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Demo Day

Neha Rashid/Doha News

Demo Day

Budding entrepreneurs in Qatar pitched a mix bag of business ideas to a local incubator yesterday, including custom perfume lines, an app to book restaurant reservations and a service that allows customers to pilot a jet plane.

But only half of the 16 presentations made the cut with investors during the Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC)’s Demo Day at the Qatar National Convention Center.

QBIC is a mixed-use incubator, founded by Qatar Development Bank and the Social Development Center, with a goal of developing the next QR100 million companies in Qatar.

QBIC Demo Day

Zakaria Fawaz

QBIC Demo Day

Those who presented yesterday had already gone through a 10-week LeanStartup program where they tested the willingness of customers, partners and suppliers to use their product or service.

Winners

Eight of the businesses, whose founders needed to explain the competitive landscape, detail budgets/forecasts and specify what they wanted from QBIC, were chosen to be incubated and awarded QR100,000 each.

The winners are:

  • Lazy Eight: A company that offers an aerobatic experience to customers, allowing them to take part in loops, rolls and more maneuvers in a jet, while accompanied by a trained pilot;
  • Tashasheel: A restaurant in a boat that gives visitors a taste of authentic Qatari food and highlights the country’s history of pearl diving;
  • Garçon: An app that lets people find and book restaurant reservations;
  • SIA: A made-to-order line of oriental and western incense that meets specific customer criteria;
  • Maren: A program that uses interactive games and sporting activities to help preserve the Arabic language among the youth;
  • ArsenalA firm that builds 3D architecture mock-ups with various materials to help developers and interior designing firms solidify their ideas;
  • Techaid: A service that provides door-to-door maintenance of digital hardware and software while keeping the customer’s security intact; and
  • Practica: A collapsible coffee mug with a built-in heating system, targeting university students who need a quick on-the-go drink.

Pitches

Other start-ups that didn’t win included Snaplee, an app that helps travelers discover places to go and save photos and videos from these experiences.

App users can also upload photos from their own travels and relive their experiences with geotagging services. However, judges showed concern about whether this was different enough from what Instagram currently offers.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Lori Ho/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Judges also passed on, Ammo, a paintballing venture developed by three Qatar University students.

Their plan was to operate a portable paintball truck that travels across Qatar, setting up private events for groups and parties.

Speaking to Doha News, co-founder Mohammad Waqas said that the idea came about while talking to potential customers who wanted something different to do in Qatar.

What’s next

The eight winners will join some 52 other start-ups already incubated with QBIC and undergo a three-month probation period.

Within this period, they will set milestones that meet QBIC requirements. Once the three months are over, the start-ups will launch their product or service into the local market.

Speaking during Demo Day, QBIC’s CEO said the incubator prides itself on facilitating the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Qatar.

Aysha Al Mudahka added:

“We anticipate that soon, entrepreneurship will be comfortably viewed as a legitimate career-choice amongst many Qataris of all ages, bringing us one step closer to achieving our mission of developing the next QAR100 million companies 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?

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

jerry dohnal/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Residents in Qatar have long-complained about the nation’s taxi system, focusing especially on poor service and a lack of available cabs around town.

In response, state transportation company Mowasalat has recently pledged to more than double its fleet from 3,000 cabs to 7,000 vehicles over the next eight years.

But those cars won’t do any good if residents can’t find them, argues Palestinian expat Tariq Abdul Hameed Awadallah.

To solve this problem, the 32-year-old has been working on a new mobile app called QCab that would allow residents to search for and book Karwas driving around their area.

Speaking to Doha News, Awadallah explained that the inspiration behind the app came from online transportation booking services like Uber and Careem, which have increased competition in Qatar’s taxi market this year.

He continued:

“I (myself) have experienced difficulties with taxis in Qatar. I used them sometimes, but some areas in Doha aren’t covered. You wait a lot time for a taxi in bad conditions. Then one day, I saw a video on YouTube about a service like Uber in the UK, and I thought to apply the idea here.”

QCab, which plans to work with taxi (and not limousine or luxury vehicle drivers like Uber and Careem), is slated to soft launch at the end of this month.

Development

The app is being developed under the Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC).

QBIC started as a joint initiative between Qatar Development Bank (QDB) and the Social Development Center (SDC), and aims to grow entrepreneurial initiatives into robust businesses. According to its website, the goal is to create “developed Qatari companies valued at QR100 million.”

Through QBIC, Awadallah met his business partners – Ali Saleh Muthanna, a Yemeni expat, and Nasser Ahmed Al Yafei, a Qatari.

“I didn’t think I could do it myself…it all seemed like a lot, so I approached my friend Ali to help, and then we brought in Nasser, a Qatari, because we need a Qatari sponsor in order to start a company.”

While QCab is not yet registered as a legal company, the paperwork is in process.

The team consists of the three main founders, an Egyptian project manager based in Doha, and an outsourced team of around six app developers.

The developers, based in Egypt, are responsible for the creation of the app, which Awadallah says is almost 50 to 60 percent complete.

Launch

The tentative launch date for the app is set for sometime between Aug. 25 and 30.

The team plans to hold a soft launch, which would include the participation of around 100 taxi drivers, before rolling out the final version of the app over the next three months to the entire Karwa fleet.

Because Mowasalat is stepping away from operating taxis, and plans to privatize operations by 2017, Awadallah told bqdoha that his company plans to deal directly with drivers, and not their bosses.

Speaking to Doha News, the entrepreneur added:

“We have already spoken to the drivers. We had to conduct a customer validation as part of our QBIC initiative, and we had a great response. Around 83 percent of those surveyed liked the idea.”

The app would work similarly to other existing mobile transportation services like Uber, which allow passengers to search and book vehicles in their area.

Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones/Flickr

However, while other apps require payment to be deducted from a user’s credit card, QCab hopes to work in tandem with a resident’s existing cell phone plan.

“We want to make it easier for our users, so payment for the service will be taken out of the person’s phone credit,” said Awadallah, adding that the team is currently in negotiations with local telecom companies Ooredoo and Vodafone to sort out the process.

The payment in question refers to a QR3 to QR5 free that QCab would charges users for using their service.

Drivers

Meanwhile, the team is still figuring out payment terms for drivers who participate with QCab.

While an initial 80:20 profit sharing ratio between the driver and the company was initially discussed, the idea has been scrapped after discussions with the team’s lawyers.

Awadallah says that the team was advised against that plan, as sharing revenue with the drivers, who are under the sponsorship of their respective taxi companies, could break Qatari sponsorship laws.

Taxi

Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

New ideas are now under consideration, he added.

QCab currently has the backing of some QR100,000 in seed money from QBIC, in the form of an interest-free loan that is expected to be paid back via a profit-sharing policy.

The group is also eligible to apply for additional funding of up to some QR4 million through QDB.

For Awadallah, an expat who has lived in Qatar his entire life, the app has caused him to leave his comfort zone as a mechanical engineer, though he continues to works full-time at RasGas.

“It’s completely different to what I had in mind initially,” he said. “But if you have an idea, why not go with it?”

Would you use the service once it’s up and running? Thoughts?