Founding and building a business in the Middle East (MENA), can be an extremely challenging task. Many entrepreneurs and investors have preconceived notions of the MENA region’s receptiveness to entrepreneurship and business development. However, studies and statistics show that businesses of all sizes and sectors, if they make the proper preparations, can thrive in the MENA region.
Ehsan Bayat, Afghanistan’s leading business executive and philanthropist, is the Founder and Chairman of The Bayat Group, Afghanistan’s largest private company, and The BayatFoundation, Afghanistan’s largest private charitable organization. The Bayat Foundation has sponsored more than 500 healthcare, education, economic, and cultural preservation initiatives throughout the country.
Mr. Bayat, who is the CEO of Afghanistan’s largest employer and biggest provider of investment capital, stressed the importance of entrepreneurship as a driver of economic development:
“In the MENA region—and throughout the world—entrepreneurship, establishing newbusinesses and helping them expand, is the key to long-term economic growth,” Ehsan Bayat said.
Indeed, entrepreneurship is thriving in the Middle East. According to a 2016 survey of 500 MENA region executives, conducted by The London Business School, two-thirds of the survey’s respondents consider the Middle East to be a growing market for entrepreneurship. Those surveyed described the growth of MENA region entrepreneurship as ‘fast,’ or ‘very fast,’ with the UAE providing exceptionally fertile ground for business formation. About half of the survey’s respondents expressed interest in establishing businesses in the MENA region.
Economic growth that is independent of the hydrocarbons sector is occurring throughout the region. Dubai will officially host the World Expo 2020; tourism and hospitality is a booming sector in both Qatar and the UAE; and in Saudi Arabia, businesses in the non-oil sector are expected to grow nearly five percent over the next few years. The Middle East is centrally situated in the middle of Europe, Asia, and Africa, making it a prime launching pad for many industries. The region’s cultural landscape is broadening, and the educational system has improved steadily.
“The MENA region’s geographic position, strong educational network and plentiful reserves of investment capital make it a promising place to build businesses that can provide goods and service to clients within the region and throughout the globe,” Ehsan Bayat said.
John Mullins, an Associate Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School agrees with the upbeat assessment of entrepreneurship opportunities within the MENA region. In an interview with Arabian Business, Professor Mullins said, “…It is entrepreneurs and their fast-growing companies who will create nearly all of the region’s new jobs going forward, and it is entrepreneurs who will make available goods and services found elsewhere that are not yet available here.”
With the right guidance, small business owners and startups can help avoid some of the costly mistakes that others experience in the area.
MENA based entrepreneurs face several challenges. One of the biggest impediments to starting and growing a business in the Middle East has been the unfair regulatory or governmental policies in place. These policies are viewed as obstacles to business creation, especially for young entrepreneurs. However, the demands for entrepreneurial freedom have encouraged policy makers to support private sector expansion, and for the government to encourage the launch of small businesses.
Startup incubators like the Qatar Business Incubation Center are great examples of how the business landscape is changing. These incubators are helping businesses grow from an early stage, connecting them with appropriate funding to bring their technology and innovations to the Middle East and other regions.
Other Middle East incubators include Flat6Labs in Egypt, Oasis500 in Jordan, Tenmou in Bahrain, and SeedStartup in Dubai. Each incubator supports their own niche of businesses, from tech startups to nonprofit organizations.
“Incubators, together with networks of Angel Investors and Venture Capital Funds, adept at investing in early-stage companies, are absolutely essential to creating and sustaining entrepreneurship within the MENA region,” Ehsan Bayat said.
“Our role as business leaders is to work with, and support entrepreneurs with our knowledge, our capital, and or networks of potential strategic partners,” Ehsan Bayat said. “Together, entrepreneurs and established business leaders can create a region that champions new business development, and provides economic opportunity for everyone.”
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