Small business, big plans in Bahrain

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Marwa M. Hejairi, senior officer, tenant relations at Riyadat, discusses with Alicia Buller how the incubation centre creates successful women entrepreneurs in Bahrain

It’s no surprise that the Kingdom of Bahrain has big plans for its entrepreneurship ecosystem. The small Gulf island has historically punched way above its weight in terms of its service and knowledge industries, with a strong heritage in financial services. Bahrain is now one of the most diversified economies in the region, with the hydrocarbons industry representing less than fifth of the kingdom’s annual GDP.

Khalid Al Rumaihi, CEO of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB), says: “We want Bahrain to be a hub for entrepreneurs across the region and not just for our own entrepreneurs – it’s a form of foreign direct investment (FDI). We think SMEs are a huge driver economically… every country in the world recognises this.”

As well as pushing for supportive regulation, low start-up costs and the establishment of a private-public SME fund, Rumaihi has overseen the development of several government-backed SME stimulation programmes.

While the long-established Tamkeen is the kingdom’s best-known government SME support programme, Bahrain has more recently put the spotlight on women’s SMEs with the establishment of Riyadat – the island’s first female-focused business incubator centre.

Riyadat’s striking Manama-based headquarters are designed in the style of a modern commercial mall, so fledging business owners can tout their wares to the public and also network with other in-house businesses.

Backed by the Supreme Council for Women and Bahrain Development Bank, the Riyadat programme aims to support female entrepreneurs within a range of sectors such as retail, services, fashion and F&B.

Riyadat’s incubation system gives its tenants the opportunity to be supported by the incubation programme for a standard period of three years, before their eventual graduation into the market. Throughout their incubation period, the Riyadat tenants are aided financially, consultatively, and promotionally.

The Riyadat model has been developed to support entrepreneurs from the earliest stage of idea conceptualisation all the way to scaling up businesses through the growth stages. The initiative focuses on mentoring and training, while providing access to subsidised rent and start-up financing.

The purpose of the incubator is to offer entrepreneurs a holistic platform of products and services under one roof,” says Marwa Hejairi, senior officer, tenant relations at Riyadat. “We function as a catalyst that promotes and encourages leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship among all women within the Bahraini community.”

Hejairi says Riyadat primarily simplifies the start-up process by assisting entrepreneurs in creating well-structured plans at early stages of the business cycle to support successful inception and company growth.

She says: “Bahrain has been frequently cited as a pioneer in the Arab region when it comes to advocating women rights. The country is pressing for greater political, economic, and social empowerment of women across all areas and striving to encompass women as a key element of advancement in the kingdom.”

Hejairi adds: “Bahraini women are efficient and competent and they can play an important role in the prosperity of their home behind closed doors and also throughout the country in front of the world.”

Riyadat has already aided the successful graduation of several businesses that are now present and operational in the market, such as Annada, Amina Gallery, Blissful Temptations, Green Bar Inc, Revolt Fitness and D for Diamonds. The incubation centre achieved a 59 per cent success rate out of 51 businesses that graduated from the incubation programme between 2014 and 2017.

Hejairi says: “Riyadat has played a key role in shaping the entrepreneurship ecosystem by creating the self-employment, job opportunities and products and services that are needed to enhance domestic, regional and international economic integration.”


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