Mindset change crucial to advance entrepreneurship in Mena region, ministers say

Young should not shy away from new ideas and should tackle challenges

Dubai. Start-ups in the Mena region registered record venture capital funding worth $2.6bn last year through 590 transactions. Reuters
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The Middle East's youth should uproot the “fear of failure” and have a mindset change for entrepreneurship to advance in the region, a panel of ministers told an online forum.

Government support is a critical part of developing the entrepreneurship ecosystem and people should accept challenges, take initiatives and learn fast from the setbacks, they said.

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We are not large like other countries, but we have very strong infrastructure where entrepreneurs can incubate, scale and experience high growth
Ahmad Al Falasi, the UAE’s Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SME

“Fortunes came with the discovery of oil but it also created a generation more dependent on state … [the] biggest challenge is to convert the mindset,” said Zayed Al Zayani, Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism.

“We need to embed the entrepreneurial streak at a very early stage … our young population should attempt to become job creators and not the job seekers. They need to be challenged to go out and take a risk in the market and we are pushing for that.”

Mr Al Zayani, who was speaking at the Atlantic Council’s "How Middle East Governments Drive Entrepreneurship" forum, said things would not change overnight.

Abu Dhabi Global Market-based Anghami, the music streaming rival of Spotify in the Arab world, successfully listed on New York’s Nasdaq last week. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“But we are seeing many good signs, we have seen many new Bahraini entrepreneurs coming up with innovative ideas and sustainable solutions,” he said.

Gulf countries are investing in developing their entrepreneurship ecosystem as they look to diversify their economies to fuel post-pandemic growth.

Start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa region registered record venture capital funding worth $2.6 billion last year through 590 transactions, said a report by data platform Magnitt.

Thirty five start-ups announced exits in 2021, indicating a maturity in the region's start-up landscape.

Notable deals such as Uber's acquisition of homegrown ride-hailing company Careem and the listing of music-streaming service Anghami and mass-transit company Swvl through a special purpose acquisition company on Nasdaq have been boosts for start-ups in the region.

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Our young population should attempt to become job creators and not the job seekers
Zayed Al Zayani, Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism

The UAE, a regional trade and commerce centre, is tapping into this interest in entrepreneurship and is striving to become an entrepreneurship centre, said Ahmad Al Falasi, the UAE’s Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs.

“One of our strengths is an easy access to talent. We are not large like other countries, but we have very strong infrastructure where entrepreneurs can incubate, scale and experience high growth.”

To attract the best talent, the UAE government has unveiled many measures to support start-ups and is also providing an entrepreneur visa.

“We are moving on from a traditional relationship between an employee and employer to a more flexible and fluid pool of talent … [and] that will be the engine of growth for entrepreneurship,” Mr Al Falasi said.

But he admitted that lack of entrepreneurship culture is a challenge in the region.

“Wealth of hydrocarbons is a blessing but at the same time, it created a preconceived notion to go into government jobs," Mr Al Falasi said.

"But we have seen there is a much better opportunity if you create your own company."

More than 60 per cent of the Egypt’s population is below the age of 35 and private-sector engagement is crucial to create new jobs for them, said Rania Al Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of International Co-operation.

“We need to push for digitally savvy jobs where risk is being more nurtured … overall ecosystem should be entrepreneurial," Ms Al Mashat said.

“There is a conviction in the government of Egypt about the importance of entrepreneurship. We have also embarked up on various structural reform programmes."

Jordan has one of the fastest growing ecosystems for entrepreneurship in the region, Ahmad Al Hanandeh, Jordan’s Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, told the panel.

It is contributing to the creation of new jobs, digital transformation and evolution of new technologies and innovations in the Arab nation, Mr Al Hanandeh said.

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Updated: February 08, 2022, 6:31 AM