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QBIC Is Creating The Next Generation Of Qatari Business Leaders CEO Aysha Al Mudahka sees Qatar's entrepreneurs today as the future of Qatari business success and economic growth.

By Erika Widen

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Qatar Business Incubation Center

"QBIC sees Qatar's entrepreneurs today as the future of Qatari business success and economic growth. QBIC is here to help new startups and SMEs in Qatar to achieve solid success. In an attempt to develop the local private sector, QBIC is paving the way for aspiring entrepreneurs to realize their ideas and see them grow," says Aysha Al Mudahka, Chief Executive Officer of QBIC. In 2013, Qatar Development Bank (QDB), a governmental entity, and the Social Development Center (SDC), a NGO, founded Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC).

Al Mudahka says that QBIC is in the process of anticipating some MOU agreements and partnerships with relevant and supporting establishments. For instance, during March of this year the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) and QDB announced the establishment of the Tourism Incubation Zone at QBIC. "We also have Al Sraiya Group as an investment partner," adds Al Mudahka. Interested applicants to QBIC are not required to submit business plans or carry out feasibility studies; instead, they must to take part in their 10-week flagship program called LeanStartup. The LeanStartup Program is based on the strength of their business idea, and most importantly, on the dedication of the entrepreneur and the team behind the idea. Once the 10-week program concludes, participants pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and potential investors who then select the most successful pitches for incubation at QBIC. In order to be eligible to apply to the QBIC program, the applicant must be a resident of Qatar. In addition, they must have at least one of the founding members as an active Qatari partner, since QBIC is intended to support Qatari entrepreneurs.

The LeanStartup Program is an entrepreneurial program, which provides real world, hands-on, learning experience on how to successfully start a business. By using the streamlined Customer Development Process (customer validation technique), rather than a premature business plan. "The LeanStartup Program is based on the Business Model Canvas, a visual chart with elements describing the firm's value propositions, infrastructure, customers, and finances. In this program we are using local Qatari startup business cases as well as chal- lenging exercises." As of 2015, QBIC has a total of 24 incubated companies, out of which 19 are startups and five indus- trial workshops. "By the end of the year, we are planning to incubate a total of 40." However, since QBIC's launch, 25 startups have been incubated, although some had to leave since they did not de- liver on the requirements and agreed milestones. "We have limited number of offices and industrial workshops, and therefore those entrepreneurs who are not dedicated have to yield their slot to those are passionate and hardworking. It is great to have an idea, but more important is the commitment to it."

QBIC Building

Al Mudahka explains how once the startups become incubated, they receive smart financing, coaching and mentoring, office space, and networking opportunities from within QBIC. First, they have to set a three-month milestones plan in order to get entitled for a conditional seed fund for up to QR100,000 for customer validation and prototype development. The incubatee receives the conditional seed fund based on the agreed milestone and timelines in exchange to a 10% of the equity. After successful customer validation and if the incubatees are fulfilling the agreed requirements, they pitch to the Incubation Committee to be selected for the next stage– the real incubation. Then the acceleration phase follows (third to 12th month), where businesses are entitled for equity financing of an additional QR 200,000; in exchange to an additional 20% of the equity. "Here, we guide the operations and also actively review the performance of the incubatees' businesses and agreed milestones. The second year of incubation (12th to 24th month) is the year to scale their businesses. After two years of incubation, companies graduate."

QBIC is also offering Angel Investment Sessions for the incubated startups that are looking for the additional funding and expertise that can help them with networking and industry expertise. "We are also holding Speaker Series events which are open to the public. The idea behind these bi-monthly events is to bring high-caliber global and regional speakers and entrepreneurs, who would inspire the QBIC community– students, entrepreneurs, incubatees, [and] partners. All are welcome to join!" It's important to mention that QBIC also offers the LeanStartup Program and some mentoring services to existing SMEs without necessarily wanting to be incubated. QBIC supports promising projects and is keen on helping them play an active role in Qatar's economic journey toward a knowledge-based economy. QBIC is founded and backed by respected government institutions that take Qatar's entrepreneurs seriously (QDB and SDC). "Entrepreneurship underpins the country's National Vision 2030, and by supporting SMEs to grow and achieve solid success, QBIC is creating the next generation of Qatari business leaders. It is important for Qatar to support entrepreneurs as per the National Vision; having a notable and strong private sector will play a role in the local, regional and international market, and thus it is vital to support entrepreneurs to successfully kick-off with the facilities at hand."

Ms. Aysha Al Mudahka, CEO, QBIC
QBIC supports women who have graduated with fresh ideas, and have been inspired to start their own businesses. "These women have higher horizons and do not want traditional jobs." They also cater to women with families who seek the flexibility of a business that traditional careers cannot provide. In that sense, there are more women applying to QBIC's flagship programs, especially that they are usually demotivated by the obstacles of developing a business plan, which is not required by QBIC. "Also, large number of home businesses are run by women and we aim to help them to grow their businesses," says Al Mudahka.

Today, the main challenges faced by aspiring entrepreneurs are financial, in addition to gaining sufficient customer validation and constructive feedback. "This is mainly due to the high prices of office rent in Qatar, and the business plan model that is unsuccessful at identifying the importance of hands-on validation techniques." QBIC's flagship program is based on a business model rather than a business plan and encourages entrepreneurs to develop a prototype, which needs to be constantly improved as oppose to going big with the final product at the very beginning. Once the business idea and prototype is refined and developed, entrepreneurs pitch for a chance to be incubated and supported financially by QBIC.

"We support Qatari companies and are open to multi-nationals too who have active Qatari partners... Startups can become independent from QBIC within two years of their graduation. They must find their own office location, and pay back the amount of funding they received after the passing of their three-month probation period, with a 5% markup." One of the largest specialized mixed incubators in the MENA region, QBIC is located in Doha's new industrial area. The facilities are designed to help entrepreneurs develop the necessary skills to embark on small and medium size projects, and industrial workshops. It has a space of 20,000 square meters and can host more than 200 potential business pioneers. "Startups at QBIC vary, and fields include mobile apps, fashion, communication, social media and event enhancement solutions, different kinds of production, CRM solutions," and more. One of the successful startups incubated by QBIC is S'Ishira, founded by Sheikha Al-Misnad and Noora Buhelaiqa.

"S'Ishira is a multi-cultural luxury perfume brand, made from all-natural material gathered from around the world, and offers a unique twist on oriental and French perfumes. It is the first perfume company that is homegrown." Another successful startup is the RINFO App, which was launched in beginning of February of this year. RINFO is an online mobile app and website that deals with real estate information. For instance, people can post their request on the app, and then all partners will receive a notification and get back at the earliest with the availability. "There were more than 1000 requests during the last three months only. Even before starting the marketing campaign, RINFO App has 1600 users, 17 real estate companies came on board and 3000 responses from real estate agents to user generated.

A LeanScaleup Program by QBIC will commence in the fall of 2015, designed to accelerate the sales and marketing machine of young businesses with high potential. It will focus on extraordinary growth in order to turn a high-potential young business into a successfully scalable company. The LeanScaleup Program will also include opportunities for the entrepreneurs to pitch to potential investors and lenders for growth capital. "The LeanScaleup program, which will be focusing on the existing young companies and helping them to grow, and new partnerships are in the pipeline."

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