Paysage de Bahrein
The Island of Two Seas, a 50-km-long island located to the west of the Persian Gulf, bordering with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar, has always been known for its trade and business. Now it’s shifting its focus into the digital era and establishing itself as a main innovation hub in the MENA region, thanks to a series of startup-friendly projects and policies.
A friendly environment for start-ups in the region
The Kingdom of Bahrain received the award of the Digital Startup Hub of the Year, last December in Dubai, at the Enterprise Agility Awards, an annual ceremony hosted either in the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia which rewards industry innovators. This recognition comes after the support by the Economic Development Board (EDB) of StartUp Bahrain, an initiative that helps innovative start-ups from different sectors, at all stages of their process. Furthermore it positions the archipelago as a major center of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
EDB Business Development Manager, Pakiza AbdulRahman, explained to the Bahraini News Agency: “StartUp Bahrain plays an indispensable role in growing our ecosystem, providing innovative startups the crucial support they need to flourish. The initiative has proven to be a significant factor in enhancing Bahrain’s position as an attractive option to new firms, and its $1.5 trillion market.”
As part of the Kingdom’s 2030 vision, the platform focuses on creating a real community of entrepreneurs, offering them incubators, accelerators, along with a set of advantageous policies and regulations. These include lower minimum capital requirements for start-ups, lower taxes, lower rents and internet costs than neighboring countries, the financial support from many government entities, but above all access to important markets in the region (Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia). This set of conditions really places Bahrain as a privileged hub for startups, both locally and regionally.
Today, Bahrain has become a real springboard for young entrepreneurs who can easily register on the Sijilat interface, and hosts more than 120 startups to which it offers a public fund (el Waha) of more than 100 million dollars in partnership with the Central Bank of Bahrain.
From startup hub to Fintech hub
To stay one step ahead of the rest in the startup sector, Bahrain is particularly focused on the Fintech sector. In 2018, the government supported the creation of Bahrain Fintech Bay, a project which aims to enhance the appeal of the archipelago for startups in the Middle East and North Africa, by acting as an incubator and sandbox for young companies in the sector.
This platform builds bridges between entrepreneurs and fintech experts in various fields, including blockchain, cryptocurrencies, cybersecurity, inclusive finance and insurance. It also offers workshops to promote innovation between local and international partners, as well as modern co-working spaces adapted to the different entrepreneurial needs.
“Bahrain was one of the early adopters of digital financial services, and there was a real push from the industry and government to go even further. The key point of fintech is its application of emerging technologies to innovate various industries such as the food and beverage sector. This is why we created Bahrain Fintech Bay at a time where it was not as prevalent as today,” explained Khalid Dannish, the president of Bahrain Fintech Bay during the Wamda podcast.
Above all, the island of Bahrain hopes to capitalise on its own human capital through its initiatives and attract entrepreneurs. This nation has a 98% internet access rate, 60% of its working force is aged 18 to 25 years, 90% of its people are bilingual, and its students have best test scores in the MENA region, according to a World Bank human capital report.
“We are pushing educational initiatives to cultivate local talent. We have established a fintech program in partnership with Washington’s Georgetown University, for 25 young graduates in any discipline. It is a six-month course consisting mainly of online modules, two modules in the United States and an internship within a company in banking, finance or engineering industries. The goal is really to create interactions and provide them with basic knowledge of the industry, entrepreneurship driven” he adds.