What does QBIC represent to you and to Qatar?
Qatar Business Incubation Center (QBIC) was founded by two of the country’s leading establishments that support the growth of the private sector, Qatar Development Bank, and the Social Development Center. Although QBIC is only 3 years old, its tremendous partnerships and achievements managed to make it one of the region’s biggest, most successful mixed-use business incubators. With two specialized incubators, and with 218 entrepreneurs running 61 startups, we’re well on our way of achieving our mission of creating the next QAR100 million companies in Qatar.
To me, QBIC represents the growing Qatari private sector, which without its prosperous entrepreneurs, wouldn’t have been where it is today. I’m proud and honored to be leading an institution that attracts innovation on a daily basis, and most importantly, a center that is endorsing the field of entrepreneurship, making it a viable career option across Qatar and the region; that being said, it represents many positive things to Qatar and myself, but in a nutshell, QBIC represents opportunity.
Was it difficult for you as a woman to reach this high position of successful CEO in Qatar?
On the contrary! Qatar provides Qatari women with numerous opportunities, and the Qatari workforce consists of a high percentage of women, including those who assume leadership roles. I luckily had a strong support system, both in my professional and personal life, which definitely helped me become the person I am today. Being in the right place at the right time is crucial, as I started my career working for an amazing boss who pushed me to gain as much experience as possible. I found myself partaking in training and development programs, which helped me understand the social and economic fabric of Qatar. With experience, and a trip to New York that sparked my love and appreciation of entrepreneurship, I decided to steer my career focus towards women development in the workforce, and innovation and entrepreneurship. I can confidently say that passion, determination and hard work are what got me here.
What is the secret of a successful entrepreneur and business leader?
Proparco offers long term financing, in the form of debt, equity and quasi-equity to private companies that have expansion projects or growth plans. We have a range of clients including banks, private equity funds, large energy generation projects or corporates active in agribusiness, health or education. We generally offer financing from 5 to 50 million Dollars or Euros. I think that Proparco’s main mission is to show that the private sector can have amazing impacts on sustainable development goals, such as reducing poverty or fighting all type of inequalities. This is what Proparco is all about, identifying private sector champions to help them grow and meet developments targets.
What type of impact are you looking for?
I would say the most important element is dedication. At QBIC, we implement and follow the Lean Methodology, which makes it easier and reduces the risk of a starting entrepreneur. We teach incoming entrepreneurs about the methodology so they do not take the risks by themselves, making them more confident and determined to turn their idea into a viable startup.
We tell our entrepreneurs to burn their business plans! With this methodology, they divert their time and effort into working on an MVP, then try and test it in the market, generate revenue, and using the generated revenue, start building up slowly. When potential customers validate their service or product, they can assess whether the business is set out to survive or not; if it does succeed, they’re given two years before accelerating to eventually leave the incubator. At all times of incubation, entrepreneurs are offered with free office space, smart financing, legal support, coaching/mentoring and an equity share, meaning that they’re always sheltered, and our role is to take a lot of their risks for them.
How challenging is it to develop progressive and effective mindset of Qatari companies?
I believe the ambition of becoming involved in the entrepreneurship field is a challenging adventure, especially in our region, and is one of the main challenges we face on a daily basis at QBIC. Choosing
entrepreneurship as a valid career path is a new concept and not widely comprehended by a lot of segments in society.
Entrepreneurs without a business-oriented mindset, or those who have not been involved in family businesses, need to be enlightened about dedicating themselves to their startups fulltime, instead of keeping their day jobs and spending a small portion of their time on side projects.
We focus mainly on local businesses, as we want to invest in local talent to create more Qatari business leaders through the center. It is also worth noting that the government has actively taken steps to make it easier for potential entrepreneurs to establish businesses; also a key factor in shifting people’s mindsets when it comes to setting up a business.
What was the best business idea that you helped to turn into a successful tourism product or service that enhance the Qatar tourism experience?
One of QBIC’s main partners is the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA); together, we were able to introduce a specialized incubator for tourism startups called “QBIC Tourism”, guided by QTA. When the QBIC Tourism incubator launched earlier this year, we received a large number of applicants introducing new ideas to enhance the tourism sector in the country.
We acknowledged that there is a gap that needs to be filled in order to enhance the Qatar tourism experience, especially in the priority sectors of business events, urban and family entertainment, sports and recreation, and culture and heritage products. Thankfully, we’re already seeing prominent tourism startups flourish, such as, Hawlak, a mobile application that uses visual ratings and short opinion polls to help users discover and share what’s good around them, Tartebkum, a holiday organization service, which offers modern trips and adventures for women around the world, and QPR, an IT solutions startup that install digital signage and interactive kiosks to assist tourists across Doha. These are only 3 out of 7 incubated tourism startups that successfully kick-started their businesses in a short timespan.
Creating new and attractive ways for tourists to enjoy shopping, dining and relax and creating products and services that promote and perpetuate Qatari culture, are among the opportunities at QBIC Tourism, does tourism business in Paris inspire you?
Absolutely! Touristic attractions in Paris openly offer local art, culture and history, marveled by tourists from all over the world. The exquisite French cuisine can be found on every street corner, all of which posses their own character and ambience. I was also profoundly impressed by the infrastructure in place that supports French startups in a variety of sectors. We’re definitely going to keep an eye out for collaboration opportunities where Qatari startups can expand their operations into Paris.