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Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In an effort to regulate the burgeoning home business market in Qatar, the government has announced new licensing procedures for such entrepreneurs.

The process has been scaled down to tailor specifically to small businesses and self-employed residents, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce said in Decision No. 242 for 2016.

It did not specify whether the regulations apply only to Qataris, or expats as well.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Instead, it highlighted startups whose commercial activities are based on personal skills. These cannot involve hazardous materials or equipment that causes inconvenience to others, the MEC said.

Examples include sewing and embroidery, wedding photography, gift packaging, flower arranging, cooking and making beauty products such as perfumes and cosmetics.

The move comes after  many entrepreneurs expressed feeling daunted by the bureaucracy involved in starting a business in Qatar.

Requirements

The licenses cost QR1,020 annually.

To apply, people who are running home businesses need to be over 18 years old and live in the residence where the company is registered.

Only one license will be granted per home.

The MEC added that in some cases, clearances from certain entities are needed.

Countrykitty/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

For example, those involved in home catering and cooking must obtain Civil Defense clearance. However, the ministry did not elaborate on how a resident can go about obtaining this.

The MEC has also banned direct selling from the home. Instead, home delivery must be used.

Additionally:

  • The name of the company should be listed on a placard outside the home with the license and business number;
  • No advertising or promotion of the business is allowed on the outside of the house; and
  • Traffic should not be disrupted in the neighborhood by the business.

Reaction

It is unclear how the new requirements will affect home businesses, as many entrepreneurs operate under the radar to cut costs and avoid red tape.

Requiring home delivery may increase costs for many startups, for example.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And one small business owner in Qatar told Doha News that she was hesitant to register her company for fear of higher fees in the future.

“Once you are known to them (the government), then you are kind of stuck,” she said.

However, she added that she likes the idea of making her business more legitimate.

“I wouldn’t have to constantly worry. I can be more aggressive in my marketing. And the cost is there, but it’s not too cost-prohibitive.”

Additionally, many people have previously supported the idea of some government regulation when it comes to home catering and other services for health and safety reasons.

In its statement, the MEC said regulation of home businesses will provide “a motive for expansion and development of their projects and the opening of shops that will contribute to economic development and economic diversity” in Qatar.

Thoughts?

QBIC demo day

QBIC

QBIC demo day

More than a dozen budding entrepreneurs were promised some QR1.4 million in seed money this week after successfully pitching their startup ideas to the Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC).

Aiming to create Qatar’s next QR100 million company, people pitched business plans for vegetable hydroponics kits, sign language training and a variety of mobile apps in a competition on Monday for funding and space in one of the country’s largest startup incubators.

In total, 14 of the 16 early stage firms were accepted into QBIC, and each promised QR100,000 in seed funding to help develop their ideas, which also included products such as horse bedding made of recycled materials and a “smart table” for charging and boosting the signal of mobile devices, among others.

In addition to the funding, the companies will receive mentorship, coaching and workspace to develop their businesses over the next 12 to 24 months.

Demo Day

To qualify, all the startups – which were either founded by Qataris or had an active Qatari partner – first had to apply for a spot in QBIC’s LeanStartup Program, a 10-week course designed to test the viability of their business ideas through conversations with potential customers and suppliers.

That culminated with QBIC’s fourth Demo Day, where startups had to present their product, market research and financial projections to an auditorium full of judges, fellow entrepreneurs and other onlookers.

Maryam Ahmed Al Semaitt and Nawar Al-Mutlaq explain their startup, Warsha.

Marwa Obeid / Twitter

Maryam Ahmed Al Semaitt and Nawar Al-Mutlaq explain their startup, Warsha.

“It was thrilling … There was (much) more energy in the room than I expected,” said Maryam Ahmed Al Semaitt, moments after her startup, Warsha, was selected.

Co-founded by Al Semaitt and Nawar Al-Mutlaq, Warsha is a mobile fabrication lab containing tools such as laser cutters and 3D printers.

Dubbed “a playground for creators,” it’s aimed at designers, artists and other entrepreneurs creating physical items such as iPhone cases.

Al Semaitt told Doha News that their initial plan was for a large lab containing a wide assortment of equipment.

But after going through the lean startup program, that concept evolved into a smaller facility that would be easier to launch and could be transported around Qatar to reach different customers such as clusters of artists at Katara.

