Little Bahrain startup gets a big helping hand

The global tech giant Microsoft recently agreed to partner with CH9, a startup accelerator in Bahrain that hopes to develop high-tech vision for technology startups in the small gulf country.

As part of the deal, CH9 will become an official Microsoft BizSpark Network Partner. The partnership is part of a program that gives businesses with less than five years of development help with best practices, mentoring and software resources.

Mohamed Altawash, founder and managing director of CH9, said he believes the startup will have greater success by partnering with a like-minded company such as Microsoft.

“SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) are the lifeblood of gulf economies, and regional incubator and accelerator units, like CH9, play a vital role in nurturing that potential – finding funding and helping startups build the momentum needed for long-term success,” Sherif Tawfik, country general manager of Microsoft Bahrain and Oman, said. “We believe we have a lot to offer these SME ecosystems by working with organizations like CH9 and bringing strategy and longevity to newly formed businesses.”

In recent exclusive comments to the Gulf News Journal, Tawfik expanded on the nature of the partnership.
“Bahrain is seen as a productive ground for startups to grow in the Middle East,” Tawfik said, adding that more than 90,000 SMEs now make up about 30 percent of the GDP in Bahrain and are responsible for 37 percent of all jobs.

“We want startups to have access to Microsoft software development tools, connecting them with key industry players and providing marketing visibility to help them nurture their business,” Tawfik said. “Our BizSpark initiative has enabled thousands of tech startups to access a range of Microsoft solutions at no cost.”

As for other development projects in the region, Tawfik cited partnerships with influential startup organization Wamda, and in5, a dynamic social initiative and registered nonprofit organization focused on opportunities for Arab youth.

Tawfik said Microsoft also collaborates with Bahrain Web Tech, a group of more than 320 tech gurus and IT pros in Bahrain who meet monthly. Events like a Seedstars MENA summit and a 2016 Start-up Weekend Bahrain conference also promote the vibrant tech landscape that Microsoft and CH9 want to see for local SMEs.

“With expectations running high for Bahrain to become a location of choice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, this is an ideal time for this collaboration in order to provide startups in Bahrain with the right tools and services needed to boost their businesses,” Tawfik said. “We want startups to work smarter by having easy access to enterprise grade technology and unleash their potential to achieve more.”

Tawfik described the goals and objectives underlying the efforts, and how specific individual programs are leveraged for growth.

“We strongly believe that Microsoft has a lot to contribute to startups ecosystems,” he said. “Initiatives such as Imagine Academy, YouthSpark and BizSpark help identify nascent businesses early on and allow us the opportunity to contribute towards their expansion and longevity.”

The partnership also prompted CH9 to create an "incubation" award for the winner of the Microsoft Bahrain Imagine Cup. Microsoft's Imagine Cup competitions invite students from around the world to come up with innovative solutions in different areas.  Bahrain students have competed for the past two years.

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