What new initiatives is Genesis International currently involved in?
AL-KHONJI: We started Genesis International and it is currently under formation. Genesis International will be focusing on different segments such as solar energy, higher education services, and meter readers for companies here in Oman. With regards to higher education, we are going to be providing students with a chance to be accepted to universities in Australia and India. We are also looking for opportunities with the vocational institute. We are going to be training local Omanis in certain skill sets that are required for occupations that have been Omanised by the Ministry of Manpower.
What are the biggest challenges that young entrepreneurs are currently facing here in Oman?
AL-KHONJI: To be honest there are many obstacles that young entrepreneurs are currently facing. Some of these come from my own experience. New products are very difficult to market. As a result, we need to develop better marketing companies here in Oman. We need to become more creative in marketing because we are currently lacking in this segment. We need marketing companies to promote the products and services that are being put out there by entrepreneurs. Another obstacle that entrepreneurs are facing is administrative and bureaucratic issues. The process for starting a company tends to be slow, from the initial opening of the company, to acquiring all of the correct licenses, and then to actually beginning operations. It is not easy and it is a lengthy process that needs to be looked at. Something must to be done in order to ease or shorten the process because in the end time is money. Another challenge that young entrepreneurs are facing is education. Entrepreneurship must be taught in schools because we need entrepreneurs. We have to give them the basic knowledge in order to help them become better business people in the future. Right now there are only two options for employment. Omanis can either enter the private sector or the public sector. There needs to be a third option. The scope must be widened because entrepreneurship also fuels job creation. The government has to look at it from this perspective. They will be creating jobs if entrepreneurs are able to become more active in society. Another issue is the financial structure. We must have more venture capital and funds such as Sharakah. We have to give more opportunities to people who have innovative and creative ideas. Currently, we do not have an angel investors society here in Oman. It would be great to have one in a couple of years. It is an initiative that needs to be taken by someone, either the private sector, government, or an individual. We need to connect people who have the financial capabilities with people who have great ideas. This is a part of the development of society. Yet another challenge that entrepreneurs are facing is the market condition. A very small market translates to less purchasing power. It is a cycle. Purchasing power is directly related to an individual’s income. People would rather spend money on necessities than luxury products. This becomes an obstacle for any entrepreneur looking to promote a new product. It also becomes more difficult to penetrate the market.
In what ways can the Omani education system adapt in order to effectively teach entrepreneurship and encourage innovation?
AL-KHONJI: The Ministry of Education has recently formed a committee that I am a member of. The role of that committee is to educate Omanis on entrepreneurship. We are currently focusing on grades 7-12. I believe that this is a good target age for education on entrepreneurship. Now it is just a matter of getting things moving. One thing that I would love to see in Oman is an entrepreneurship academy. I am not talking about at the school or university levels, but an entire academy solely focused on training entrepreneurs. This is one thing that I think would benefit Oman as well as the MENA region. The nearest entrepreneurship academy is in the UK. I believe that we need an institution such as this in the region that will help educate our youth.
What actions or programs are being implemented in order to better promote entrepreneurship throughout the country?
AL-KHONJI: Sharakah Fund for Development of Youth Projects was an initiative implemented by the government in order help finance entrepreneurs. There are certain criteria that entrepreneurs must meet in order to receive financing. They will have to provide the security and a share of the capital. Furthermore, the board of directors of the fund must approve their idea. Also, one thing I would like to see is a competition. There should be a competition where entrepreneurs can share their ideas and innovations. The reward for the competition could be to finance that project. Another initiative that should be looked at is the development of an angel investors society. There needs to be a move to make this happen. I know that Saudi Arabia currently has one. Their market may be bigger than ours but I think it is just a matter of time for Oman. Maybe we have not reached that maturity yet when it comes to understanding the meaning of these types of societies.
The process for starting a company tends to be slow, from the initial opening of the company, to acquiring all of the correct licenses, and then to actually beginning operations. It is not easy and it is a lengthy process that needs to be looked at. Something must to be done in order to ease or shorten the process because in the end time is money.
Which segments or areas present the best opportunities for growth and investment here in Oman?
AL-KHONJI: Tourism appears to be one of the best opportunities for growth and investment here in Oman, especially with oil prices standing at roughly $90 per barrel. The sector is definitely up and coming. I think that it is the third largest source of income for Oman outside of Oil and Gas. As a result, there are opportunities to further promote tourism throughout the country. I believe that if we develop more facilities then tourism will continue to grow. Oman is already known for Salalah and the country’s heritage tourism. We need to create more facilities around heritage locations. For example shopping malls are now starting to be developed. This will help cater to the rise in number of tourists coming into Oman.