Economic Update

A series of initiatives designed to promote entrepreneurship and incubate start-ups in Qatar are strengthening the country’s research, development and innovation (RDI) ecosystem.

On January 15 the second annual Arab Innovation Academy (AIA) concluded its 10-day intensive workshop designed to equip young entrepreneurs from Qatar and across the region with the skillsets to develop and launch new tech ventures.

An initiative of the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), part of the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation division, and the European Innovation Academy, the AIA saw more than 160 entrepreneurs from 30 countries receive guidance from local and international experts to help them launch their start-ups.

The AIA focused on skills such as team formation, idea creation, and pitching to venture capitalists and angel investors. The programme closed with the participating teams presenting the start-ups they have developed to market specialists and investors.

The first place in this year’s event was awarded to Salamat-e, a mobile app connected to GPS that acts as a health passport, providing users with information about key diseases in various travel destinations. In second place was Fly Stories, an online platform that provides children with interactive reading exercises, as well as an outlet for authors to publish their work.

See also: The Report – Qatar 2019

Officials target private investment to support entrepreneurs

In addition to opening doors to new technology entrepreneurs, officials hope that initiatives such as the AIA will also raise broader awareness of the potential impact of RDI on Qatar’s drive towards economic diversification.

Yosouf Abdulrahman Saleh, executive director of the QSTP, told OBG that to realise the economic benefits of innovation, incentivising investment in start-ups and small businesses is key to creating a successful RDI ecosystem.

“For this we now seek greater participation from the local and international private sector, which in turn would set off a cascading effect through the larger business community in the country,” he said.

One vehicle to drive greater private sector involvement and raise the profile of RDI is the newly founded Qatar Research, Development and Innovation (QRDI) Council.

Established last year, the QRDI Council has been tasked with developing the national strategy to align RDI activities with the country’s economic and social priorities.

Its remit also includes establishing guidelines and regulations for RDI, along with building on existing foundations to create further research and investment opportunities.

These priorities, according to Omar Al Ansari, the council’s secretary-general, revolve around the main challenges facing the country: national and cybersecurity, environmental sustainability, water and food security, economic and social development, and health care.

The national strategy will outline policies and initiatives that utilise existing infrastructure to push Qatar’s innovation agenda and reach critical mass in research and development capabilities.

“Moving forward, the goal is to cultivate a healthy innovation ecosystem and a healthy research ecosystem that together drive economic growth and societal impact,” Al Ansari told OBG.

Focus on STEM to help meet national priorities

In terms of academic collaboration, late January saw the launch of a new centre to support the development of creative applications of science and engineering.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Hub, a joint project of the Qatar National Research Fund and Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), is part of efforts to develop STEM education for Qatari students at the K-12 level and beyond.

In line with the objectives set by the QRDI Council, the STEM Hub will aim to provide researchers with skill sets needed to address national challenges in areas such as water, energy and cybersecurity, according to a statement issued by TAMUQ.

By sharpening the focus of national RDI efforts from the early stages of the educational system all the way to higher education, and by fostering a stronger collaboration between the public and private sectors, Qatar is looking to build on the innovation foundations that are already present in Qatari society.

“Qatar, as a country, has done a significant job in this sense over the past few years,” Saleh told OBG. “Now we need to focus on boosting efficiencies to optimise the utilisation of resources that we already have.”

Qatar expands entrepreneurship incubation

While developing the skill sets needed by entrepreneurs to build and pitch their start-up concepts, the government is also fast-tracking the next step in the RDI path.

In January Qatar’s Digital Incubation Centre (DIC), part of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, announced that 25 local start-ups would be incubated this year at its hub.

Partly funded by the QSTP and the Qatar Development Bank, the DIC invested QR4.7m ($1.3m) in start-up projects last year, with nine companies completing the incubation process.

The 25 new innovations being supported by DIC will take the number of start-ups being incubated by the centre to 58, with 36 having graduated since the centre was established in 2013.