Bahrain is one of the top 10 startup ecosystems with the largest share of female founders, according to the 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER), launched at the recent TNW conference in Amsterdam. Described as ‘the world’s most comprehensive and widely-read research on startups’, the report is produced by StartUp Genome in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.
With 18% of its startups founded by women, Bahrain topped even internationally recognised startup hubs such as Silicon Valley (16%) and London (15%). The report also lauded Bahrain as:
- one of the top 10 ecosystems to watch in FinTech in Europe and the Middle East
- a top 15 Global Ecosystem for the affordability of qualified talent.
H.E. Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board said, “This report draws on the views of the people who know best – entrepreneurs and founders. In a very short time, Bahrain has emerged as a leading ecosystem with particular strength in FinTech. With both female founders and women taking leadership roles throughout the ecosystem, Bahrain is a dynamic and diverse market at the head of new trends that are shaping the way society and business operates.”
Dr. Ebrahim Mohammed Janahi, Chief Executive of Tamkeen (Bahrain’s Labour Fund) said, “Over the past decade, Bahrain’s startup ecosystem has made significant progress where startups can access a global network of partners to scale up and capture opportunities in Bahrain and the region.” Dr. Janahi pointed out one of Bahrain’s key competitive advantages in the region, which lies in its firm belief in the importance of women as an active player in shaping Bahrain’s economic future.
“In line with these national objectives, Tamkeen has launched a number of ad-hoc programmes to foster the development of female-owned businesses in addition to Tamkeen’s flagship programmes supporting individuals and enterprises,” he added. According to Dr. Janahi, to date, more than 59% of women have been served as part of Tamkeen’s microfinance support, while more than 50% were served within the business development program, which offers a co-financing service to cover 50% of business equipment.
The Kingdom has a long history of women in senior leadership positions. Currently, a group of female leaders in FinTech is helping to steer the country’s FinTech strategy. Leading female Bahraini startup founders include Hala Sulaiman and Ameera AlQubaiti – co-founders of Alrawi, a successful audiobook startup, and Pitch@Palace Global 3.0 People’s Choice 2018 Winner. Furthermore, Bahrain’s Al Waha Fund of Funds, a $100 million fund set up by the Bahrain Development Bank, has an all-female leadership.
As for FinTech, in 2018 Bahrain launched FinTech Bay, the Middle East’s leading FinTech hub. The Kingdom is rapidly gaining international recognition as a FinTech leader thanks to forward-thinking regulation introduced by the Central Bank of Bahrain, including the region’s first regulatory sandbox and advanced rules for next-generation technologies such as cryptocurrencies and open banking. Just last month, Visa became the latest financial services company to partner with FinTech Bay.
The report also recognised Bahrain as a Top 15 Global Ecosystem for affordable talent. Bahrain boasts one of the most skilled and entrepreneurial workforces in the region, over 60% of which work in the private sector. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services’ AWS Educate training scheme is providing Bahrainis with the necessary skills for cloud-based jobs. Interestingly, it’s estimated that more than 60% of computer science students at the University of Bahrain in 2018 were women.
Bahrain’s tax regime – the most liberal in the Gulf – and wage subsidies for new employers emerged as real differentiators among the key draws highlighted in the report. The report reflects the views of more than 10,000 founders and draws on data from over one million companies.