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Welcoming disruption, spurring innovation: Bahrain’s booming tech sector

EntrepreneurshipICTRegulationStartupTechnology

Technology-led innovation is disrupting economies around the world, and here in the GCC it’s a central pillar of the radical economic transformation that is creating exciting new opportunities across the region.

It was no surprise, therefore, that technology was high on the agenda at Gateway Gulf, the high-profile investor forum that took place in Bahrain this month. There were speakers from across the technology space, ranging from Teresa Carlson of Amazon Web Services to the Dilip Rao of Ripple. With a wealth of new innovative initiatives announced, the impact of technology was clear to see across the board, including plans for a high-resolution 3D mapping project and a blockchain-based vehicle registry system.

Bahrain is emerging as a regional frontrunner in digital transformation, having long recognised the valuable contribution of technology to its economy in driving growth, accelerating economic diversification and creating jobs. The Kingdom has been quick to implement reforms to enhance the operating environment for technology-driven businesses.

Bahrain recognised early on that in order to grow, the technology sector needed to allow competition across the sector and challenge the monopoly of state-owned enterprises – leading to Bahrain becoming the first in the GCC region to liberalise its telecom sector. These actions have laid the groundwork for Bahrain’s success in technology, with the Kingdom ranked by the UN as the GCC country with the best telecoms infrastructure.

Underpinned by Bahrain’s supportive regulatory environment, the private sector is driving growth across the industry. Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently announced that its first Region for the Middle East and North Africa will be in Bahrain. AWS estimates that 10,000 data solution architects will be needed across the region in the next five years, with over 2,300 young Bahrainis signing up for AWS Educate programmes – a sign-up rate exceeding even those of China and India.

Bahrain has paid keen attention to the needs of early-stage businesses and startups within the sector, in particular improving access to venture capital funding. One of the major announcements at Gateway Gulf was the launch of the Al Waha Fund of Funds,  dedicated venture capital fund of funds aimed at attracting VCs and strengthening the region’s startup ecosystem.,

These announcements follow a trend of significant support for tech investment in the Kingdom. Last year saw the launch of a regulatory sandbox by the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB)  – the only onshore sandbox in the region – to provide fintech startups with a testbed to launch and scale before taking to market. In February this year the launch of Bahrain FinTech Bay, the largest FinTech hub in MENA, enabling a new level of collaboration between the public and private sectors to incubate insightful, scalable and impactful FinTech enterprises. Flat6Labs, in partnership with Tamkeen, announced the launch of their sixth accelerator in the MENA region – which their Bahrain chapter set to support over 40 local and international startups in the next three years. Flat6Labs Bahrain is the latest addition to Bahrain’s portfolio of high-profile tech-focused accelerators, which include C5 Accelerate and Brinc.

Beyond the private sector, the Bahrain government itself has recognised the value and opportunity created by the implementation of technology to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The central initiative to support this has been the government’s Cloud First policy, which to date has seen more than 40 government systems and services successfully migrated to the cloud, using more than 480 AWS servers.

The success of this programme, driven by Bahrain’s Information & eGovernment Authority (iGA), is reflected in the Kingdom’s consistently high rankings in eGovernment surveys globally.

Bahrain has long been a leader in embracing the change brought about by technology. Efforts to keep enhancing the ecosystem for tech firms continue apace, and with the government itself benefiting from innovation in its own systems, we can expect Bahrain to keep cementing its position as one of the region’s preeminent tech hubs.

John Kilmartin

Executive Director – ICT at Bahrain EDB