Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big Business Idea Competition

This is a copy of the speech delivered by Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, Knowledge Oasis Muscat on the ocassion of the TKM - Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition Gala Dinner, held at the Muscat Grand Hyatt Hotel on the evening of Tuesday 13 October 2009.


Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome you to the final of the 2009 TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition.

May I say first of all what a privilege it is to be here this evening and to speak before such a large audience of people who are changing Oman’s business community both by what you do individually and collectively.

It is now four years since Knowledge Oasis Muscat, in partnership with Ernst & Young, launched the Big Business Idea Competition. And I firmly believe it is initiatives like this that are helping introduce and spread awareness of the enterprise culture amongst the nation’s youth.

Indeed, it is clear from the quantity and quality of competition entries we receive each year that the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is flourshing in Oman.

However, the challenges we face today are by no means small. Climate change, population growth and tougher global competition require adjustments on many fronts. Moreover, the world is experiencing the worst economic slump for decades. But despite this, innovation and entrepreneurship continue to thrive in Oman and drive the nation’s economy forward.

We need people who can identify a business opportunity, find and motivate the right people, and organise the production process. And these are exactly the people you will see tonight. Innovation and entrepreneurship in action.

I cannot stress strongly enough how determined an entrepreneur has to be as the road to success is neither short nor easy, as the following global statistics reveal:

Only 1 in 6 million hi-tech business ideas become an IPO;

Venture capitalists fund fewer than 1% of the business plans they receive;

Founding CEOs of hi-tech firms typically own less than 4% after an IPO;

60% of hi-tech companies funded by VCs eventually go bankrupt; and

It takes 3 to 5 years after their IPO for most hi-tech companies to finally succeed.

Clearly, it is not easy to be a successful entrepreneur. Many will fail at some point, and you must learn to overcome heavy doses of frustration, burnout and disappointment along the way. Chances are, the problems you encounter will also be faced by others and the more people impacted, the greater the opportunity. This is how new entrepreneurial businesses are formed - by searching for problems that currently lack solutions.

All of tonight’s finalists are in their twenties – and young people have an important role in taking Oman’s enterprise culture forward. Bear in mind that Google was founded by students; Facebook was started by a student; and even Microsoft was created by Bill Gates as a student.

Today’s new economic realities and changes are profound. No one can claim to know what the future might hold. But one thing is sure. The ones who will win from the new realities will be those who see them as opportunities and not threats.

And if I could give the start-ups presenting this evening some advice it would be this:

Learn how to network;

Don’t chase money, chase opportunities; and

Don’t be afraid of failure – it’s probably your greatest teacher.

Let me end by expressing my gratitude to Ministers Maqbool bin Ali Sultan and Sheikh Abdullah Al Bakri as well as to Mr. Philip Stanton and his team at Ernst & Young for their continued support and guidance. Indeed, without this important input, we would not be here this evening.

Thank you.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Speed Meets for Local Buyers

The first Origin Oman Meet-the-Buyer ‘speed meeting' event for local suppliers and buyers will take place Monday 19 October at The Wave Muscat.

The event, organized by Origin Oman - the Government's think and buy local campaign - and sponsored by The Wave Muscat, will bring together over 50 organizations from the public and private sector to focus on building potentially lucrative relationships and generating new business leads. The ‘speed-meeting' format allows firms to make the most of their time at the event by meeting a wide range of prospective buyers, sellers, partners and collaborators.

Speaking about the event and the opportunities on offer to local companies, Hamida Al Balushi, Origin Oman Co-ordinator, commented: “The business networking event, using scheduled appointments with key government buyers will give local companies, from a variety of business sectors, their first opportunity to meet one-on-one with public sector purchasing directors with the potential to win meaningful business. We’re confident that many of those in attendance will develop strong business opportunities and open doors to new trading opportunities.”

This latest initiative is part of Origin Oman’s campaign to help support local businesses through the global recession, and is being held at The Wave Muscat on 19 October from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Early signs indicate that this is going to be a vibrant event, where over 16 key ministry buyers will have the opportunity to have one-to-one appointments with 35 local suppliers.

According to Al Balushi: “Local businesses have a vital role to play in our economy and Origin Oman is committed to delivering the kinds of supports and assistance which will help those enterprises thrive and endure. Meet-the-Buyer assists in this sphere and is an excellent opportunity for all concerned.”

