For a small country with a population of just under four million, a third of which are locals, entrepreneurship is the new buzz.
Kuwait is a country that also pumps just over three million barrels of oil a day. It is this black gold that funds everything from a generous government sector that employs close to three hundred thousand people, to a vibrant private sector that is regionally competitive in telecommunications, banking, and retail. However, as was evident at the first Nu8.1 Pitching - Edition, organized by Nuwait and the National Fund for SME Development, and held at Reyada Collaborative Workspaces, a new entrepreneurial era for Kuwait is on the rise.
Pitchers on stage
The event kicked off with a pitching contest, where eight startups took the stage to present their ideas in front of a panel of judges including Haider Al-Mosawi, cofounder of Sirdab Lab, Neda Aldinahy, founder of Brilliant Lab, Bilal Musharraf, co-founder of Khan Academy and director of partnerships at Edmodo and Nizar Wannous, founder of gifting application Dizly.
The pitching startups were:
- InVision: a virtual reality-enabled platform targeting on architects, interior designers and real estate developers.
- MyU: an application that enables communication between students and teachers. The application won first place at Nu8.1 and a trip to Dubai to attend Wamda’s Mix N’ Mentor.
- Masbaghti: an application that aggregate laundry services in Kuwait.
- My Spot: an application developed by 11-year-old Jaffer Mahdi, to allow
users to rent their parking spaces to solve the parking challenges in Kuwait.
- Mukankom: a platform that allows people to book offices, coworking spaces and meeting rooms through the platform.
- Candy: a collaborative design platform.
“We are in the phase of building an ecosystem,” said Ijaz Ahmad Ijaz, cofounder and director of Founder Institute. “You have brought everyone in one place: the fund, the entrepreneurs and the mentors to discuss challenges and solve them. This helps build an ecosystem.”
Education was certainly an important theme throughout the event, which was culminated by a panel discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the Kuwaiti entrepreneurial ecosystem. The panelists included a mix of both local and international entrepreneurs and investors, including Dr. Mussaad M. Al-Razouki, an angel investor and chief business development officer of the Kuwait Life Science Company, Noor Al Qatami, founder and CEO of Saveco, and Bilal Musharraf.
Discussions ranged between licensing and paper works for startups, to innovation and education.
“In Boston, you get your license in 15 hours,” said Al Qatami. “In Kuwait, it [used to take] you two years.” But as things have been improving, especially after the launch of the fund, it takes two weeks, said Mohammed Abdullah, executive director at the fund.
A call to action by Musharraf encouraged people to take kids more seriously and give them opportunities to discover and innovate. Al-Razouki and Al Qatami also advised entrepreneurs in Kuwait not to reinvent the wheel. “Use what you have and innovate,” said Al Qatami. “China started as a copycat, now they are developing things faster than Europe and the US,” added Al-Razouki.
The panel concluded with a talk by Abdullah who announced the fund’s plan to host eight entrepreneurship events in the next eight months. “Aside from the training and mentorship we provide, we have to encourage this kind of atmosphere.”
He also announced that the fund has already financed 100 projects and their team of 40 is evaluating over 100 new projects. “In three weeks, we will launch our customer service center.”
Nu8.1 was the perfect personification of a youthful nation that is no longer satisfied with simply relying on the government for employment. Many of the entrepreneurs who are adamant about commercializing their ideas and embarking on an entrepreneurial career can find support from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs Support Program for National Labor in the Private Sector. The program gives citizen entrepreneurs who forgo a government guaranteed job a stipend of between $2,000 to $2,500 per month for the duration of their startup development.