Interviews

The wind Beneath Their Wings

by BTM

Wed, 05 September 2018

Founder and chairman of Corporate Hub (CH9), Mohamed Altawash, tells Behnaz Sanjana how the entity is uplifting fledgling enterprises in the region.

As a privately owned business accelerator, CH9 mentors entrepreneurs with their start-ups and scale-ups, to reach their maximum business potential. “It started as a thought in my head many years ago,” says Mohamed. “The dewaniya, or majlis, that my father regularly held was an inspiration. Anybody from the neighbourhood could approach him to request financial assistance to start an enterprise – a convenience store, grocery shop or bakery. He, along with his friends, would pool in the money to get the business running. Unfortunately, dewaniyas today are no more informal business hubs.”

The organisation formally started operations in 2017 to help SMEs across all sectors. “We are unique – more than just a business centre,” he says. “We don’t just support tech, a major player in the business arena today. We welcome individuals and enterprises across the board –including in art, music and culture. We are the first business accelerator and incubator in Bahrain, and one of the first few and biggest in the Gulf. We’ve graduated 55 start-ups to date.” 

The idea is not just about funding new ventures. Mohamed explains: “Entrepreneurs attain knowledge in the time they spend with us, a period not less than one year. After going through very structured acceleration programmes, that are run in cooperation with our many partner companies and individual mentors, the business will potentially be an investable one. Here step in the venture capital funds, business angel networks, and family conglomerates in Bahrain and the Gulf that we associate with.”

The company has the legal rights to provide enterprises with a co-working space and the hub’s address can be used in registration formalities. Mohamed says: “It has been projected that by 2020, 40 per cent of the businesses in the US are going to operate from co-working spaces. It enables entrepreneurs to make minimal investments on infrastructure, allowing them to focus more on the creation, monetisation and marketing of their product. At CH9, they get the flexibility to expand from one to four desks, and then to a cubicle as they grow. Eventually our start-ups become scale-ups.”

Five bootcamps have been held so far at the hub, with participation from the world over. The entrepreneurs gain invaluable business insights into what it takes to succeed from CH9’s many global partners like YoStartups, Tamkeen, Bahrain EDB, StartUp Bahrain and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism.  

Start-ups like Wnna, an artificial intelligence-powered contextual search tool, and Akalati, a platform that provides catering services, have their grassroots in CH9, and are now rapidly scaling up. “Careem, the UAE-based company, chose us as their operational hub because we could provide them with the know-how to operate in Bahrain – from registrations to digital marketing. Now they manage their operations in Kuwait and Saudi out of Bahrain. Same with QuickLink from the UK, which provides services to financial institutions. We not only helped them with market penetration, but also recruitment, as we have university students and freelancers who are members at CH9. So, it is an integrated business ecosystem that works,” he says.

He adds: “Bahrain is the only recognised start-up ecosystem in the Middle East by New York’s Genome Report. The country is specifically recognised for fintech, cloud computing and gaming. In 2019, the Global Entrepreneurs Congress will be conducted in Bahrain – a big step forward.”

A seasoned businessman with a vast range of experience in numerous sectors across the GCC and the MENA region, Mohamed started his first real estate venture in 2002. He says: “In spite of the challenging economic scenario, I am optimistic about Bahrain’s diversifying economy. Historically we are a resilient nation. I have developed several real estate companies – some are listed on the stock markets of Bahrain, Saudi and Kuwait, while a few did not succeed. But we must remember that failure is not a bad thing at the end of the day, and that we must not allow it from stopping us. There is no harm in shutting down a failed venture and starting afresh.”

"We are the first business accelerator and incubator in Bahrain.”

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