As the much-awaited Pitch@Palace Bahrain 1.0 came to a close last Thursday, those of us close to Bahrain’s thriving startup community have plenty to remain excited about.
Hosted by HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister, and HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York, in partnership with Tamkeen, Pitch@Palace Bahrain 1.0 has a mission of empowering local entrepreneurs through connecting them with potential supporters and partners such as corporates, investors and mentors – while granting them exposure to the wider global Pitch@Palace community.
As part of Pitch@Palace Bahrain 1.0, a boot camp was held for 17 ambitious startups to sharpen their pitching skills, out of whom 12 were selected to put their skills into practice as they delivered three-minute pitches to an audience of experienced industry experts across entrepreneurship, technology, media and investment. Although 12 bouts of awe-inspiring pitches proved the selection process difficult for the audience, three winning startups successfully moved forward to vie for a chance to pitch at Pitch@Palace Global – where they are certain to shine. The three winning startups are: OneGCC, GetBaqala and Tamarran.
Bahrain’s startups are more than ready to take full advantage of opportunities such as this. Earlier this month, the stars of the Kingdom’s startup sector were showcased at the first annual StartUp Bahrain Week, which brought together more than 2,000 people – including entrepreneurs, investors, corporates and policymakers – to promote and explore Bahrain’s many advantages as a startup ecosystem.
So which are the companies to watch in the vibrant StartUp Bahrain community? Several young Bahraini companies have been recognised with prestigious awards in recent months – a testament to the drive and ambition of their founders as well as to the environment that’s allowing them to succeed.
One of those companies which I believe embodies the spirit of StartUp Bahrain is Pitch@Palace Bahrain 1.0 winners OneGCC – a cloud-based employment platform that connects job seekers to companies through big data, skills matching, online courses and cloud interviews.
Not only does OneGCC stand for what we believe in – harnessing talent from across the region – but it also highlights Bahrain’s robust data infrastructure, which makes cloud computing and big data solutions available to early-stage companies. That key resource was given a major boost last year with the announcement that Amazon Web Services (AWS) will launch its first Middle East Region in Bahrain – giving small businesses new scope for scaling up quickly and efficiently through cheap data storage.
OneGCC was also recognised by Forbes as one of the 15 most innovative startups in the MENA region, and was also named one of the top 100 startups in the Arab World at the Forbes 2017 awards in Dubai.
Other cloud-based ventures that have gained widespread recognition include CTM360, a young firm that has won plaudits for developing and refining a portfolio of cybersecurity services, and Skiplino, a mobile queueing solution that helps improve queue management and improve customer experience. CTM360 has received a slew of honours, including the first-ever Bahrain Tech awards, the Red Herring Asia award, and the Innovators Award at the Forbes Middle East Awards in Dubai; while Skiplino was also named by Forbes among its top 15 innovators.
In the sports and leisure space, Malaeb – a mobile app that enables footballers to find football pitches in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – recently raised funding from Raed Ventures, a Saudi corporate venture capital firm.
And just this week, Entrepreneur Magazine shortlisted Bahrain’s WNNA as among the top 10 startups to watch at this year’s STEP 2018. WNNA is an AI-powered search tool that gives users highly targeted and intuitive personalised recommendations.
For me, these young innovators exemplify what was so tangible throughout StartUp Bahrain Week, which is the ambition and dynamism of Bahrain’s startup sector. But their talent and hard work is only half the story; they also need the optimal conditions to thrive.
Bahrain’s economy has long been one of the Gulf region’s most diversified, with 80% of GDP coming from non-oil sectors. That along with its strong infrastructure and skilled workforce gives the Kingdom a unique position as a startup hub. Business costs in Bahrain are on average 30% lower than elsewhere in the region – offering a huge profitability boost to small firms. There are no free zone restrictions – the Kingdom itself is a free zone – and 100% foreign ownership is allowed in most sectors.
These are some of the reasons for the boom we’ve seen in startup and scale-up activity across a range of sectors, including software development, e-commerce, cyber security, health and FinTech.
But as well as creating the ideal operational conditions, at the Bahrain Economic Development Board we are also committed to giving anyone the opportunity to learn and train at any stage and at any level. That’s why in partnership with global players as well as with Tamkeen – the government agency responsible for supporting skills development in the private sector – we’re continuing to develop programs for career-long, sector-specific training to keep Bahrain at the forefront of the region’s skills base.
That mentorship is a crucial aspect of a successful ecosystem, and is exactly why events like StartUp Bahrain Week and Pitch@Palace Bahrain 1.0 are so important.