Oman gearing towards becoming the next big GCC tech startup hub

Following the lead of its GCC neighbors, Oman is taking big strides towards establishing itself as a tech start-up hub. These technological aspirations of Oman are a part of the broader policy vision known as the ‘2030 Digital Oman Strategy or eOman’.  

In 2016, the Gulf state diverted $200m from the Oman Investment Fund to establish the Oman Technology Fund. The fund was created in a bid to invest in startups emerging from Oman and also to gain the attention of international startups and attracting them to set up in the country. The creation of the Fund was followed by a $15m seed stage programme called the Wadi Accelerator and the launch of a Venture Capital firm in 2017. The VC firm was created with a goal of investing in creative and innovative solutions powered by start-ups.

While addressing these development ventures, Wes Schwalje, the chief officer of Tahseen Counselling, said: “While the development of Oman’s startup ecosystem has trailed its neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Oman is increasingly building the institutional foundations and addressing funding gaps which remain challenges to its entrepreneurship ecosystem and others across the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region,”. 

Mr. Schwalje also claimed that a creative and strong business eco-system was a necessity for Oman to fulfil the ‘Vision 2040’, which plans on creating more high-skilled, high-salary employment opportunities for the youth. Currently, the World Bank data indicates that the unemployment rate for the youth is almost 50%, which is an issue Oman plans to tackle with its digital start-up expansion.

Oman is the first member of Gulf Cooperation Council actively working towards establishing an educational system that incorporates technical and practical integration of technology skills into the country’s curricula. Mr. Schwalje adds that Oman was creating a generation of “tech-savvy thinkers” who can spot opportunity gaps in tech market and fill them.

The Gulf Cooperation Council has a large demographic of digital consumers with one of the highest mobile penetration rates, which opens a lot of opportunities for the development of digital economy in the area. The CEO of Oman’s Information Technology, Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi, reinforced this idea by saying that the tech industry is the force behind economic and social development in any country.

There are still some barriers in Oman’s journey to reach its technological vision as the country is yet to develop foundational digital economic policies. The development of these policies needs to be fast tracked as they are vital to give regional and global tech companies the market confidence they need to invest for the long term.

While talking about the need for policy formulation, Mr. Schwalje said: “There is significant interest from global tech companies in Oman – for example, Airbnb chose Oman as one of its initial global launch markets for its Adventures launch. However, Oman still remains an afterthought for most MENA entrepreneurs and global tech companies”.

Oman still has to go a long way before becoming a tech start up hub in the GGC but they are on the right track.  Wes Schwalje also shares the same belief: “We will see Oman rapidly learn from its neighbors to become one of several tech startup hubs in the region”.

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