To someone who has never been to Bahrain, it hardly triggers any special response. One would faintly remember it as one of the six GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council), comprising the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), owing its economic status to oil reserves. Yet when I had a chance to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain in September on the invitation of the Startup Bahrain – The Economic Development Board Of Bahrain (EDB), little would I have imagined that all my notions were about to change. That in fact, this tiny little country, which enjoys a reputation as the “Gateway to the Gulf”, is leaving no stone unturned to become the next startup hub in the Gulf region, opening its gates for the foreign incumbents including the Indian startups.
Till now, the kingdom of Bahrain was largely the choice of entrepreneurs and startups from UAE and other nearby regions. However, the local government is now working along ‘2030 Economic Vision’ which includes policies dedicated to the ‘capturing emerging [economic] opportunities.’ Quite similar to India, which is now on the stage of becoming the third largest global startup hub, over the past five to six years, the Bahrain startup ecosystem has grown into a cluster of angel investors, accelerator programs, universities and government initiatives which includes startups like Baqala, Paytabs, Skiplino, and accelerators like Rowad, Brinc, and C5. Not only it’s opening up the country’s networking channels, or partnering with global leaders such as Amazon Web Services, but also gearing towards being the ‘home to startups’ worldwide.
Two years back, in December 2015, Khalid Al Rumaihi, CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) in a media statement has mentioned that Bahrain wants to create an environment that would allow any entrepreneur, be it Palestinian or Egyptian or Moroccan to build a startup in the country. In his words, if they have an idea Bahrain want to create an ecosystem composed of several [investment] firms that they can come and pitch their idea to. Again, this was the same time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came up with his motto, ‘Startup India, Standup India’ and a plethora of startup-friendly policies. Two years later, both the Bahrain and the Indian startup dream is now on its path to getting fulfilled.
Fulfilling The Bahrain Dream: Becoming Home To Global Startups
Bahrain has came a long way from being just a oil driven gulf country. Now less than a quarter of Bahrain’s total GDP is generated from the hydrocarbons industry. Most of the family money is invested into real estate and manufacturing. At the same time, it is also diverting itself to categories such as Fintech, Telecommunication, Transport, Tourism and more.
Infact the government’s impetus is currently on attracting investments, businesses and startups in five key areas – financial services and fintech, manufacturing (not oil based but light manufacturing), logistics (as it goes hand in hand with manufacturing), ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and tourism. In addition, infrastructure investment is at the top of the government’s priority list and a $32 Bn pipeline of projects across a range of sectors is either under construction or scheduled for development.