Browsing 'entrepreneurship' News

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Tim Hatton/Flickr

For illustrative purposes only

Amid a broader push to diversify Qatar’s economy beyond oil and gas, the government has begun rewriting several cumbersome rules for starting a new business.

While some changes remove onerous requirements – such as the need to raise QR200,000 before obtaining a commercial registration – others appear to be adding new hurdles for those trying to launch a company.

The most recent initiative by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC) was announced this month.

It relaxes the rules around business centers, which rent furnished offices and provide access to boardrooms and other facilities to companies with modest space requirements.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Flazingo Photos/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

While the cost of renting space inside business centers run by some of Qatar’s largest operators, such as Regus and Servcorp, is out of reach for many early stage companies, the move was welcomed by some in the country’s business community.

“This is a positive step forward to increase the supply of smaller office spaces, and therefore, provide more affordable office space in Qatar for small and medium-sized enterprises,” said Liam Trump, a business development executive at Pro-Partnership, which sponsors foreign businesses that wish to establish a presence in Qatar.

“There is a massive undersupply of (suitable and affordable) office space for (small businesses) in Qatar,” he added.

New challenge

Finding office space is a central part of starting a business in Qatar. Firms must prove they have a physical presence, such as a storefront or office, before they receive a trading license and the “computer card” that allows a company to sponsor employees.

In theory, this makes it easier for authorities to follow up on consumer complaints and conduct inspections to ensure compliance with Qatar’s labor laws.

But several entrepreneurs said they are now facing a new challenge when it comes to meeting this office space requirement.

Landlords traditionally require new tenants to submit 12 months worth of rent checks before signing a year-long lease. This means businesses need a bank account before they start shopping for office space.

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RikkisRefuge Other / Flickr

For illustrative purposes only.

But some say banks are refusing to open new business bank accounts for customers without a trading license. Since that requires office space – which tenants, in turn, generally need checks and a bank account to lease – some entrepreneurs say they’re stuck.

“It’s frustrating,” said serial entrepreneur Bilal Taha. “There is no official solution by the banks or authorities on how we can (properly) open a corporate bank account.”

Taha – who is the co-founder of The Gaming Lounge and managing director of Sand Phoenix Projects – said he supports efforts to ensure companies complete all necessary licensing and registration steps.

But he said the new barriers to opening a bank account are making entrepreneurs more wary of starting a new business in Qatar.

At least one financial institution – Qatar National Bank – said it allows new business customers to open an account if they provide other documents, including a company’s article of association and commercial registration, and promise to show the bank its trading license and computer card once they’re issued.

An MEC spokesperson told Doha News that he didn’t have any information about the bank account changes.

QR200,000 requirement

Historically, new companies would initiate the commercial registration process with the MEC and obtain a letter from the government that they could bring to a bank where they would open a temporary account, experts say.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Business owners would then deposit at least QR200,000 – the minimum amount of capital previously required – and then return to the MEC to complete their commercial registration. Once that was finalized, companies would move on to applying for a trading licence and computer card.

However, that QR200,000 requirement was scrapped last June for limited liability companies, which represent the bulk of firms incorporated by entrepreneurs and investors in Qatar, according to the MEC.

“(It’s part) of the ministry’s efforts to modernize legislation … to boost the private sector,” an MEC spokesperson told Doha News last year.

Taha said the move was a “big help” to entrepreneurs that give companies more flexibility.

“Every company needs a different amount of money to start,” he said, pointing to the different capital requirements to start, for example, a heavy construction business versus a software firm developing mobile apps.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Mohamed Nanabhay/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, it appears this change has subsequently created confusion over the process for opening a bank account and even more challenges in securing office space.

In the meantime, entrepreneurs say they’re either forced to write landlords checks from their personal bank accounts and seek a promise that they can be exchanged with business checks once they’ve opened a corporate account.

It’s a less-than-ideal workaround that’s hurting efforts to diversify the economy, according to Taha.

“It’s not encouraging any expat foreigners to invest here. It’s even scared them off,” he said.

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?

Fruit and veg boxes

Duniper/Facebook

A delivery of fruit and vegetables from Duniper.

A growing number of entrepreneurs are adding a high-tech twist to the traditional business of selling flowers, fresh fruits and other foodstuffs in Qatar.

Many say the popular mobile messaging tool WhatsApp is becoming an important link between them and their customers, allowing them to overcome language barriers, customize orders and improve service with more accurate delivery directions.

“WhatsApp is brilliant for ordering. People don’t need to have great English, but can still explain exactly what they want through images,” says Rebekah Gomez, the co-founder of fruit and vegetable delivery firm Duniper.

“Or if they want a particular fruit and vegetable that I don’t know the local name for, then I can see what it is from the picture they send us,” she said.

Preferred app

WhatsApp is a free smartphone application that allows individuals to send other users text, image, video and audio messages.

