By: Gulam Ali Khan
MUSCAT: Qais al Khonji is a renowned and respected entrepreneur in Oman. He is the CEO and co-founder of Genesis International, a company that is into solar energy, higher education services, and developing automated electricity meters.
Khonji recently launched an online information resource (www.arab-entrepreneurs.org) which aggregates everything aspiring business owners and young entrepreneurs need to know to set up and fund their start-ups in any of the six GCC states. The website is part of the ‘One Step Ahead’ initiative launched by Khonji.
In an interview with Muscat Daily, he talks about the features of the new website and opportunities and challenges faced by aspiring entrepreneurs in Oman and the GCC.
What inspired you to launch this website?
From my own experience I realised that there was not a single platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to find all relevant information and details on setting up start-ups. I recognised that there are many issues young entrepreneurs face when trying to start a business in the GCC.
A friend, who is from Greece and based in Dubai, discussed such a project. We came up with the idea, brainstormed it and decided to go ahead with it. The website was in the works for three months. This portal aims at aggregating everything one needs to know about entrepreneurship in the GCC.
Apart from providing useful information and start-up basics the portal aims to help GCC-based young entrepreneurs and investors from outside the region interact with each other. Users can register on the portal and create their profiles and interact with other members.
There are sections available on the website for each of the six GCC states and under each section we have provided as much information as available to date. Foreign investors know very little about the regional markets and I believe this resource will help them as well.
This initiative will guide people on how to start a business from scratch, on how to obtain licences and necessary certificates needed to start a business, and on learning from other people’s experiences.
It’s a first-of-its-kind portal in the region. Its further development will depend on the responses we receive from people.
How would this encourage and help young entrepreneurs looking to set up start-ups?
An interactive platform on the website helps users gain and learn from each others’ mistakes and strengths. It would definitely encourage youngsters to know the views and experiences of various people with similar ambitions. They will be able to network with like-minded individuals, exchange ideas, debate issues and possibly meet new business partners.
Starting a business from scratch is not easy in a small market where you have to compete with established firms. It is difficult to sustain in the market unless your idea is unique and lucrative. Some small businesses in Oman have done well and their success can be attributed to their unique offerings.
A business launched without the knowledge and details of the processes and markets involved will struggle and is less likely to survive. The survival rate among start-ups is quite low globally and it is more true in small markets like Oman.
Our objective is to encourage young entrepreneurs in the initial stages and empower them. So far it is just an initiative and I hope to turn it into a venture later, but all will depend on the kind of response we get.
There is an over-reliance on public-sector jobs in the GCC and youth unemployment is a major challenge. In this situation what should be the major focus to encourage young Omanis to start small businesses?
I have always believed that entrepreneurship has to be taught at the school level. Once a student graduates from school he or she should have an idea of their career paths.
If entrepreneurship is part of the curriculum and practical projects are involved it will open youngsters’ minds and enable them to think out of the box. They should come to view entrepreneurship as a career option.
I believe entrepreneurship can help resolve youth unemployment challenges in the region. It will most certainly generate a broader, more accessible job market and undoubtedly help address the issue of unemployment.
What tips would you like to offer young people starting out small businesses?
Entrepreneurship is something you have to learn over time. Keep going even if you fail and eventually you will achieve success. I believe that even if one is well-read and holds a PhD it is practice that drives success. Theoretical knowledge helps one learn the basics but it’s with practice that you to learn from your mistakes and redirect yourself.
I think making mistakes is one of the keys to become a successful entrepreneur. Having patience is also a prerequisite because without it you are more likely to lose interest even before your venture takes off. It is more true especially in small markets because competition is fierce. You have to be different if you are part of a small market.
Which sectors in Oman do you think are most lucrative that new entrepreneurs should focus on?
I would suggest services over products. Most products are brand names associated with big companies and if your product is not a brand it will not take off. But in services you can still bank on quality rather than brand name. So new start-ups should focus on offering services rather than products.
There are two areas in Oman which almost guarantee business success: Oil and gas and manufacturing. These two sectors are investment intensive but guarantee success in the region.
SOURCE: Muscat Daily