Kuwait – Venture Friendly

In late 2010 just after we had completed the exit of 6alabat.com, I took some time off to go back to school and pursue my MBA degree.  I wanted to expand my thinking horizon beyond my career objectives, I wanted to learn more about the fundamental gaps we had in our local entrepreneurial community and adopt the best venture capital practice to our part of the world.  There was a lot going on in the region and the startup scene was starting to take its shape.

We are all wise enough to know that change cannot happen over night and for such, I had to choose my battles wisely.  Post graduating in 2012, my partner and I started a project solving a late-stage venture capital gap, which later evolved into an even larger project, building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kuwait.  In April 2013 the parliament in Kuwait passed law 98/2013, the establishment of the Kuwait National Fund for SMEs Development “the Fund” which I am honored to be a part of.

In my previous post, we talked about law 97/2013, the new Companies Law, and the relevant importance of it in transforming Kuwait to a more venture-friendly community.  We will shed some more light today on the key objectives of the Fund and how it anticipates to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As per law 98/2013, the Fund was established to develop and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kuwait with the following objectives:

–       Developing the national economy by implementing policies for jobs creation and diversification of national income sources in order to alleviate the financial burdens off government budget

–       Raising awareness on the benefits of enterprise, and coordinating and promoting initiatives of SMEs

–       Providing national data and technical assistance to SMEs

–       Assisting in developing business models and financial feasibilities to SMEs

–       Developing training and development programs through support institutions

–       Developing and implementing funding programs for SMEs

–       Increasing enterprise competitiveness and providing maximum support with minimum interference in the SMEs business

–       Supporting local products and innovation by encouraging the development of local intellectual property

Beyond the macro guidelines provided in the Fund law, it was clear to many that key building blocks of the entrepreneurial ecosystem were missing and thinking beyond the available local resources was necessary if we wanted to build something sustainable.  During our research phase, we met with all relevant stakeholders and learned tremendously from their experiences which opted our thinking process to be in the following direction:

–       Build a fully integrated entrepreneurial ecosystem not just one part of it

–       Do not be reactive to current public needs and instead, have a more forward thinking mind-set

–       Leverage local academics and research centers which have accumulated a significant amount of data/information wealth

–       Adopt international standards which will be key for scaling up and attracting international investors in later stages

–       Allow the market and practitioners to provide direction when providing subsidies or other forms of support

–       Do not complicate the design of the initiative; over-engineering sometimes kills the project

–       Recognize the lead time required for these initiatives to prosper and manage expectations of parliament/public

–       Avoid programs that are too small to create impact and too big for the local market

–       Encourage interactions of local entrepreneurs with international investors to bridge gaps in standards of services/products

–       Stress on evaluation matrices of initiatives

–       Programs should have creativity and flexibility when evaluating them; have the courage to refine or kill some programs

–       Recognize agency problems; try minimizing self-benefit over public interest

–       Make education part of the initiative, involving overseas investors, local entrepreneurs and public sector

–       Evaluate local resources to provide subsidies for targeted technologies and their research and development needs

–       Award and recognize entrepreneurs who fail for the right reasons

–       Mark your presence on international monitoring agencies, i.e. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey; aim for better ranks and rewards

After meeting with almost all relevant stakeholders, we realized that our efforts needed to focus on four key building-blocks: Smart funding, legal, education and mind-set.  With some ambiguity in the Fund law as it stands and after careful evaluation of many ideas from the stakeholders we had met with, the Executive Regulations of the Fund were passed to the competent minister and the following were the key points addressed in it:

Smart Money:  Providing value-ad capital beyond just meeting your financing needs:

–       Provide different debt/equity instruments for financing needs

–       Allow for multiple rounds of financing for different stages

–       Ensure alignment of interest with entrepreneurs through different incentive schemes

–       Providing strategic/technical guidance through specialized professionals with different domains of expertise

–       Access to pool of talent

–       Business development and contribution to top-line

–       Low cost of funding

–       3 years work permit (exclusive to public sector)

–       Public tendering accessibility preference

–       Co-op outlets preference

–       Land access

–       Training & development

–       Capacity-building of local production and education

–       Supporting local research & development centers

Education: Prepare raw talent to be ready for changing the world

–       Awareness events on entrepreneurship

–       College and pre-college programs that help capacity building for the entrepreneurial mind-set

–       Supporting entrepreneurial competitions

–       Building incubation and acceleration programs

–       Building technology-transfer centers

–       Data bank and information centers

–       Promote local entrepreneurship in international events

Legal: Assist in improving the legal framework for startups to run their businesses and for entrepreneurs to transact with investors in the future

–       Liaise with public/private sector to enhance paperwork process of funded startups and ensure support aspects mentioned earlier are effective

–       Assist/lead efforts of entrepreneurial related public policy reform

–       Push for more venture/entrepreneur-friendly laws

Mind-set: Redefining what the modern definition of an entrepreneur is to the local community:

–       Solves a problem

–       Creates a new product

–       Identifies a new market

–       Builds a scalable model

–       Eyes a large market beyond the local one

–       High risk/reward

–       Creates thousands of jobs if successful

–       Attracts international talent/white-collar labor

–       Positive impact on society

We are in the final stages of the easier part, strategy-building, and are very excited to making this dream come true.  There’s plenty of local talent not being exploited to the fullest and despite the challenges they face, they have been very supportive to make this project happen.  I would like to thank all who have contributed to the project (public and private enterprises/individuals) so far and welcome any feedback on our thoughts.

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1 Comment

  1. melle

     /  April 21, 2014

    Very interesting article, it is a very important business you are working on, wishing you much success. I am looking for contacts in Kuwait.

    Reply

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