – Playing Tarneeb via phones with augmented reality
Embrace Qatar – A cultural consulting center for newcomers
Lebes – Which produces modest formal and semi-formal clothing for muslim women
Qatar Golf – Creates customized mini-golf fields in malls and other public spaces
Khaliji Startups – Free portal for co-founders and entrepreneurs
System of Systems – Software developers to provide services such as ERP, and synchronization with Microsoft, Google and other major platforms
E Grab – Online portal to assist shoppers with picking up shopping for others
Q-Cab – Enable customers to order taxis by using mobile apps and social media
Seero Engineering Consulting – Professional engineering firm with design and consultancy services for the transportation sector
Story originally published on Entrepreneur Middle East