The Qatar tech startup scene is rapidly developing into a new Silicon Valley

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When it comes to technology and innovation, Silicon Valley is arguably the landmark of the industry. It serves as an example for startups all over the world, including a new emerging technological hub, right in the Middle East.

Qatar is a country with a relatively small population and a large number of job opportunities are under the ownership of the government, so nobody was expecting for the startup scene in the private sector to expand so fast. But recently, there have been a few incubation centers that aim to help young entrepreneurs start their career. How did Qatar’s tech scene start to develop?

It all starts with education

It is true that the journey of a startup begins with a good idea, but without proper guidance and entrepreneurial education, no matter how good the idea is, it will most probably fail. One of the incubation centers, Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), knows this very well, so they have incorporated into their center an area called Education City, which was developed through a partnership with 9 universities and 3 research institutes. Together they have developed courses that aim to help students from all the Arab region nurture their skills.

AIA (Arab Innovation Academy) is a 2-week course that teaches students how to develop and launch a tech-based startup. It started in 2017 and has, until now, helped 40 new startups develop. Student Innovation Trips is another program that happens every year in March and consists of a special spring break. All attendants will fly to Silicon Valley and attend conferences held by professionals in the industry. From coding languages to SDLC methodologies, the participants will get to learn from some of the best.

Another program that is still in the makings is the Summer Internship Program that will be held in June and July, where participants will get a chance to work as an intern in various tech startups.


Turning challenges into opportunities

Although Qatar is referred to as the most human-developed Arab state, it is still a developing country, meaning that some technological advancements reached the country later than other regions of the world. The first ADSL was first launched in Qatar in 2002, and by 2005 there were around 25,000 users. As of May 2019, Qatar ranks as the country with the fastest internet in the Gulf region and number 5 in the Mobile Global Average index.

Now, things are only going forwards, in term of communication and technology, as the government is investing heavily in digital infrastructure. The minister of transport and communication announced on September 2018 that, the ICT sector is expected to reach $4.4bn by 2021.

The country’s next plan now is to finish establishing 5G technology, which will allow the internet connection to reach 1Gbps. This is part of the Qatar National Vision 2030, which aims to provide new economic opportunities. Nowadays, the economy of the country depends heavily on hydrocarbons, a resource that is, unfortunately, limited.

The government has declared that digital transformation is one of their top priorities, as it can make room for new business opportunities. To attract international names in the digital industry, they plan on bettering cybersecurity as well.

Using Silicon Valley as inspiration

There is no need to say that Silicon Valley is one of the main places of inspiration for Qatar, as it is for any technological center aiming to become better. QSTP, for example, is not aiming to become a copy of Silicon Valley, but officials have declared that they are confident they can achieve something similar, at a smaller scale.

The technology park is divided into multiple sections, one of them being called a free zone, which hosts notable international companies, such as Siemens, Cisco, Shell and Microsoft, along with local companies focused on tech. They are joined by startups that aim to grow alongside these companies and with the help of Qatar Foundation (QF).

Stellic, for example, a platform that aims to help students plan and structure their school semester, as well as track their degrees and explore courses, was developed by a group of students form CMU-Q, with the help of the Qatar Foundation and is now based in San Francisco. It is widely used by students in the US, Mexico, as well as Qatar and the CEO of the company never stopped mentioning how crucial was the help of QF and QSTP for them.


The startups that thrived

Just like Stellic, other startups that were born with the help of QF are now thriving and inspiring future entrepreneurs worldwide.

Meddy, a platform developed by two students at CMU-Q, first strated as a one-stop platform that allowed users to search for and submit recommendations about doctors. It aimed to tackle an issue that the residents of Qatar were having for quite some time now, involving how to find the right doctor. Now, the app provides information about more than 4,000 doctors either in Qatar or throughout the entire UAE and more than 100,000 people access it monthly. Through the app, people can now find doctors, write and read recommendations and reviews, as well as book appointments. The founders’ next big step is to move towards clinic management software.

EDFA3LY is another successful startup that was born with the help of QSTP. The platform allows users to show form multiple US stores, including eBay and Amazon, and have all the products delivered at your doorstep. The company is based in Cairo and was developed in 2011 and. Up until 2017, it has raised over $150K in disclosed funding.

Another Cairo-based startup that saw the light of day thanks to QSTP is Mumm, a platform where you can order food that is home-cooked by women from Cairo. The app aims to provide Egyptian women with a way to earn money from the comfort of their own home. It has also partnered up with the Fard Foundation, a non-profit foundation that helps them recruit refugees from Iraq, Syria and Sudan to cook and sell meals.