Shatha Abass of local luxury soap and candle manufacturer, The Nejd and Meet-the-Buyer participant said: "The Origin Oman initiatives I’ve attended have exceeded my expectations ten-fold. We’re very excited about the 19 October event - being able to have face-to-face speed meets with nearly 20 government buyers is a fabulous opportunity and one that we’ll be grabbing with both hands.”

Ibtisam Al Faruji, Marketing Director for the Origin Oman campaign said: “The Meet-the- Buyer concept is proving to be very popular with both government departments and local businesses. It’ll provide excellent networking opportunities as well as enabling businesses to discover potential new markets and clients. I’m confident that the success of the event will be a result of its singular focus on bringing together like-minded companies and private sector organizations from across Oman, to foster meaningful business relationships. I fully expect us to run this type of event again in 2010.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Big Ideas Final

An SMS service, website templates and accounting software solutions make up the new ventures shortlisted for this year's TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition Final.

The TKM – Ernst & Young Big Business Idea Competition, the largest such competition in the region, has selected three potentially high-growth businesses, drawn from entries from around the sultanate, to compete on Tuesday 13 October at the Grand Hyatt Hotel for the prize of RO5,000 plus 12 month’s rent free office accommodation in The Knowledge Mine (TKM) business incubator based at Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM).
According to Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM’s Marketing Director: “The three finalists are in the early stages of setting up businesses based on innovative science, technology or design.” The finalists are:

Abdullah Al Shuraiqi, Said Al Abri and Ghalab Al Abri of SMS Search Services; Hafidh Al Jufaili and Mafoud Al Jufaili of Twin Link; and Salim Al Mushaifri of Smart Accounting.

Finalist Hafidh Al Jufaili said: “I’m happy and excited about Tuesday evening’s final because it’s a dream come true. It's been fascinating to work with everyone involved in the competition. In fact, we hope to come out of the process with a budding business, so we’re feeling very positive toward the whole experience at the moment”

In the earlier rounds, entrants presented their business plans to an audience of experienced investors and consultants from leading local firms. They considered each plan based on three criteria: whether the plan identified a market opportunity that could realistically be met; whether the team offered a competitive advantage, should the plan become a business and simply, whether local investors would be prepared to invest in that company.

“Everyone involved in the competition congratulates and commends all entrants and finalists for their hard work throughout the competition process,” said Mohammed Al Maskari, KOM’s Director General (pictured).

The competition already has an impressive track record for creating new ventures. Last year’s winner, Mazoon Environmental & Technical Services, which develops environmental solutions for oil spills has according to Al Maskari: “had a fantastic 12 months.” Indeed, the company’s CEO, Rayan Al Kalbani will be the master of ceremonies at Tuesday night’s gala dinner.

The environmental entrepreneur said: “The competition gave us the training to prepare a top quality business plan which has been invaluable in our search for business and the prize meant we were in a stronger equity position than would otherwise have been the case. I’m very excited about Tuesday night, it’s going to be a marvelous event.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Green Technology Seminar Big Hit

A panel of local environmental experts concluded Monday night at a Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) Digital Nation seminar that drastic changes in energy-consumption are necessary to avert a global crisis.

Energy use in business and in the home was put under the microscope by panelists from Total Alignment; Five Oceans Environmental Services; Sultan Qaboos University; Oman Botanic Garden; and Mazoon Environmental Services.

According to the panelists, climate change and the need to manage diminishing fossil fuel reserves are today two of the biggest challenges facing the planet. “In order to secure the future for ourselves and generations to follow, we must act to reduce energy consumption and substantially cut greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. It’s in this regard that renewable energy and green technology are assuming greater importance. I think that came out loud and clear during tonight’s discussions,” comments Total Alignment’s Raza Ashraf and moderator of Monday night’s Digital Nation seminar.

There is now a scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is being caused by human activity. Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, along with deforestation and land-use changes, are increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. These gases, notably carbon dioxide (CO2), are absorbing heat from the sun, causing average temperatures to rise.

“Investment in green technology is essential if our economy is to be developed for the future,” says KOM’s Director General, Mohammed Al Maskari. Adding: “I think Oman is well placed to take forward the application of green technology and critically to continue to develop a manufacturing base to support renewable energy. We have the potential and a role to play in terms of the development of wind turbines, wave and tidal energy and photovoltaics. Indeed, KOM is looking to attract companies working in these important areas.”

