PRODUCE IN QATAR

Qatar 2020 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al-Khalifa, CEO of Qatar Development Bank, on diversification, startup culture, and expectations for the economy in the coming year.

The objective of QDB is to develop and empower Qatari entrepreneurs and innovators to contribute to the diversification of the Qatari economy. What have been the main milestones and areas of activity of QDB in the recent years?

Qatar Development Bank (QDB) was founded with the main objective to grow Qatar's private sector and diversify its economy. Since our establishment in 1997, we have been at the forefront of these efforts. We have worked with thousands of Qatari entrepreneurs and enterprises. We have provided investment and guidance to entrepreneurs, start-ups and well-established corporations. And we have built a reputation for identifying promising investment opportunities. To promote the local private sector, we extend wide-ranging financial and non-financial support to entrepreneurs across a myriad of industries, including a series of initiatives to promote an entrepreneurial spirit and create private startups. Our development schemes, such as the eco-friendly Jahiz I and Jahiz II initiatives, have empowered local SMEs operating across a diverse range of industries, including chemicals, electronics, plastics, wood materials as well as food and beverage. As the SME landscape grows ever more intricate and complex, we turned our attention to strategic partnerships to further support and empower local entrepreneurs. Our focus is on the market gaps: access to training and information, access to funding, and access to markets. In 2010 we introduced Al Dhameen program – our partial loan guarantee scheme, whereby we guarantee up to 85% of loans through our partner banks. The following year we launched Tasdeer, the Qatar Export Development Agency, to level the playing field for exporters. When we merged with the Enterprise Qatar in 2014, our goal was to create a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs and SMEs. Today, our scope extends from ideation to market launch and export support. In 2018, we provided training for 3,000 beneficiaries, supported development of more than 50 feasibility studies and incubated over 200 companies. We have also supported 13 companies to start exporting, as well as engaged 26 companies in trade missions, identified more than 500 business opportunities for our customers and achieved QAR3.6 Million in signed deals. Through Al Dhameen service, we supported 310 clients to obtain the guarantees and achieved QAR955 Million in outstanding guarantees. We have also extended Direct Lending support amounting to QAR6.2 Billion to more than 540 customers.

Qatar Development Bank is working on the launch of business incubators specializing in sports and fintech. How do these sectors complement the diversification of the Qatari economy? What other areas do you identify as key for the development of a modern society towards 2030?

Qatar Development Bank has launched incubation centres as part of its accelerated efforts to support startups and SMEs and achieve economic diversification in Qatar's private sector. The new incubation centres are dedicated to financial technology (FinTech) and sports technology (SportsTech). They provide support in every way possible to budding Qatari entrepreneurs who aspire to participate in transforming Qatar into a knowledge-based society. Powered by Startupbootcamp, the world's largest network of innovation programs, Qatar SportsTech accelerator hosted its first QST Demo Day in May 2019. The Demo Day celebrated the graduation of the first batch of ten international SportsTechs that have been accelerated during the three-month program. This year, the startups will be presenting solutions for the benefit of the sports industry using the most advanced technology available. The need for a robust sports technology industry is only going to increase as we approach the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and it will continue well beyond. Thus, the creation of Qatar SportsTech Accelerator which will play an increasingly essential role both locally and globally, in taking the sports industry to the next level.QDB is also planning to invest more into the Venture Capital initiatives. In May 2018, we signed deals with nearly six international Venture Capital firms providing QAR100 million worth of funding for Qatari SMEs. Currently we have more than 24 investments and we been looking into more investments. QDB is making tremendous efforts to offer much needed push to Qatar's financial landscape, backed by technology. The ensuing year was big for Qatar's fintech aspirations with QDB playing a key role to support the industry with an array of measures announced recently, and with more interesting developments to be announced soon. As per the guidance from Qatar Central Bank, and in collaboration with key government organizations and financial services industry players, QDB is working on a Qatar Fintech Hub initiative to support the development of the fintech industry in Qatar. We aim to facilitate collaboration among all relevant participants and stakeholders to create a vibrant fintech ecosystem. Another recent fintech initiative hosted by QDB was the Fintech Pitching and Coaching Day held in December 2018. During the event, QDB signed a cooperation agreement with Finastra, one of the largest UK-based fintech collaborative platforms with representations in major hubs across the world. QDB is also overseeing the Qatar Business Incubation Centre (QBIC) which is a unique mixed-use business incubation center, providing support services to help entrepreneurs who either have an idea for business or want to grow an existing business.

Time after time, exports are facing a relevant increase in the country due to the surpluses. In that sense, how is QDB assisting the local companies to export?

The number of SMEs in Qatar venturing into foreign markets has been growing. Qatar Development Bank is implementing an aggressive campaign to encourage local manufacturers to expand into regional and international markets. Over 300 non-hydrocarbons companies have exported their products in 2018 under the various programs of QDB and have generated about USD2.1 billion in revenue. There is a good potential for Qatari products, due to their good quality as well as the time and money that we invest in to exporting companies and their offerings. QDB provides full support to Qatari SMEs by promoting Qatari products in international exhibitions and corporate matchmaking events. The bank also conducts exports readiness assessments for companies to develop and equip entrepreneurs with the necessary skills needed to expand into foreign markets. Exporting is related to the awareness of the investor that his/her products can compete outside. And we're now increasing awareness among the local manufacturers that their products can really compete outside the country. Our participation in several global exhibitions and trade shows of global levels offers our SMEs the much needed platform and confidence to showcase their product offerings to the global audience. We strive for their better future and work towards supporting Qatar National Vision 2030.

What are the QDB's plans and strategy for 2019-2020, and your perspective on the evolution of the market in the following years?

The GCC blockade affected the country to a large extent especially in terms of essential imports. Qatar though took it as a challenge to be self-sufficient. It started many projects to promote “produce in Qatar” which have started yielding impressive results. QDB has been working hard for years on implementing Qatar's economic and industrial diversification strategy, by extending all kinds of possible support to SMEs and budding entrepreneurs. Some of its popular initiatives include the credit guarantee program (Al Dhameen) and export promotion program (Tasdeer), incubation program, and many others. Moving forward, our success will lie in our ability to embrace the fast pace of development in the world of technology, strengthen our connectivity with one another and the markets around us, and truly immerse ourselves in the digital age. In the days to come, embracing its national responsibility, QDB will continue to empower the nation's citizens to tap into the latest wave of economic globalization and evolve Qatar's economy as outlined in National Development Strategy (NDS) 2017-2022.