Em­brac­ing CHANGE

With ac­cel­er­ated dig­i­tal­iza­tion brought on by the COVID-13 cri­sis, TechIn­vest is op­ti­mistic about Kuwait’s fu­ture for­ays into the dig­i­tal economy.

The Business Year Special Report - - Interview -

What lessons have you learned from the cur­rent cri­sis, and can you tell us about TechIn­vest’s abil­ity to adapt and be re­silient?

There is al­ways an op­por­tu­nity in every cri­sis. The gift of chaos is wasted on those who refuse to look past the ob­sta­cle. For ex­am­ple, the chaos forced ev­ery­one to adopt dig­i­tal­iza­tion. Luck­ily, this has been in play for the past few years. The cur­rent cri­sis is val­i­dat­ing on­line economy, which has be­come more re­silient and more of a re­al­ity than the brick-and-mor­tar re­tail of branded re­gional malls. The pan­demic is the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin for re­tail real es­tate; it has put an end to short-sighted busi­ness ex­pec­ta­tions. With bar­codes and QR codes now be­ing used by ev­ery­body, all parts of so­ci­ety are be­com­ing au­to­mated overnight. Metaphor­i­cally, we have been re­so­cial­ized in this pe­riod of cri­sis. We have au­to­mated and in­te­grated into this vir­tual net­work of food de­liv­ery, ac­quir­ing all kinds of per­mits and li­censes on­line. Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on this mo­men­tum will help us get ready to be on the fore­front of the adop­tion of e-com­merce and e-govern­ment, and tran­si­tion to­ward a knowl­edge-based economy and so­ci­ety.

What is your as­sess­ment of the govern­ment’s response to the pan­demic, and what more can be done to sup­port start-ups and par­tic­u­larly tech SMEs?

First, the govern­ment did a fan­tas­tic job in adopt­ing tech­nol­ogy and ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple how to use it. The govern­ment has taken ini­tia­tives so that peo­ple can make ap­point­ments, con­sult a doc­tor, or do shop­ping on­line. This process was a crash course in ed­u­cat­ing the com­mu­nity, con­nect­ing peo­ple, and mak­ing them feel that they are a part of this. As to how this is go­ing to translate into the govern­ment sup­port­ing busi­ness, we have seen pub­lic en­ti­ties like Kuwait Ports Au­thor­ity au­to­mate their pro­cesses. The Cen­tral Bank of Kuwait re­cently passed reg­u­la­tion al­low­ing banks to ac­cept new clients on­line. I am an in­vestor in an on­line cod­ing academy, and we have seen an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple who want to learn cod­ing and gaming, as well as peo­ple who want to learn how to start a busi­ness. The de­mand is there, the will is there, and so are the tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture— all it re­quires is more di­rect sup­port and in­vest­ments.

What op­por­tu­ni­ties are you look­ing for now, and from an in­vest­ment stand­point, how does this change your pri­or­i­ties or rede­fine your strate­gies?

Luck­ily, in Fe­bru­ary 2020, we had a fi­nal close for our Mi­cro VC 3.0 Fund. It fo­cuses on early stage, emerg­ing man­agers, and op­er­a­tors. We are hop­ing peo­ple will re­al­ize now is the time to in­vest in early-stage pri­vate equity. It has been tech­ni­cally, sta­tis­ti­cally, and sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that the only as­set class that re­al­izes gains dur­ing such cri­sis is early-stage VCs. Af­ter 2008, in­vestors who in­vested early in com­pa­nies like Twitter, Airbnb, or Uber be­came bil­lion­aires. We have al­ready iden­ti­fied on­line bank­ing tech­nolo­gies that will com­pletely dis­rupt the space. The three things I have in­vested in are edutech, fin­tech, and last-mile lo­gis­tics.

How should Kuwait re­open for busi­ness to max­i­mize the po­ten­tial on of­fer?

What dif­fer­en­ti­ates Kuwait and makes me hope­ful is that all the start-ups here are started by peo­ple in their 20s. Kuwaitis are entreprene­urial in na­ture; we are the orig­i­nal ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. The govern­ment needs to un­der­stand that the en­trepreneur­s who came up with life­sav­ing tech­nolo­gies like Tal­a­bat, Car­riage, and Zyda are all Kuwaiti. There are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties if we take that and scale it into every sin­gle ver­ti­cal. We should em­power em­ploy­ees to come up with al­ter­na­tives to the old way of do­ing things in the oil, trans­porta­tion, and real es­tate sec­tors. My role is to keep in­vest­ing in funds that plan to en­ter the re­gion and Kuwait. I would like to see the govern­ment funds in­vest in these start-ups and sup­port lo­cal tal­ent and em­ploy­ment. With­out in­vest­ment, there will be no growth, and we can­not gen­er­ate high re­wards with­out tak­ing high risks.

we are the orig­i­nal ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists.”

Fa­had AlSharekh

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