Building An Ecosystem: Riyada Specialist Mentor Chris Broad On Oman's SME Sector
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Chris Broad, a Lecturer at Central Bank of Oman’s College of Banking & Financial Studies, is a Specialist Mentor with Riyada, an organization dedicated to developing the SME sector in Oman. A seasoned software, contract manufacturing and technology industry veteran with over 20 years of successful business development experience building and managing direct and indirect sales, OEM and channel distribution teams and establishing new go-to-market partners and programs for companies ranging from SMEs and startups to multi-national corporations, Broad is an active participant in the Omani startup space.
Excerpts from an interview:
What’s your personal take on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Oman?
I think the ecosystem is in some instances very developed; however, there is still a silo mentality and an apparent difficulty in getting all the various components and initiatives working together cohesively. The opportunity is there for an umbrella organization, such as Startup Oman, to provide a hub environment through which entrepreneurs can access experience, finance and skills to be able to go-to-market more effectively. Oman needs a consolidation of the various SME initiatives as well as the development of incubation environments out of government and/or large corporate’s CSR program oversight –we have a private organization in Muscat, called The Lounge that does just that– and they have first mover advantage in this space. You can’t mandate creativity and entrepreneurial thinking by way of government fiat. Big business and entrepreneurship are a natural fit and we must move away from programs that leave entrepreneurs feeling like they’ve become someone’s PR exercise.
The problem is the rentier economy, which has led to a dependency and handout culture amongst many. An unforeseen consequence of stability has been the stunting of initiative to the degree that one is asking permission to think out of the box. It’s a challenging starting point. Whilst it is true that the diversification policy has had many notable successes, its inherent command and control nature has disadvantaged the economy as it goes into this new reality. The role startups have to play front and center is critical– however, inertia and dirigiste central planning is a hurdle to be addressed. Oman has a pool of young gifted youth to draw from, and I think if they are given access to alternative sources of funding and regulators get out of their way, the result can only be new business, job creation and economic growth.
How much support are you seeing from the government and government organizations for Oman's entrepreneurs?
The government is certainly making meaningful moves in the right direction, but as I said, the legacy of a dirigiste system means that often the ROI and final output is such that the future can only be an improvement. The launching of Ethmar, a VC fund, is a significant development of His Majesty’s vision. Disruptive business ideas, creativity and innovation can only benefit from this development. One hopes that there will be more to come in order to build momentum.
You work as a mentor for Riyada. Can you talk about the work that Riyada is doing in Oman, and its impact on the country's ecosystem?
Riyada is a trusted organization in the country and they play a critical role in strengthening national economic development. They have been a key catalyst in the ecosystem, and I feel that they are evolving to be better placed to continue to play that role. What worked in 2013 no longer applies today. Riyada gets this and is evolving in conjunction with the other players that have come into the mix since then.
What are your tips for aspiring entrepreneurs in Oman?
Stop asking for permission, if you don’t have it– go get it, and stop waiting for the government, or some ‘expert’ to tell you when and how and if you can go about it. They have to be hungry for it. Some just think it’s a cool moniker to bandy about before they get a job as a bank clerk. For me, entrepreneurship is ‘the pursuit of opportunity beyond resource control’- these guys have done this on their own volition.