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BDB supports innovators through BBIC

AreijeBDBBahrain Development Bank has an initiative to help budding entrepreneurs – Bahrin Business Incubation Center. Areije Al Shakar, vice president and deputy head, Development Services at the bank and deputy head of BBIC, speaks about the initiative and the gains made:

Bahrain Business Incubation Center (BBIC), an initiative of Bahrain Development Bank, started in 2003, has been able to provide start-ups in the country a stress free and relaxed environment for a minimum period of 3 years. Today, the Center offers business incubation, access to finance, advisory, equity, special grant schemes, affordable rent, training, marketing support and monitoring services to the start-ups and these services are tools which were carefully tailored to meet the requirements of start-up businesses in the country’s economy.

“Our aim is to be able to not only incubate but also successfully graduate businesses into the market,” says Areije Al Shakar, vice president and deputy head, Development Services at Bahrain Development Bank, and in charge of the BBIC.  “In 2015, BBIC has successfully reached out to many Bahraini SMEs. The total occupation of incubators as at end of 2015 was at 95%.  The total graduates in 2015 were 27 businesses,” she adds.

BBIC continues to provide coaching services for its clientele with a team of certified coaches and mentors. Besides, the center has hosted many events focusing on entrepreneurship and related activities along with many training sessions and workshops.


Al Shakar outlines the genesis of BBIC: “Bahrain Development Bank started its first business incubator in 2003 where it focused on supporting businesses within the light manufacturing industry.  The incubator hosts 124 units that include both service-oriented and manufacturing businesses. We have also launched two more incubators – Riyadat, which is a women focused incubator with the aim to encourage women entrepreneurship in Bahrain, and, which is the first ICT incubator focused on encouraging the ICT sector in Bahrain and nourishing innovative technology startups.”

She says the bank will soon be launching a Farmers Market which is managed like an incubator to encourage agricultural and food sustainability, in line with the National Initiative for Agricultural Development (NIAD) in Bahrain. It will provide space for the agro-entrepreneurs to be able to showcase their produce in an environment which is accessible all year round. Another upcoming support platform is the Art Cluster focused on uncovering the art industry in Bahrain which will also allow for entrepreneurs within this industry to avail of space along with support services.


“We believe that entrepreneurs require coaching, training, incubation, mentoring and partners to be able to start up and succeed at any stage of the business cycle and the strategy behind initiating incubators was to be able to fill the gap in the market and provide entrepreneurs an environment where they are able to flourish and are nourished by the support services that are offered through the bank’s comprehensive program Rowad. Over the years, incubation has sparked interest in the private sector by affluent entrepreneurs and investors and has allowed us to create the first public-private partnership in incubation with our ICT Incubator,,” says Al Shakar.

As regards fintech, she says the bank does not have a singular focus on this segment but on ICT as a whole. “We do not have any interesting direct fintech innovations to speak of, but rather startups that support fintech security and other technology support elements such as telecom. We do, however, offer a pre-seed grant of up to BHD 5,000 that is a joint scheme alongside Tamkeen to help innovators develop their prototypes,” she adds. In addition, there is a seed funding program, called Seed Fuel, which grants innovative entrepreneurs at the seed stage of the business cycle up to BHD 25,000 toward their project / business.


She explains how entrepreneurs in the country are helped by the bank: “Bahrain Development Bank offers financial and development assistance to entrepreneurs. The financial support is through SME loans to help start up, grow and expand the business as well as equity participation of up to a maximum of 19.9% of the start-up capital.  On the development side we provide all the services offered under the Rowad Program Pillars which also includes the seed fuel and pre-seed programs. We work closely with our network mentors, affluent entrepreneurs and investors to showcase various opportunities with our entrepreneurs that they may be interested in investing.”

Al Shakar mentions that unfortunately Bahrain does not have a bankruptcy law, which would have supported an entrepreneurial society. She says the government regulators and support organizations are actively looking at developing further support policy to improve the environment and allow further growth and success of entrepreneurs in the country.


20151104_00094She elaborates on Rowad, which have seen a lot of initiatives: “The Rowad model was built over the years through research and observation on the basic tools and necessities required by an entrepreneur to start up, grow, expand, and turnaround a business or an idea. The model is an enhancement to the Bahrain Arab Model for Entrepreneurship that has been recognized by UNIDO as the best model for entrepreneurship, which includes training, advisory and incubation. It has grown from the Bahrain Model to incorporate elements that are necessary for entrepreneurs to flourish and resides on the pillars of coaching, training, incubation, funding, mentoring and partners.”

She mentions that the Rowad program and model are different because most of the entrepreneur support services are broken down into separate entities or organizations. “The Rowad program and model is very well linked so that the entrepreneur does not have to deal with too many separate institutions, but by joining the program he has access to all the pillars that are offered and is guided by a coach throughout the journey.  We cannot offer everything, but in any area that we do not directly provide the service we have a strong network community that we work closely with to provide the entrepreneur with the knowledge and expertise. The program is extended to any entrepreneur at any stage of the business cycle that is being set up in Bahrain.”

Do social media find a place in the scheme of things?

Al Shakar says Bahrain has a wide audience for social media and BDB also provides the same amount of attention ensuring that it is present on most of the popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. “Our newly launched website platform was initiated in order to meet with global technological advancements and to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to the Rowad program at all times,” she adds.


How is to government playing its role?

Says Al Shakar: “The Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 led by the Economic Development Board actively promotes the private sector by encouraging entrepreneurship through the various support schemes offered by Tamkeen and Bahrain Development Bank. The government also offers further support in the form of award recognition for innovation and entrepreneurship through various award programs such as the Bahrain Award for Entrepreneurship.”

She says the bank has done a tremendous job in 2015, reaching out to over 700 people in coaching alone even before the official launch of the program. It has extended its services to over 3,000 beneficiaries in 2015 and it expects to cross this number in 2016. The bottlenecks, according to her, are lack of a regulatory framework that helps entrepreneurs who may fail. “Without bankruptcy laws we still are not effectively attracting the true amount of passionate entrepreneurs due to the higher risk that they may undertake without such policies in place. Nevertheless, as a support organization we work closely with distressed businesses to ensure that they are able to shut down with the least amount of damage,” she adds.

Al Shakar says Bahrain Development Bank has a joint finance scheme with Tamkeen, called BDB Tamkeen Finance, which provides subsidized interest rates to startups and growing enterprises up to BHD 250,000. This scheme also is guaranteed by Tamkeen of up to 50% of the capital as collateral to help support extending this finance to entrepreneurs in case of default.

She emphasizes that BBIC, an entrepreneurial division, moves dynamically to adapt to the needs of entrepreneurs. “Within the next year, we aim to fully launch our online platform, with all of its support services along with both the official launch for, the Farmers Market and the Arts Cluster.  We are also launching our online mentoring platform which is now in soft launch and hope to be able to match over 300 entrepreneurs over the next three years. Through funding, we hope to invest in and support innovative projects through Seed Fuel and our pre-seed programs schemes and look forward to being able to allow them to reach further by obtaining Series A and B rounds of funding. We also look to expand our network of support through our partners program and through the Rowad network.”

BBIC, she says, hopes to be the number one model and platform both locally and in the future regionally to help support entrepreneurs at any stage of the business cycle.

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