The pressure Al Semaitt said she felt while making her pitch was no accident, according to Khaled Sadeddin, QBIC’s director of incubation.

He said that one goal of Demo Day was to help startup founders overcome their stage fright.

“Once you put your foot on this entrepreneurship path, the biggest fear is selling your idea to other people,” he told Doha News. “Once you’ve done that, you feel that you’ve achieved something.”

Fostering startup culture

QBIC’s demo day comes as Qatar tries to encourage more residents to start their own businesses and bolster the country’s private sector, which remains heavily dependent on the oil and gas sectors as well as government-funded construction projects.

Khaled Sadeddin is QBIC’s director of incubation

QBIC

Khaled Sadeddin is QBIC’s director of incubation

Entrepreneurship can be a tough sell in a country where the public sector attracts many Qataris with the promise of stable and well-paying careers, Sadeddin conceded.

To help overcome this challenge, he highlighted how startups provide an opportunity to be one’s own boss and leave a lasting legacy.

QBIC’s programs, meanwhile, reduce the failure rate of new businesses by pairing entrepreneurs with experienced mentors and coaches as well as helping startups find funding and subsidies for services such as legal help and bookkeeping.

“Our role is to enable and foster a new generation of Qatari businessmen and women,” he said.

QBIC is one of several centers in the country supporting startups, which also includes ictQatar’s Digital Incubation Center as well as the Qatar Science and Technology Park.

Pitches

Among the other companies headed into QBIC’s incubation program is Smart Korsy, a firm co-founded by Qassim Al Ghanim, a government engineer turned serial entrepreneur, Mohamed Azab and Raseel Musliarakath.

They’ve designed a small table that doubles as a charging station as well as a wireless signal amplifier. While restaurants and cafes are one possible market, the table is also equipped with a solar panel so it can be taken camping.

Just Grow combines an aquarium and plant holder to create a small home hydroponic garden.

Courtesy of Ali Al-Jail

Just Grow combines an aquarium and plant holder to create a small home hydroponic garden.

Another company that made the cut is Just Grow, which combines an aquarium and plant holder to create a small home hydroponic garden for growing herbs and small vegetables.

“All a customer has to do is feed the fish and wait for their produce … to grow,” said company founder Ali Al-Jail in his pitch.

Several software firms applied for space in a separate tourism-focused incubator at QBIC that’s supported by the Qatar Tourism Authority, which previously said it wants to jointly spend between $40 billion and $45 billion (QR145.66 billion to QR163.87 billion) with the private sector on new products and programs over the coming years.

These include restaurant reservation system Anajay (Arabic for “On my way”), group events promotional firm ChillinQatar as well as Kashta, which aims to run organized tours of Qatar’s less-known ecological and cultural sites.

“We want visitors to be our ambassadors, and talk about our heritage when they return home,” Kashta’s Kholoud Mohammad said in her pitch.

Thoughts?

Drawing on their love of pop art, a new generation of upcoming designers in Qatar has been working to bridge local and western cultures by creating their own brand of homegrown fashion.

Two entrepreneurs in particular have seen growing success with their sales of clothing and accessories inspired by childhood and contemporary icons, including Marilyn Monroe, Game of Thrones, Popeye the Sailor Man others.

Buthaina Al Zaman, a Northwestern University in Qatar communications student, said she decided to focus on creating designs inspired by both regional culture and Western aesthetics after Google searches for Arab pop art characters yielded few results.

Speaking to Doha News, Al Zaman, who founded the brand Bothayna Designs and relies on social media to market her products, said:

“When I posted my designs on Instagram I got many positive comments. Some people kept on telling me that they would love to see the designs on shirts or iPhone covers. This is what actually got me started.”

She has now expanded her sales across the Middle East.

Her most popular designs include Hermès-inspired ‘Khaleeji” t-shirts and sweatshirts, which feature the word “Khaleejiès;” a silhouette of an Arab riding a sideways Land Cruiser, and t-shirts with the word “Um el Zain,” a commonly used compliment for girls.

‘Our culture is beautiful’

Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

Other Qatar and Arab-inspired designs include mobile phone cases with a thobe-wearing Superman; famed American pop artist Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe, but wearing a headscarf; and a black and white print of an Arab woman with the caption “Obaih” (which translates to “Oh my God”) inspired by Obey Clothing, a sartorial venture created by American contemporary artist Shepard Fairey and based on a 1989 poster bearing French wrestler Andre the Giant’s face.

