With strong economic pressures creating an environment that favors diversification, the member states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council or the GCC, have experienced a major boom in startup activity. The list of member states of the GCC includes Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Long known primarily for the oil wealth and extravagant spending habits, these countries are increasingly trying to claim a stake in the global economy of the 21st Century. |
In addition to the economic pressures facing the Gulf States, underserved markets throughout the Arabic-speaking world have also created opportunities for entrepreneurs to seize. Reliable and available content in Arabic has proven sparse, with many educated Arabic audiences turning to western sources for news and media, and most Arab social media participation has taken place on websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Government-backed and private sources of venture capital funding have sought to step into the space with accelerator programs such as the UAE’s SeedStartups. SeedStartups places $25,000 in investment money into the hands of worthy enterprises in exchange for a flat 10% equity stake in the newly formed startup company.
Existing markets throughout the region are also proving to be fertile ground for startups to exploit. For example, Glambox is an Internet-based startup that caters to the region’s female demographic by providing high-end beauty products through a monthly subscription model. In exchange for a minimum subscription of Dhs50 a month, subscribers receive samples of beauty products that they have the opportunity to purchase later in larger quantities. Comparison shopping website Souqalmal, which caters to buyers in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was founded in May 2012, and it has been helping its customers compare prices on everything from mobile phone plans to university programs.
The region has also proven receptive to startups founded by female entrepreneurs. Mom Souq and Mompreneurs Middle East, both founded by Mona Tavassoli in the UAE, are excellent examples. Mom Souq is an online forum for parents, and Mompreneurs Middle East is designed to help female entrepreneurs network and share information and experiences. The percentage of businesses that are owned by women in the UAE has grown from 0.1% in 2006 to 1.4% in 2011 and is expected to continue to grow well into the future. While female-centric startups have faced headwinds due to their focus on lifestyle needs as opposed to technology, the increasing shift of Internet startups toward the women’s market and social media indicates that startup interest in the GCC region may be converging with women’s interests.
The combination of available capital, underserved markets throughout the Arab world, and technology savvy within the GCC member states has created a potent combination that favors the future success of many startups in the region. GCC states continue to emphasize the economic shift away from an oil-dependent economy in order to compete more effectively in the modern global marketplace, and the public in many Arab states is just now becoming aware of the greater potential of the Internet. The GCC startups are poised to take advantage of these trends and assert themselves as important players in Internet markets, traditional retail and the fusion of both.
One startup in the GCC region not to miss checking out is SoChivi. Set to become the leading virtual marketplace in the region, SoChivi is a new online company offering users the opportunity to buy and sell items through the use of free online classified adverts. Therefore, if you are you located in Dubai, UAE and need to post a free classified advert to sell your car, property or a service you can now do so easily at SoChivi.com!
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