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How Gulf Countries Can Ignite Their Startup Revolution

There is hardly a day that passes without a new major initiative, announcement or bold proclamation by the Gulf economies of United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to promote tech startups in the region. Be it incubators, investment funds or free zones, you name it and they have it. Gulf countries have been trying (without much success) for the last few years to develop a startup-fueled digital economy — primarily to create another engine for growth to offset the dependence on oil and gas. Secondly, to create more avenues for private-sector job creation for its citizens who are presently almost exclusively employed in the government sector.1-2 When we visualize an Internet economy, the obvious image that the mind conjures is Silicon Valley! With all the multi-billion dollar surpluses, you would be forgiven to believe that a Silicon Valley was around the corner or just waiting to happen. Even the names of many of the projects undertaken seem to be Silicon Valley-inspired. But far from that, Asian neighbors like China, India, Korea or even Indonesia seem to have a much more vibrant and dynamic startup scene.1-3So what exactly is holding up the Gulf startup revolution? First and foremost, to spark the fire of innovation you need a steady supply of quality engineers and entrepreneurs. Let’s start with the key ingredient — “engineering talent.” Engineers are the backbone of the Digital Revolution. Some of the most powerful Internet companies have been built by engineers, but that isn’t a rule etched in gold. Alibaba founder Jack Ma was an English teacher in his previous avatar. But it is simply not possible to develop globally competitive tech ventures without having top-notch engineering talent!

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