Experts from across the globe shared their expertise and disseminated awareness on the role played by incubation in growing businesses worldwide at Incubation Conference 2017
Held under the auspices of HE Yahya bin Said Al Jabri, chairman of the Special Economic Zone Authority in Duqm (SEZAD), the two-day conference, was organised by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE), represented by the National Business Centre (NBC) at Hormuz Grand Hotel, Muscat.
Speaking at the opening session, Hilal bin Hamad Al Hasani, CEO of PEIE, noted that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) enjoy economic and social importance that contributes to a comprehensive and sustainable development. “Rusayl Industrial Estate was the first incubator to small and medium industrial projects. Today, this estate embraces significant investment companies that are recognised locally and internationally. Moreover, PEIE today is responsible for developing and managing seven prime industrial estates namely at Sur, Sohar, Raysut, Nizwa, Al Buraimi, Al Rusayl and, Sumail, in addition to the ICT park known as Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM), and the Al Mazunah Free Zone,” Al Hasani said.
He added that PEIE has been a pioneer in incubating projects in the field of information technology and therefore it established The Knowledge Mine (TKM) in 2004 in the Knowledge Oasis Muscat. PEIE then aimed at expanding TKM and turned it into a specialised centre for incubating and developing SMEs. “In 2013, PEIE inaugurated the National Business Centre (NBC) to be a mixed use incubator that offers promising Omani entrepreneurs a platform to further their business ideas and develop them into growing ventures by offering base training and coaching, marketing and networking opportunities, access to funding, fully furnished offices and state of the art facilities inclusive of meeting rooms,” Al Hasani added.
Al Hasani pointed out that the conference aspires at touching upon innovation and research through the various themes, taking into account that this topic is important for the development of products and institutions especially that SMEs need to adopt innovation and research. “PEIE has also been a pioneer in establishing the Industrial Innovation Centre (IIC), which provides services to all industrialists working in the industrial estates and especially the owners of small and medium factories. These factories, in fact, represent the majority of the existing projects in the industrial estates,” he said.
He also noted that there will be the first research chair of PEIE at Sultan Qaboos University, which will be implemented to boost research and development cooperation with academic institutions. “The investment arm of the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates – Shumookh Investment and Services Company has adopted two projects. Shumookh has invested in National Frankincense Products (Oliban), and it has also initiated National Centre for Electricity to offer smart and innovative solutions. Since its establishment, the centre is developing a main strategy to contribute in the advancement of the electricity and energy sector. The capital of these companies has exceeded OMR 1 million and they are employing more than 100 Omani employees.”
“The positive indicators achieved by PEIE reflect the focus given by the Sultanate on the industrial sector in particular and the other investment sectors in general,” Al Hasani informed, adding: “The percentage of SMEs exceeds 85% of the total projects in the various estates of PEIE. During the last ten years (2007-2017), PEIE has achieved a significant growth in various areas. The cumulative value of investment has touched more than OMR 6.3 billion until the first half of 2017. During the same period, growth has been witnessed in the number of job opportunities provided by the projects based in the industrial estates by 143%. This brings the total number of workforce by the end of the first half of this year to more than 53,000 with an Omanisation rate exceeding 35%. Finally, we hope that this conference will come up with realistic solutions and ideas that will contribute to the development of incubation and work toward boosting productions, activating diversification of projects, and facing the growing number of job seekers.”
The keynote speaker Kirstie Chadwick, CEO of International Business Innovation Association (INBIA), highlighted the significance of driving wealth through entrepreneurial ecosystems, noting that there are 950 entrepreneurship centres in 62 countries. She added that the mission of INBIA is to help communities enable their entrepreneurs transform their dreams into innovative businesses that make global prosperity a reality. Chadwick also pointed out that the age of acceleration is redefining global entrepreneurship and tech trends are catalyzing small business growth across the globe.
