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Bahrain Tech Week: Strategic support for technopreneurs

Digital EconomyEntrepreneurshipICTStartupTechnology

Bahrain’s booming tech sector saw a string of exciting announcements at Bahrain Tech Week last week. With a strong track record of supporting technology firms and providing them with the infrastructure they need to thrive, Bahrain is in position to capitalise on a new wave of innovation across a range of sectors.

Cloud computing – strength to strength

Chief among the most important developments for the Kingdom’s tech ecosystem are the huge strides we are making in cloud computing. As the pressures of the growing digital economy drive businesses and government organisations to be more agile, cloud-based systems offer scalable and elastic ICT resources that can be quickly dialled up or down in response to rapidly changing market conditions.

In Bahrain, the Information & eGovernment Authority’s (iGA) Cloud First Policy is aimed at providing all major eGovermment services via the cloud. The announcement was made during leading cloud operator Amazon Web Services’ AWS Summit in Bahrain last year, where they also announced their first Middle East Region in the Kingdom.

But the public sector isn’t the only beneficiary. Bahrain’s startup ecosystem in particular is set for major gains as ICT services become available to businesses which would have previously been unaffordable.

To assist this process, Bahrain Tech Week saw the announcement of the Cloud Computing Services support programme – a financial scheme launched by Tamkeen, Bahrain’s labour fund. The programme will cover 100% of the cost of services supplied by Bahrain-based cloud operators to eligible startups and SMEs, for the initial 18 months of a three-year contract with Tamkeen.

Announcing the scheme, Tamkeen’s Chief Executive Dr. Ebrahim Mohammed Janahi said it will enable small businesses to focus on their core operations without being burdened by the maintenance of owning their own hardware.

As a matter of fact Bahrain’s cloud resources received a further boost last week with the approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in the field of cloud computing between the iGA and Kuwait’s Communications and Information Technology Regulatory Authority (CITRA).

World-class connectivity

But how does Bahrain’s ICT infrastructure help to ensure cloud services are made accessible to the widest possible range of consumers? Bahrain is already consistently ranked among the top countries in the region for ICT preparedness – including 1st in the GCC for ICT readiness by the World Economic Forum, and 1st in MENA for ICT development by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 

Already a key long-term partner in helping us build that strong position, China’s Huawei announced at Bahrain Tech Week that it is ready to roll out 5G in Bahrain within three to four months of spectrum becoming available.

This new level of connectivity will be applicable across multiple ICT services, including the internet of things and artificial intelligence.

Support and training

With new waves of technology and disruption, it is essential that innovative businesses are supported in the early stages. That’s why Tamkeen also announced at Bahrain Tech Week the roll out of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Scheme – a development support initiative in which startups can benefit from grant support from Tamkeen towards the development, design and testing of a first product. Bahraini-registered startups in operation for not more than one year are eligible for the programme, which will fuel innovation by providing vital support in the crucial first stages of a product lifecycle.

Businesses applying for the MVP Scheme need to demonstrate high potential for scalability and growth, a strong and committed team, and a fully developed strategy.

As well as support for new products, workers at all levels of the economy need to be reskilled to meet the demands of new technologies. As one of a number of targeted training programmes it provides, the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF) took the opportunity at Bahrain Tech Week to announce a new Blockchain Academy. A vital segment of the buzzing FinTech sector, blockchain technology is a revolution in itself – one which promises ease, speed and transparency. The Blockchain Academy will introduce a wider pool of Bahraini talent to the world of blockchain and its benefits.

Early adopters

Bahrainis already have some key advantages when it comes to tech. Firstly they are known to be early adopters, as one of the top countries globally for smartphone penetration (100%) and 70% for social media adoption – higher than the US.

Secondly, they are young – more than 60% of the population under the age of 30. That means a population that has grown up connected. These young people are eager to find new ways of doing things in an Industry 4.0 era, and they are not being disappointed.

Finally, Bahrain is among the most liberal and diverse countries in the GCC both socially and economically. The Bahrain economy is among the least oil-dependent in the region, with more than 80% of GDP coming from non-oil sectors. Businesses in Bahrain enjoy regulation that supports rather than hinders business – a prerequisite for success in today’s fast-moving climate.

For these reasons, we are confident that Bahrain is ready to play a leading role in the region as a hub for tech investment and innovation. As Bahrain Tech Week showed, we don’t just have the hunger, we also have the strategy to back it up.

John Kilmartin

Executive Director – ICT at Bahrain EDB