A recent survey conducted by Ipsos Qatar for the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar) found that WhatsApp has become the most used social media and messaging tool for the country’s residents.

Social media report - ictq - nationality

Some 87 percent of Qatar’s total population (expats and nationals) reported using the app regularly, while as many as 97 percent of Qatari residents polled said it was their messaging form of choice.

The application’s popularity stems in part from its ease and speed of use, ability to send and receive different forms of media and low cost of use for those with a mobile data plan or access to a Wi-Fi network.

Doha News spoke to several business managers who are using the technology to increase sales and communicate with their customers.

Fruit and veg boxes

One of them is Duniper, which delivers fruit and vegetable boxes direct from the Wholesale Market in Abu Hamour to clients’ homes across Qatar.

Duniper co-founder Rebekah Gomez

Supplied

Duniper co-founder Rebekah Gomez

A Qatar resident for just over a year, Gomez and her business partners took over an existing box delivery facility and is now expanding and diversifying to improve service.

The boxes of fruit and vegetables are mostly preselected, using in-season produce where possible, although customers can request some changes.

The ordering and delivery process is conducted in English, but because many of the company’s customers are not native speakers, some have problems explaining a particular fruit or vegetable they would like.

Using WhatsApp, these customers often draw pictures or take photographs of their desired order and send them through to Gomez and her colleagues, who can immediately see what they want, without lengthy or confusing explanations.

Example of shopping list received from customer via WhatsApp

Duniper

Example of shopping list received from customer via WhatsApp

The service has also apparently improved delivery times normally hindered by Qatar’s notoriously complicated street system.

“Not everyone lives in a big compound. We ask the customers to send us a pin of their location, then we can get an exact address from Google maps, which we send to our driver,” said Gomez, who is originally from the UK.

However, as the business expands with more customers, Gomez said she will be introducing email alongside WhatsApp, to help improve the ordering system and to market to clients, which is more difficult on the messaging system.

She also admitted that the instant messaging nature of WhatsApp can also have some downsides, as many customers expect an immediate response, even late at night.

“I would recommend other business people using it to have a separate work phone, to clearly set out your business hours and to switch off the phone after hours to avoid confusion with customers,” she added.

Detox deliveries

Meanwhile, health food business Raw ME has been growing its business with the help of Whatsapp. The company was established in Qatar since 2012, and already has a strong base of customers who order deliveries of its detox cleanses, fresh juices and corporate fruit baskets.

Qatari-American founder Layla Al-Dorani told Doha News that WhatsApp is an powerful tool for communicating with customers, and also for group messaging her 10 staff members.

“Customers can easily place orders via WhatsApp, update their orders and give us delivery information and they know that they are communicating directly with a real person. They can have a conversation about any issue and get a quick response.

As a business, WhatsApp has been great for us as a means of talking to our customers, but it’s also been a useful means of communicating with our staff.”

juice Raw ME

Raw ME/Facebook

Raw juices

Using group-chat enables instant dissemination of the same information to everyone, and allows employees to talk to each other about issues, making them feel more involved in the business, Al-Dorani adds.

“We can keep everyone informed, and it’s transparent – all our staff know what’s going on at the same time. It’s a very efficient way of getting messages out,” she said.

The app has also been an invaluable tool for one resident originally from Palestine, who founded a bespoke cake and patisserie business in Qatar late last year.

Asking not to be named, she said her homemade celebration cakes, desserts and bakery goods have already proved popular. WhatsApp allows her to share creative ideas with her clients, she told Doha News.

“A customer may not always know exactly what they want, but they can send a photo or an image of an idea, then we can quickly and easily talk about what is possible.

And because it’s instant, I can easily see if I get a new request from a client. They can see I’ve viewed the message and I can quickly reply to them. Whereas on email, I find it’s easy to miss a mail,” she said.

Poultry service

Another Whatsapp-friendly business is run by Ahmed, an Egyptian who asked not to have his family name published. He runs a free-range poultry ordering and delivery service from a farm he works on in Al Khor.

After moving to Qatar 16 months ago, he noticed a gap in the market for providing fresh poultry to customers, straight from the local farm.

He told Doha News: “In Egypt, no one buys frozen chicken from the supermarket. People want really fresh products, from a local farm where they know the conditions of the animals.”

He continued:

“The farm I came to has free-range turkeys, geese, chickens, quail and duck, as well as rabbit, and doesn’t use any GMO products, but not many people knew about it.

I started telling people and very quickly word spread. As it approached the holiday season before the end of last year, we had so many orders, I was amazed,” he said.

An Arabic and English speaker, Ahmed said he communicates with his customers using WhatsApp because it’s a cheaper form of messaging, especially with a large number of clients.

“It’s easy for customers to get a hold of me, and place their order. I can quickly get back to them to confirm and when you are messaging 200 or 300 clients at a time, it is much cheaper than talking by SMS,” he added.

Do you use WhatsApp to communicate with retailers? What are the pros and cons?