Al Zaman added:

“My main aim is to associate Khaleeji-Arab elements within my work. I add cultural words or sayings such as ‘Um al zain’, or even traditional clothing (like the) batoola and niqab to my work, to represent our culture.

We barely see merchandise that contain designs related to the Qatari culture. If you go in a shopping mall and look for clothes with khaleeji or Arabic designs, you won’t find many…or even any. So, I want to offer this experience because I believe our culture is beautiful.”

Unisex line

Following her lead are several other local designers like Mubarak Al Thani, a recent business administration graduate and owner of Blessed.

Blessed/Mubarak Al Thani

Mubarak Al Thani

Blessed/Mubarak Al Thani

His company, which launched this Ramadan, also centers around designs that cater to a local audience and fuse Qatari and western cultures.

With just an interest – and no formal training – in fashion, Al Thani is attempting to repurpose Islamic patterns and traditional sayings into more contemporary work.

Speaking to Doha News, he said:

“There’s a huge lack of casual GCC menswear brands, so I wanted to created a unisex line that appeals to both genders. Blessed is inspired by Islamic art in a modern way.

We always looking for the missing side in the fashion sector…Islamic patterns and Islamic art are popular and in high demand, and we’re hoping to give people what they want.”

Some of his more creative works include t-shirts with popular spinach-eating childhood sailor Popeye wearing a ghutra saying “nazel bahar,” (which translates into “going to the sea”); a “Game of Kout” shirt that refers to the widely watched fantasy novel and TV show Game of Thrones and Kout, an Arabic card game; and a silhouette of a ghutra-wearing Heisenberg, the drug-dealing protagonist of the Emmy Award-winning show Breaking Bad.

Social media marketing

In a nod to the increasing reliance of small and medium enterprises on social media to market their products, both designers say that their advertising platform of choice is Instagram.

Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

Bothayna Designs

“Instagram is a good first step since because it’s not risky or costly,” said Al Zaman, who has also marketed her designs at several charity events. “Most of the locals use Instagram, making it easier to reach the targeted audience.”

Al Thani cited cost-effectiveness as the number one reason for Instagram’s charm, saying:

“Instagram offers you free way to advertise your brand and spread your name fast. If you get an Instagram celebrity to endorse your work or post a picture of your designs, you get up to 1 million people exposed to your work at a fraction of the price you’d pay to post a similar ad in a newspaper.”

Acknowledging the app’s popularity among business owners, the Qatar Tourism Authority and the Bedaya Center set up an Instagram market last summer on the Corniche.

The aim was to spotlight budding business owners – mostly Qatari women – who mainly rely on the internet to sell their goods.

Instagram businesses also featured in a new zone at the recent Qatar International Food Festival, where virtual kitchens met real-life customers at the MIA Park during the five-day long festival.

Rewards and challenges

Though sales have been brisk, both designers said they have faced several bumps along the road.

Blessed/Mubarak Al Thani

Mubarak Al Thani

Blessed/Mubarak Al Thani

For Al Thani, overcoming societal expectations has been tough.

“The main challenge is to be a male designer in our culture. It’s tricky. I represent myself as a graphic designer to avoid the stigma attached. To have a fashion brand as my livelihood is also not acceptable for my family and for society. It’s only okay if it’s a hobby.”

Other issues include manufacturing and production costs. Al Zaman said:

“Printing was a hassle at the start, as I barely knew anything about the market. I started off by getting sample shirts from an artist based American website (Society6). Then I tried several other factories in the US until I got the satisfying quality.

She continued:

For other merchandise such as phone covers I had to contact factories in China. It was a very new experience to me because I had to have a good background about the type of printing I needed and the material.”

The rewards however, make up for the hassles, they said.

For Al Zaman, the support of her family and friends has been critical to her continued efforts. Having considered stopping her work several times due to school demands, she said comments from her Qatari customers also helped keep her going.

“A lot of people now recognize Buthaina as the person who ‘makes the shirts’ thanks to all the support I got…I got offered to be on QTV and Jeem TV for an interview about my project and they’re the ones who pushed me to do it.

(Also,) my mother sent a ‘broadcast’ on whatsapp telling her friends to watch the show that featured my interview. My dad bought some sweatshirts from my previous collection and gave it away to his friends. Whenever my friends see someone wearing one of my products they immediately tell me,” she said.

Thoughts?