While Gulf countries including Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia continue to invest heavily in their broadband networks, a lack of quality, homegrown digital content continues to hamper the creation of a true broadband ecosystem in the region.
But this is a situation that ICT Qatar is addressing head-on, with a portion of the organisation’s $1.8 billion five year budget allocated to help nurture companies involved in the creation of a range of digital content and services.
Marwan Marouf Mahmoud, executive director for ICT industry development at ICT Qatar, has no doubts about the importance of local digital content for the development of the region’s broadband ecosystem, and for delivering the type of products, services and entertainment that the region’s population wants.
ICT Qatar intends to help foster digital content creation through various initiatives, including showing the “innovation community” how value can be generated in the online space; by developing regulations and policies that protect people’s rights for content they put online; and by providing various technology platforms to foster innovation.
ICT Qatar is also developing “incubation centres” for digital creation startup companies. These centres will offer fledgling operations involved in the creation of digital content and services to gain access to vital advice on everything from writing a business plan and securing funding, to legal advice.
“We are clustering the digital content companies together and that will help them with ideas, and they can also share technology platforms. We also offer coaching, e-commerce advice, payment systems, registering content, how to make value from it, how to run an online advertising campaign,” Mahmoud says.
So far there are two such incubation initiatives, one in Qatar Science and Technology Park, and another in ICT Qatar, although they are targeted at more general technology innovation rather than digital services and content, according to Mahmoud. “More will most likely be established over the coming years,” he says.
“We believe that many incubation centres will need to exist and specialisation will take place, for example, in Arabic digital content or digitisation, or innovation in mobile apps or social media,” he adds.
“What is important is we have to make it comfortable for innovators and not complicated,” Mahmoud says. “The whole idea is to make it simple from the start, teaching them how to go from idea to modeling to inception to commercialisation.”
Many of the start-up companies at the incubation centres will originate from Qatar’s education institutions including universities. “Qatar has a good number of universities that produce talent in various areas of engineering, technology, graphic design and film. We have our own filming initiatives and those people will succeed in bringing value,” he says.
While ICT Qatar will not directly fund companies at the incubation centre, it does offer advice on funding and access to organisations that provide funding, such as venture capitalists and banks.
“We help them with how to present their case, to make sure it is realistic, and how to reduce risk of failure,” he says.
The digital content cluster will also work closely with other similar initiatives in Qatar to avoid any potential overlap and learn from each other’s experiences. Qatar is not the only country that stands to benefit from the digital content cluster initiative. Mahoud stresses that ICT Qatar is also inviting Arab “digital innovators” from around the Arab region.
For Mahmoud, the initiative goes beyond merely nurturing companies. It is also about promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship in the digital space and creating a platform that will help drive the government’s aim of transforming Qatar into a knowledge economy.
“ICT Qatar and this initiative are supposed to create the foundations for innovation, and innovation is almost like a chain reaction. Once it sparks it creates a lot of sparks around it. By creating enough innovation, it will create the ecosystem.
“The ecosystem also builds on excitement from ideas, excitement from research, including research from universities. It includes a number of drivers which we can encourage.
“The good part is we know the market is out there to grab. The innovators are there and they just need the place to contribute.”