MINE FOR MORE

Oman 2014 | ICT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mohammed Hamed Al Maskari, Director General of Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM), on the vision behind the project and business incubator activities.

Mohammed Hamed Al Maskari
BIOGRAPHY
Mohammed Hamed Al Maskari is the Director General of Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM), a leading technology park in Oman. Prior to this position, he was heading the Information Center at the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE), supervising all ICT applications. He has a degree in Science from Sultan Qaboos University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Bedfordshire, UK.

What is the vision behind Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM)?

It started in 1995 when Oman developed Vision 2020, which focused on diversifying the economy away from oil and gas. In 2001, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry took the initiative through our parent organization the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE) to build KOM as a hub for technology in the country. At that time a lot of roles had been given to KOM, and then other government organizations were spun off, like the Information Technology Authority and The Research Council, which helped KOM gain more focus on attracting investment and contributing to the success of the ICT sector and its role in the national economy. We started KOM in 2003, and since then we have been able to attract almost 120 companies to the park.

How do you go about promoting KOM to investors?

Internationally, we put ourselves on the map of technology parks by getting ourselves into all the big international organizations like the International Association of Science Parks (IASP), based in Spain. Of course, we do a lot of road shows and marketing for Oman in general, and KOM in particular. We try to focus on the region mainly, and we are moving into a wider spectrum in Europe, which is why we have a blend of multinational organizations working here in the park, like Microsoft, Ericson, NCR, HP, Oracle, and Huawei, just to name a few.

How important is it to offer 100% foreign ownership at the park?

It has been one of the most valued incentives for all investors. Since we started KOM, one of the key incentives that we offer is 100% ownership. We have been able to attract not only the blue-chip organizations but even SMEs and start-ups, which value not only these incentives, but admire the facility and services that KOM is offering. The availability of flexible office space helps KOM attract call centers, and we currently host Qatar Airways International's call center, Oman Air's call center, NCR's ATM monitoring call center, and other commercial call centers. What makes KOM unique is its ability to link itself with the education cluster and industry. The education cluster based in KOM is represented by Middle East College and Waljat College, accommodating more than 4,000 students. The chemistry between companies and the education cluster based in KOM is the reaction of what we inject in terms of job creation opportunities and shaping and tuning technical skills with the latest technology within both clusters. The advantage being a subsidiary of the PEIE, which runs and manages seven industrial estates in Oman, and the location of KOM next to one of the largest industrial estates, creates huge opportunities not only in building the bridge between industry and R&D centers in the education cluster within KOM and Oman, but also in generating a lot of business opportunities that the PEIE is offering.

What is The Knowledge Mine?

An entrepreneurial cluster was created in 2004 called The Knowledge Mine (TKM). It is a business incubation program meant to introduce new business people to the market and reduce the failure rate in start-up companies by providing practically free furnished office space and a series of mentoring and counseling workshops during the three years of incubation as well as after graduation. TKM also provides business-networking events at which business matchmaking occurs between TKM members and government and business organizations. In 2012, we started working to create a wider spectrum in terms of services for the entrepreneur, including a program called the National Business Center. This new program will focus on shaping the main skill sets of entrepreneurs early with regard to doing business.

How many companies are in TKM?

The maximum capacity of TKM is 15 companies at a time, and we keep them for a minimum of three years. Over the last five years TKM has hosted almost 22 companies, some of which broke the shell and moved out of TKM as they grew up in terms of number of employees and balance sheets. The total capital investments of these companies reach OMR1.3 million. We are always proud to tell the success stories of TKM; we have entrepreneurs who started with OMR50 and now the worth of their companies' has reached hundreds of thousands. Some companies also take their services abroad.