Chadwick commented that it takes a village to raise a startup, which would comprise policy makers, mentors, education institutions, startups, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship centres and corporations. “Entrepreneurs should lead a region’s startup community. Politicians, investors, universities and service providers are extremely important elements of a thriving startup ecosystem. However, some of the most prolific startup communities are loosely organised with informal leadership from local successful experienced entrepreneurs,” Chadwick said.
The conference featured a line-up of local and international speakers and highlighted several themes through the various sessions and specialised workshops. Moderated by Sheikh Shabib Al Maamari of BP Oman, a session on the topic of SMEs in the MENA region took place as part of the conference. The speakers comprised Fawzi al Harrasi, executive director (Operations) of Teejan Group, Tom Strodtbeck, CEO of Strodtbeck and Company Limited, Omar Christidis, CEO and founder of Arab Net. The panellists defined ecosystem, which is a network of all organisations directly or indirectly involved in the development of SMEs. This includes government organisations, private organisations, academic institutions, community organisations, consumers and the SMEs themselves.
The second session, which highlighted incubation models and was moderated by Malak Al Shaibani, director General of NBC, featured speaker comprising Mostafa Karimian Eghbal, advisor to the President of Isfahan Science and Technology Town (ISTT), Aysha Al Mudahka, CEO of Qatar Business Incubation Centre (QBIC), and Giordano Dichter, head of EU BIC services EBN innovation network. This session highlighted the fact that there are many incubation models some of which are linked with universities, some virtual, sector specific those which focus on a minority group, social and those which are commercial.
Moderated by Tom Strodtbeck, CEO of Strodtbeck and Company Limited, and featuring Aman Merchant, serial entrepreneur and founder of Impact Hub – Dubai, Louis Lebbos, Founder and Partner at Astro Lab – Dubai, and Abdullah Al Jufaili, general manager at Sharakah, the third session underscored the topic of entrepreneurship enablers. In this session, the panellists talked about the role of key players in finance, mentoring, incubating and accelerating.
On the first day of the conference, the attendees had the opportunity to meet and interact with a number of Qatari institutions which are aiming at investing or initiating new partnerships in the Sultanate. Besides, two workshops were held on the sidelines of the conference on the first day. The first workshop highlighted the topic of ‘Running Sustainable Incubators’ and the second workshop underscored the topic of ‘Accelerating Innovation in the Ecosystem’.
Incubation, STP management
Delivering the keynote speech on the second day, Dr. Choi, Jong-in, professor and vice president of strategy and planning at Hanbat National University, underscored the topic of incubation management and Science and Technology Parks (STP). Jong elaborated on the main concepts that entrepreneurs should concentrate on from his point of view, which include capability-products-market (CPM), technology-products-market linkages (TPM), and ideas-needs-capabilities (INC model).
Jong also commented that entrepreneurs need to focus on strategy, capability, team work and motivation in order to succeed. “One needs to also concentrate on technology and market sides,” he emphasised. Jong mentioned the sources of technological learning in Korea, as he said, “These sources include international sources and domestic sources. The international sources involve equipment embodied, human embodied, printed info, foreign suppliers, and foreign buyers. On the other hand, the domestic sources of technological learning comprise universities, research institutes, other firms, and other support systems.”
He noted that Innopolis Daedeok in Korea is where 12 percent the R&D spending and 11.8 percent of the PhD level researchers in Korea are concentrated, thus giving the zone the best research capabilities in the country. “Innopolis Daedeok is moving forward to become a global center that turns new technologies into successful businesses,” he pointed out.
Innovation, education, future trends
The second day of the conference featured a line-up of local and international speakers. The topic of innovation in entrepreneurship was highlighted by Ana Greif, CEO and founder of Varela Consulting, Dr. Abdullah Al Mahrooqi, CEO of Industrial Innovation Centre, and Dr. Dhafir Al Shanfari, CEO of Oman Authority for Partnership Development (OAPD). This session, which was moderated by Hassan Al Lawati, CEO of Carzaty, emphasised on the significance of innovation for developing economies to give them an edge over developed economies. In a rapidly changing world, consumers are always on the lookout for products and services that add value to their existing way of life. SMEs in developed countries have always been innovative and at the forefront of efficiency due to the entrepreneurial nature and the lack of an organised bureaucracy.
