Oman in the Spotlight
As an economy that once depended heavily on its oil sector, the Sultanate of Oman is moving away from its dependency on oil and is focusing instead on promoting entrepreneurship and boosting the role of its private sector in the economy. While viewed as one of the most challenging markets in the Middle East to start a business, due to both its restrictive policies and relatively small population, Oman’s situation has changed in the past few years, especially following the 2013 SME Development Symposium.
The three-day Symposium which was held at Saih Al Shamekhat, and organized as per the directives of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, discussed ways to accelerate entrepreneurship in Oman and also covered the available opportunities, the support programs, the policies, laws and procedures as well as financing and investment. In addition, the symposium also led to the development and establishment of key entrepreneurship enablers such as Riyada, the Public Authority for SME Development, and the Al Raffd Fund, a funding organization catered specifically to Oman’s SME sector.
Today, Oman’s fairly infant startup ecosystem is designed to generate and sustain entrepreneurial ventures, with several forms of financial support, accelerators and incubators, support units, governmental institutions and events. Below are some of the key stakeholders fostering entrepreneurship in the Sultanate of Oman.
Established in 2006, the government-owned Oman Investment Fund (OIF) is a independent wealth fund that makes medium to long-term investments domestically and globally with the aim of diversifying Oman’s asset base and creating a pool of sustainable cash flows for the Sultanate. Last year, the OIF launched a US $200M Oman Technology Fund (OTF) to invest in startup technology companies in Oman and the wider region. The fund is expected to attract technology companies to Oman and help build the country as a tech hub.
The Al Raffd Fund is a funding organization catered specifically to Oman’s SME sector, and has been set up to provide the required financial support for Omani nationals to start their businesses. The Fund launched its first financial programs in January 2014, and the programs currently include Mawred (for those benefiting from social insurance), Tasees (for job seekers willing to start their own businesses), Riyada (for entrepreneurs, rural women, craftsmen, and business incubator beneficiaries), and Tazeez (for those who previously benefited from the programs).
Wadi Accelerator is a $15M seed fund and 3-month accelerator program offering growth hacking tools, mentoring, and investment in tech startups. Powered by 500Startups and part of the Oman Tech Fund, Wadi Accelerator primarily invest post-product, with some user traction and evidence of product/market fit, at the seed stage with an initial ticket size of US $100K for 10% equity.
The ITA (Information Technology Authority) of Oman launched its new Sas Centre for Mobile Applications Development last year at KOM4. The centre, which is part of the ITA’s ‘Sas’ technology foundation program, is intended to provide a hub for creating commercially sustainable mobile applications, and to create the skills, education and ecosystem to create a local development industry.
The National Business Center (NBC), which was established in 2012, offers Omani entrepreneurs a platform to further their business ideas and develop them into growing ventures. The center aims to become the premier platform for Omani entrepreneurs by providing business development support and guidance, training and mentoring, access to markets and industry experts as well as state-of-the-art fully equipped office space, meeting rooms and presentation facilities.
Information Technology Authority (ITA) is the governmental authority in Oman responsible for establishing and running e-governance services in Oman. The ITA has launched three centers for the past 4 years, the Sas Program for Entrepreneurship, to help startups and youth in IT innovate, create and generate ideas, the Sas Center for Virtual Reality, to provide the infrastructure needed for developing VR applications and multimedia content, and finally the Sas Centre for Mobile Applications Development, to provide a hub for creating commercially sustainable mobile applications.
The vision of Oman’s Ministry of Tourism is to develop tourism as an important and sustainable socio-economic sector of the Sultanate of Oman. In 2015, the Ministry of Tourism signed two memorandums of understanding with Al Raffd Fund and the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises Development to further assist Omani entrepreneurs. The agreement is aimed to strengthen co-operation and collaboration between the two sides on training, business advice, and knowledge exchange to help SMEs operate more successfully.
Riyada, which is the Public Authority for SME Development the Public Authority for SME Development, has a mandate to nurture and aid the development of the country’s SME sector, and has accomplished a number of goals to make the market friendlier to startups. In 2014, Riyada launched a yearly event known as ‘The Entrepreneurship Awards’ which includes awards for government authorities, financial institutions, and corporate giants that support and helps SMEs.
Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) is a 20,000 m2 technology park managed by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE) whose objective is to support technology-oriented businesses. In addition to the advantages available in other industrial estates, it also provides technical support and services for businesses established at KOM. Startup Oman is an organization that aims to bring Oman’s entrepreneurial ecosystem together as one community through monthly meetups and a continual celebration of local and regional entrepreneurs. Startup Oman features success stories of both international and local high achieving entrepreneurs as a way of benchmarking performance and increasing the aspirations of Omani entrepreneurs and also launched the local chapter of Startup Grind, the largest independent startup community in the world, last year.
The third edition of Riyada’s Entrepreneurship Awards, which was launched last month, will focus on enhancing the culture of entrepreneurship in the Omani society to help small businesses become effective contributors to the nation’s economy. Omani small businesses and entrepreneurs will be awarded financial prizes and recognized in three categories: the Entrepreneurship Award, Entrepreneurship Award for SMEs and Entrepreneurship Supporters Award as well as various sub-categories under it. This year, Riyada has signed a strategic agreement with Omantel to support and execute the third edition of the awards.