Kuwait: the startup powerhouse that’s just getting started
By Henadi Al-Saleh
Head, Agility Ventures
I recently attended a Business Year conference on the role of the private sector in the future of the Kuwaiti economy. The event highlighted Kuwait’s potential to support a vibrant start-up community, but the need was clear for entrepreneurs to capitalize on the country’s digital transformation to drive innovation.
I spoke on a panel alongside entrepreneurs from other well-known Kuwaiti brands including Carriage and Just Clean. There were also insightful contributions from several others, including Kuwait’s Minister of Finance and the Director General of the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA).
We discussed the fact that while funding for SMEs is critical, a complete eco-system including incubators, talent, laws and other elements must be a part of the wider picture.
I’m encouraged because many of the essential components of a strong knowledge-economy eco-system are coming into place in Kuwait: public and private funding sources, incubators, accelerators and vital sources of mentorship, advice, connections and go-to-market expertise. Kuwait’s legal and regulatory framework is evolving in a positive way.
At Agility, we believe that established companies like ours have a key role to play in supporting SMEs, especially those in the Middle East. We do this both by building products that facilitate SME growth, and by directly providing funding, mentoring and other resources to startups in Kuwait and the broader region.
In March, we brought experts from the MIT Media Lab to Kuwait for the Agility Data Hackathon, a four-day event in which technology students, coders and entrepreneurs competed to solve real world societal and business problems with data and analytics. The idea: to bring together a new generation of Kuwait problem-solvers and encourage development of the collaborative, creative mentality critical to the future of Kuwait and its citizens.
Agility Ventures, our in-house venture capital arm, invests in and advises startups on supply chain ideas and technology. Startups we’ve supported so far include Homoola, a Saudi Arabia company using data analytics and technology to bring new efficiencies to road freight, and CargoX, a Brazilian road freight platform.
We’re also acting as role models, driving our own digital transformation through in-house innovation and investment and the introduction of new products and services. As part of our SME product strategy, we’re investing more than $100 million in Shipa, a new family of tech-enabled freight, e-commerce and delivery services that help small businesses reach international markets. New technologies can streamline the shipping process and make it easier for small businesses to reach overseas markets.
Can Kuwait transform itself into an innovation hub and a private sector-led knowledge economy? The Business Year conference showed that we have the right ingredients for a thriving startup community: funding initiatives, banking structures, connectivity, and well-placed consumers. Now we need to connect the ingredients so they form a healthy, integrated eco-system rather than existing in isolation or as part of fragmented networks. With key stakeholders leading the call for change and entrepreneurs driving innovation, a connected ecosystem will deliver lasting results.