Tarek Ahmed Fouad, growth programme manager at Sharajah Entrepreneurship Centre, Dr. Rahma Al Mahrooqi, vice chancellor for postgraduate studies and research at SQU, and Prof. Yusra Mouzughi, interim Vice Chancellor at Muscat University, underscored the topic of entrepreneurship and education. Moderated by HH Dr. Sayyid Adham Al Said of The Firm, the education related session highlighted that entrepreneurship education plays a major role in creating awareness amongst future job seekers of the opportunities they can avail from starting their own business.
Finally, the final session on the future trends of entrepreneurship featured Kirstie Chadwick, CEO of International Business Innovation Association (INBIA), Dr. Choi, Jong-in, professor and vice president of strategy and planning at Hanbat National University, Dr. Firas Al Abduwani, founder of Hussam Technology Company, Khalid Al Huraibi, acting CEO of the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Development ‘Riyada’, and Emad Summad, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Sultan Qaboos University. This session, which was moderated by Al Mutassim Al Sariri of Oman Oil Company, elaborated on the terms ‘innovation hubs’ and ‘super hubs’, which are recognised to be new terms in the innovation and incubation arena. The session has also highlighted the impact of globalisation and digitalisation on the future of services provided.
A graduation ceremony was held on the sidelines of the conference to celebrate the graduation of seven companies who were incubated successfully at the NBC and Riyada incubator. The graduation took place under the auspices of His Excellency Dr. Ali bin Saud Al Bimani, Vice Chancellor of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU). The seven graduated companies are: Al Salama Fire Protection Engineering Consultancy, Four Elements, Majan Health Services, Alfanoos Design, Ecity, Ithbat Development, and Advanced Safety Solution.
It has to be mentioned that Al Salama Fire Protection Engineering Consultancy is specialised in site inspection and supervision, design of fire drawings, and obtaining approvals from civil defence. Moreover, Four Elements Company aims at providing waste water treatment and environmental solutions. Furthermore, Majan Health Services aspires at offering diagnosis, management and prevention of diseases and illness in the workplace, and development and implementation of occupational health solutions and strategies that protect the health of an organisation’s workforce. In addition, Alfanoos Design aims at delivering creative ideas and quality work in varied media, and Ecity Company offers specialised and innovative services in information technology. Besides, Ithbat Development provides eLearning solutions by offering online training, provides eContent for training and educational development, and design and implementation of LMS (Learning Management Systems). Additionally, Advanced Safety Solution provides unbiased expert analysis, advice and solutions on a wide range of fire safety issues.
This conference is the first of its kind in the Sultanate, which aimed at instilling a culture of entrepreneurship, and disseminating awareness and knowledge on the bodies that support SMEs and innovation related entities. The conference aspired at highlighting the best practices regionally and internationally; getting a better understanding of the role of incubation in a growing ecosystem and the future of the incubation industry; exploring the role of academic institutions (colleges and universities) in supplying and supporting incubators with a steady pipeline of entrepreneurs; exploring the role of chambers of commerce and other entities in supplying and supporting incubators and the growth of SMEs, amongst other objectives.
The conference was sponsored by several bodies which comprised BP Oman (Platinum Sponsor), Occidental Oman, Fund for Development of Youth Projects – Sharakah, Al Raffd Fund, Shumookh Investment and Services, Oman LNG Development Foundation, Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises Development (Riyada), SME Development Fund, Al Wisal Radio, and Oman Establishment for Press, Publication and Advertising.
“We believe in the importance of creating a platform for local and international experience exchange in fields of entrepreneurship and SMEs. These enterprises play a great role in promoting the nation’s economy and the In Country Value as well as creating job opportunities,” said Shabib Mohammed Al Mamari, BP Oman’s Communications and External Affairs Manager. “Our sponsorship of this conference is a reflection of our endeavour to integrate the efforts of public and private institutions to empower the youth and support SMEs through our Social Investment Programme,” Al Mamari added.