Like most people I guess, the period from the second half of September to mid-December is super busy for me. I usually get most of my speaking or panel invitations during this time. Among other events, In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a panellist at the World Business Angel Investor Week and at a workshop discussing the Bahrain Startup Ecosystem at a crowdfunding masterclass organised by Bambucorn.
I had a lot to say at these events and I wanted to give you a summary of my thoughts, for what they are worth.
To give credit where credit is due, we’ve made a lot of progress in Bahrain when it comes to the startup ecosystem. This is thanks to the efforts of stakeholders like the Economic Development Board’s Startup Bahrain initiative, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Tamkeen, Tenmou, Flat6labs, Brinc, the universities, the new co-working spaces and the involvement of the telcos. When I first started as an entrepreneur back in 2002 entrepreneurship was not a government priority, the word “ecosystem” was not uttered on anyone’s tongue, and funding sources were few indeed.
As I said, we’ve come a long way. However, I feel that we need a new concerted effort to move forward and that we should not take things for granted. There is still a massive funding gap in the ecosystem. It’s now possible to get seed/angel investment from different sources, but there are few funding sources available in Bahrain for the pre-series A and series A rounds and beyond. This is a huge hurdle for our startups, and I believe is a competitive disadvantage for Bahrain. Add to that the massive advances being made by our Gulf neighbours, which have leapfrogged us mightily.
The arrival of the Hope Fund on the scene is a huge boost to the Bahraini ecosystem. Hopefully it will fill in some of the funding gaps to help Bahraini startups truly scale up. But a lot more needs to be done. We need a Startup Bahrain 2.0, where we must 10x the achievements of the last half decade or so. For one, we need more internal cooperation and collaboration in Bahrain. We need the players in the ecosystem to talk to each other more. Also, we need closer ties between the government and private sectors.
Communication or lack thereof
I cannot overstate the importance of all round communication. It saddens and frustrates me when I see two departments in a government ministry literally not communicating with each other. If internal communication in a ministry is so poor, imagine what communication is like between ministries and different government agencies. Now imagine the disaster of government-private sector communication.
If we just improved in all around communication, we would unleash a huge amount of potential. Moreover, if in addition to open andlar communication, we genuinely collaborated for the greater good, then the country would be unstoppable.
Also, for Bahrain to thrive and to be considered a truly innovative nation we need more government funding to go into open research (sadly, we are in the bottom 40% in the Global Innovation Index ranking, 78 out of 132 countries). One of the United States’ success secrets is the important and strategic decision to invest in basic research after WWII. This decision, among other discoveries and inventions, has led to the development of the internet and the World Wide Web.
Government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector must invest in, and collaborate on, basic research projects to help Bahrain and its future generations thrive. In addition to funding basic research, we could identify a handful of strategically important fields in which extra attention could be given.
I am convinced that we cannot let things stand as they are. We cannot take the development of the ecosystem for granted. In summary we need:
More communication between government, private sector, and academia – and the civil sector too. Also, more intra-communication within these sectors is needed.
A more collaborative approach to solving the country’s problems.
Government funding into basic and strategic research.
An entity that “owns” or champions innovation in Bahrain to make the above happen.
On-going reduction of government bureaucracy to make launching a business easier.
More funding options for startups and scaleups.
On-going and obsessive improvement and never feeling that one has succeeded or “arrived.”
Overhauling our education system and sending our best and brightest to the best educational universities around the globe.
Rinse and repeat.