Aiming to provide a leg up to aspiring entrepreneurs in Middle East and Africa (MEA), C5 Accelerate, a London and Bahrain-based technology investment company, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) and Tamkeen of the Kingdom of Bahrain, has launched a Cloud Accelerator based in Bahrain. The accelerator is looking to identify, mentor and fund MEA businesses whose core operational areas fall under GCC's economic priorities and are within sectors including manufacturing, financial services, and technology among others.
A primary criterion for SMEs to reap benefits of the accelerator is to leverage cloud computing in their business, which will offer scalable infrastructure for small businesses to efficiently grow their venture in a cost-effective manner. To begin with, the accelerator will accept two batches of 10 startups each annually from MEA, for a four-month residential program. Besides learning from peers, training sessions and mentorship, participants will also be eligible for funding from the US$100 million venture fund of the accelerator managed by C5. Though based in Bahrain, the accelerator is open to entrepreneurs from across the MENA region.
"The recent launch of the new Middle East and Africa Cloud Accelerator will build on the support provided to entrepreneurs and help expand the adoption of cloud technology in the Kingdom," said Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive, EDB. "The benefits are clear, for the participants and also for the Kingdom of Bahrain, which is seeking to support the next generation of businesses to help drive growth, diversify the economy, increase productivity and create high-value jobs." As for why Bahrain was chosen for this particular initiative, C5 Accelerate CEO Daniel Freeman replied, "Bahrain was chosen as our base, because it combines outstanding human capital with a government that has shown the ability to operate at the speed of technology. The Kingdom has demonstrated its commitment to developing a world-class environment in which technology entrepreneurs can thrive by tackling key challenges, including working to attract technology sector investment, cutting startup costs, creating the right regulatory environment, and attracting, training and retaining human capital. This signals a serious statement of intent to establish the Kingdom as a regional and global tech hub."
Excerpts from an interview with Al Rumaihi and Freeman:
How do you expect the Cloud Accelerator program to help entrepreneurs in the Middle East?
Freeman: The Middle East is rich in the elements needed to catalyze a successful cloud industry. There is the perfect interplay of supply and demand: local businesses and governments eager to boost efficiency and competitiveness; and a pool of entrepreneurial talent ready to deliver solutions to these businesses via the cloud. This scenario presents a sizable opportunity for entrepreneurs to innovate and build cloud-based solutions to service the unique requirements of customers in the region. The challenge is the absence of an established ecosystem and support that allows entrepreneurs to turn innovation into viable businesses. The businesses will benefit from connectivity with potential customers, guidance from industry experts and opportunity to work closely with a network of corporate partners who can provide business assistance across areas such as commercialization, funding, and business services.
How are you going about selecting businesses to be a part of your program?
Freeman: C5 Accelerate, working with Amazon Web Services and Bahrain Economic Development Board, will select participants that meet a demonstrated market opportunity, have developed a strong and validated business plan and unique technology or business process and are led by a best-in-class management team. Qualifying startups must also demonstrate that they will give as well as receive- a commitment to share what they have learnt, and so, feed the Middle East's burgeoning startup scene.
Besides the accelerator, what other programs is EDB working on to help Bahrain's entrepreneurial ecosystem? What can people expect to see from EDB in the New Year?
Al Rumaihi: The approach of Bahrain's government and the EDB has been to first look at the challenges and then to find ways to address them. The broader regional economic challenges are clear- there is a need to continue to diversify the economies away from oil, prioritize private sector development and to create new jobs on a large scale. In the Gulf, SMEs account for a lion's share of the number of companies but often fail to match these indicators in the areas of productivity and high-value job creation. SMEs in turn face particular challenges around funding and mentorship which creates significant headwinds as they try to develop. The efforts that the EDB will be driving forward will look to address these various factors.
Besides continuing activities to create a supportive business environment in coordination with other key institutions such as relevant Ministries and the Central Bank, Bahrain is also seeking to develop a strong ICT ecosystem, which encourages technology focused entrepreneurship, drives innovation and attracts investment. In order to create this ecosystem Bahrain will be looking at fostering accelerators and incubators, attracting and facilitating early-stage capital and continuing to invest in training and education.
For example, in December, 500 Startups, a leading global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator headquartered in Silicon Valley, announced the launch of the $30 million 500 Falcons fund, targeting the MENA region. The announcement was made around the first-ever regional PreMoney event, a one-day event held in Bahrain on the most disruptive strategies, models and technologies for the future of venture capital.
The Kingdom will also be looking to support cloud-based solutions, which can help reduce costs and remove barriers to access. Overall, 2016 should be an extremely busy year and we're looking forward to announcing a number of new initiatives to help encourage and support entrepreneurs in Bahrain.