QATAR - Economy
General Manager, Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC)
Hamad Al-Qahtani has a solid background in corporate banking and business finance, with his expertise including roles at the Commercial Bank of Qatar and the Qatar Development Bank, where he worked closely with SMEs over a seven-year period. These roles advanced his knowledge of the Qatari private sector and how to support the development of entrepreneurship and innovation in the country.
Why is QBIC relevant to achieving the goals of QNV 2030?
QBIC was founded by one of the main players supporting SMEs in Qatar. It is fully owned by Qatar Development Bank, and in 2019 we celebrated our fifth anniversary. Last year, we were proudly awarded “the best business incubator in the Middle East.” Our mission is to develop Qatar’s next QAR100-million companies. Five years ago, we embarked on a journey to instill an entrepreneurial mindset amongst locals, and we are well on our way. We used to want Qataris to start their own business and consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option instead of only preferring public-sector jobs. Now, all they talk about is starting a business and investing in something, which is evidently bolstering Qatar’s private sector. Now, we need to guide them toward the field of entrepreneurship and continue to help them grow and scale.
What are the main programs you offer to Qatari entrepreneurs?
We offer numerous programs for start-ups at all stages of growth. Our main program is the Lean Start Up program, which is basically a 10-week program that leverages the “lean” methodology and emphasizes the importance of customer validation as opposed to unactionable business plans. Aspiring entrepreneurs simply apply with an idea or prototype, and over 10 weeks we transform their thinking and empower them to build an actual startup. We receive hundreds of applications for each wave, only 50 of which are carefully selected. What’s more, only 20% of these complete the program because it involves extensive field work and dedication. A major component focuses on interactions with potential customers; for example, we send future entrepreneurs to shopping malls and Souq Waqif to scout and engage with potential customers and collect insights and gauge purchasing intent. With the lean methodology, they learn to adopt a trial and error approach until they get it right. Not all of them can last 10 weeks, which means we end up with the real cream of the crop (roughly 10 start-ups). Eventually, six or seven win incubation at QBIC, which earns them a grant of QAR100,000, rent-free office space, and coaching for two years, in addition to numerous exposure opportunities. Then there is the Lean Acceleration Program, which is designed for start-ups that are looking to scale and experiencing consistent growth. In 2019, we also launched the manufacturing vertical with 48 factories branded under Jahiz. Jahiz 1 is basically different sectors such as plastics, chemicals, and wood, whereas Jahiz 2 is for food and beverage. These factories cover about 3,000sqm. For smaller start-ups, QBIC’s workshops range between 90sqm and 250sqm. Within the vertical we have developed a program called the Lean Manufacturing Program to assist people on how to manage their factories and production lines. I have realized that although there aren’t that many factories in Qatar, the facilities operating are technologically advanced and automated.
Why is Qatar the right spot to create an innovation hub?
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is right around the corner, and it’s been said more than once that if you don’t bank on the opportunities now, you’ll miss the boat. A long list of projects must be completed before the event so now is the time to come and do something in Qatar. At present, anything that one starts here has a bigger chance of succeeding because of the huge impact the event generates. Let’s also not forget the fact that Qatar is ranked first in the region according to the Entrepreneurship Index, which speaks volumes about the local entrepreneurial infrastructure and incubators. Now is the time to start a business and invest in Qatar and Qatari start-ups because these ventures will mature by 2022, which means it will be easier to scale those investments and businesses up, where huge rewards await.