“I think local busineeses have a big responsibility,” says Dr. Abdullah Al Zakwani of the newly-launched Industrial Research Centre. “We speak to a lot of executives, and find that most are concerned about the impact their business is having on the environment. Many of them are interested in the economic benefits of being more energy-efficient. Over the long-term, green technology costs will become less expensive. In fact, in some cases, they’re already cheaper. Resistance to greening your business in general is temporary and futile.”

Mohammed Al Hinai (pictured) of the KOM-based business incubator program, the Knowledge Mine, said: “The most obvious benefits of renewable energy are that it is less polluting than conventional energy and won’t run out. Renewable energy can also be produced more locally. This means that it can help local and national economies by using local resources and creating jobs.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, October 04, 2009

KOM Talks Renewable Energy

Knowledge Oasis Muscat ( will host its quarterly Digital Nation Seminar, Monday, 7:45pm, 5 October at Muscat's Grand Hyatt Hotel, Al Afrah Ballroom.

The topic for the evening is: Renewable Energy and Green Technology. The panel line-up includes: Rayan Al Kalbani, Mazoon Environmental Services; Raza Ashraf (moderator and pictured), Total Alignment; Craig Tucker, Oman Botanic Garden; and Dr. Simon Wilson, Five Oceans Environmental Services.

We've mapped out below some of the questions the panel will be discussing.

If you'd like to attend this free-of-charge event, then e-mail your name and contact co-ordinates to:

What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy has been defined as “Energy flows that occur naturally and repeatedly in the environment and can be harnessed for human benefit.” Put simply, it is those forms of energy production that do not deplete the earth’s resources nor leave long-term waste products.

How much renewable energy do we use?
Globally the world uses renewable sources for about 10% of its energy. The EU average is about 7%.

What is the future potential for renewables?
Good question. When you think about it, we’ll have to have wholly sustainable energy supplies in the future, either because we’ll have used up the fossil and nuclear resources, or because we’ll recognize we can’t use them without destroying the planet. That means achieving 100% renewable energy (just like it was 200 years ago).

1.How would you persuade Oman-based people that climate change is a problem and win support for policies to tackle it?

2.You clearly accept that climate change is a major and potentially catastrophic threat. What action should we be taking to reduce this threat?

3.What are your views on the perceived ‘red tape’ surrounding the construction and implementation of renewable projects?

4.Can Oman really be powered entirely from renewable energy in the future?

5.It’s widely accepted that a challenge as great as climate change will need a combination of changes in regulation, business responsibility and consumer behaviour. What do you consider to be the most important measures / decisions we should be taking?

6.Which country’s approach do you most admire in relation to climate change?

Footnote: There’s a lot of good practice to choose from. The Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Japan, California: all provide examples of pioneering policy, whether it be in energy efficiency, working with business or in facilitating the development of renewable energy. However, if I had to pick one country, Sweden’s commitment to being fossil-fuel free by 2015 is genuinely inspiring.

7.What renewable technologies should Oman be focusing on and why?

8.Businesses across the world are nervous about making the huge investment necessary to shift to a low carbon society. What would you do to provide the right conditions for long-term investment?

9.What advice would you give to Omani companies looking to enter into the renewables market?

10.What advice would you give to a company that wanted to go carbon neutral?

Footnote: There are generally three steps involved. The first is energy efficiency, and that really should be the first on anybody's list. Second thing is to deploy renewables as widely as you can. Third, once you’ve done everything you can around energy efficiency and renewables to reduce your emissions, for example, investing in offset projects that eliminate methane emissions from landfills or agricultural waste.

11.Are offsets the last resort?

Footnote: Probably - many would describe offsets as something that if that's all you do, then it’s tantamount to green-washing.

12.Would you like to see companies having to declare their total energy and carbon footprint? If so, how would we go about this? What good would it do?

13.More and more technology companies and leaders are getting involved in the energy sector. We see Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla promoting ethanol and IBM investing heavily in green technology, for instance. How would you explain this crossover between the digital revolution and the clean-energy revolution?

Footnote: This is motivated by two issues. One is that people see a huge problem that needs a solution: growing emissions are contributing to climate change, which could have a devastating impact on many parts of the world. Two, that problem presents an enormous opportunity to innovate and develop solutions that then can make a lot of money. The amount of money in the energy sector is enormous, so even if you can only solve a small part of the problem, you can still make a lot of money.

14.What are you doing personally to reduce your carbon footprint?

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE