DIC 2.0

ic­tQATAR's Dig­i­tal In­cu­ba­tion Cen­tre in­vited Qatar To­day to talk about its new di­rec­tion and pro­gramme of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.

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For a while now the Dig­i­tal In­cu­ba­tion Cen­ter has en­joyed (and suf­fered through) a fair share of our fo­cus. First be­cause it has been an in­ter­est­ing, and nec­es­sary, vigil: watch­ing the evo­lu­tion of what has now clearly be­come one of the epi­cen­tres of the coun­try's tech in­no­va­tion. And sec­ond, the var­i­ous com­pa­nies that are in­cu­bated here (and the en­thu­si­as­tic young en­trepreneurs at their helm) are an end­less source of ma­te­rial for an ever-hun­gry pub­lish­ing house. So while we had been aware of the changes in man­age­ment at the DIC over the last few months, we couldn't guess what this would mean for the cen­tre's op­er­a­tions. Dur­ing a dis­cus­sion with Thamer Al Thani, some, if not all, were re­vealed.

Al Thani is a rel­a­tively new pres­ence in DIC, though not ic­tQATAR it­self, where he has man­aged var­i­ous projects aimed at get­ting cit­i­zens to en­gage with e-gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives. And now he is tak­ing on a sup­port­ing role as DIC's Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Manager. “Like any startup we have to stay lean, and wear mul­ti­ple hats. And it is al­ways good to bring in peo­ple with new per­spec­tives and dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences,” he says. This partly ex­plains DIC's “re­boot” and the am­bi­tious strate­gies that have been put in place.

Start­ing this year, DIC will re­struc­ture its pro­grammes around two tracks – launch pad and startup. “Ap­pli­cants who have an idea that could po­ten­tially be some­thing can sub­mit it on­line, come in for a screen­ing and live pitch and, if we are sold on it, they will be se­lected for a six-month pro­gramme. They will be sup­ported both in the tech­nol­ogy and busi­ness side, al­low­ing them to test the viability of their busi­ness and craft a busi­ness plan,” Al Thani says. Those who have com­pleted this track can ei­ther take this for­ward in­de­pen­dently or stay on to be­come part of the two-year startup track.

It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine why any­one, given this op­tion, would choose to forgo the train­ing and men­tor­ship and wide-rang­ing sup­port, from in­fra­struc­ture and fi­nan­cial to legal and net­work­ing. “For this en­tire du­ra­tion all th­ese early-stage star­tups have to worry about is de­vel­op­ing their prod­ucts and find­ing clients,” he says. For Al Thani, the true value lies in the en­vi­ron­ment th­ese star­tups will come to­gether to cre­ate, re­sult­ing in ex­cit­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions. The eq­uity/debt-free fund­ing doesn't hurt ei­ther. DIC has tiedup with Qatar Devel­op­ment Bank for the early-stage fund­ing needs and is de­vel­op­ing an an­gel net­work for the scale ups later on. Al Thani ad­mits the lat­ter is a lit­tle slow on the up­take (“It's still very much about know­ing some­one who knows some­one”) but there is in­ter­est. “All we need is to see one suc­cess story.”

Also new this year is the con­cept of ded­i­cated men­tor­ship; dur­ing the early stages, star­tups will be matched with rel­e­vant in­dus­try ex­perts, both re­gional and in­ter­na­tional, from com­pa­nies like Mi­crosoft, Voda­fone and Siemens who will help guide the en­trepreneurs from idea to pro­to­type. Star­tups will also ben­e­fit from the ex­pe­ri­ence of home-grown en­trepreneurs (“We have a part­ner­ship with Khal­ifa Al Ha­roon, for ex­am­ple”) and past DIC grad­u­ates.

The 20 launch pad and 10 startup com­pa­nies DIC hopes to start groom­ing this year will hope­fully be ca­pa­ble of sus­tain­ing dig­i­tal clus­ters like the one planned in Ras Abu Fan­tas. “This new eco­nomic area will host sev­eral in­dus­tries that will sup­port the plants there and tech is a vi­tal in­dus­try,” says Al Thani. This is part of the rea­son why DIC, which has hith­erto been pop­u­lated mostly with star­tups in the Ara­bic dig­i­tal con­tent space, is push­ing for di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion. “We are look­ing for ideas and busi­nesses around spe­cific emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies like smart city so­lu­tions, In­ter­net of Ev­ery­thing, cloud com­put­ing, drones & ro­bot­ics, cy­ber­se­cu­rity, Big Data and pre­dic­tive anal­y­sis, dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion, so­cial me­dia, in­fo­tain­ment, ma­chine to ma­chine, mo­bil­ity and wear­able so­lu­tions, e-com­merce, dig­i­tal con­tent, and tele­com ser­vices, which seek to sup­port var­i­ous key sec­tors.” Many of th­ese are new tech­nolo­gies while some are ma­ture ones which are yet to see siz­able ap­pli­ca­tion in Qatar.

We have said this be­fore and we'll say it again: DIC's in­cu­ba­tion terms are gen­er­ous by any com­par­i­son, un­prece­dented even. And it has, even be­fore its fifth an­niver­sary, had a few mean­ing­ful suc­cesses. But is that alone enough to at­tract tech­no­log­i­cally in­clined minds in Qatar? Yes, the en­tre­pre­neur­ial land­scape here is lit­tered with chal­lenges and is cer­tainly not for the faint-hearted but what DIC is giv­ing young star­tups is an op­por­tu­nity to try and quite lit­er­ally lose noth­ing in the process

THAMER AL THANI Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Manager Dig­i­tal In­cu­ba­tion Cen­tre

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