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Entrepreneurship thrives in Bahrain

There are probably few places where it’s easier or more rewarding to be an entrepreneur than Bahrain. The Kingdom sees a diversified, sustainable private sector as the key driver of long-term economic development – with entrepreneurship at its core.
That’s where Tenmou comes in. Launched in 2011, it supports entrepreneurs with business assistance such as financial investment, mentoring advice and training from experienced board members. Tenmou’s Angel Investors Summit has proven an excellent platform for bringing regional and international investors together with high-potential entrepreneurs from Bahrain.
Like Tenmou, government agency Tamkeen makes things happen. Established in 2006, it’s building Bahrain’s private sector. Tamkeen also helps create and nurture enterprises, supporting businesses and individuals – more than 100,000 to-date – to grow and become more productive.

BahrainEntrepreneurshipAward.pngCelebrating success – a new award
Along with the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), and others, Tamkeen is a partner in the first Bahrain Award for Entrepreneurship. The new award celebrates the socio-economic contribution that Bahrain’s entrepreneurs make to the Kingdom. It acknowledges their value both in creating wealth and in driving business and consumer confidence.
Spotlight on ‘eat’
The Award winners were announced 11 March as part of a lavish ceremony honouring entrepreneurs across a range of categories, but one enterprise shortlisted among the seven categories was ‘eat’. Runner-up for the Startup of the Year category, the company has just secured $300,000 in a second round of funding from Tenmou for its innovative restaurant-booking app.
Before the ceremony took place, we caught up with co-founder Nezar Kadhem about his experience of setting up ‘eat’ in Bahrain.
BL (Bahrain List): Why did you start ‘eat’?
NK (Nezar Kadhem): We kept coming across restaurant-goers who struggled to find restaurant phone numbers on 181 or Google. When people tried to call, the number was busy, or the restaurant closed. Reserving a table at Bahrain’s fine-dining restaurants was time-consuming and inconvenient. We decided to solve these problems by enabling customers to make reservations in just three clicks.
BL: How easy was it to set up ‘eat’ in Bahrain? What considerations did you have to take into account?
NK: Bahrain is a great place to start a business: being small, it’s the perfect testing-ground for new ventures.
Restaurants welcomed us despite ‘eat’ being a young company with ‘unpolished’ products. We were able to go to market, learn and improve our offering. We wouldn’t have been able to do that in a metropolitan city like Dubai. Now we’re ready to scale internationally.
The product launch was smooth. By considering feedback from restaurants, we were able to deliver exactly what was required. This helped us launch sooner than expected – it took just a year, with a team of six engineers, to develop the solution.
BL: How far have you been able to tap into Bahrain’s young, skilled workforce?
NK: Through my network, I have been able to find a pool of young, motivated people. I hired ex-entrepreneurs, as they have the drive and executional knowledge – the ability to act and pivot quickly – to help ‘eat’ scale.
All three of us in Manama are Bahraini. While I focus on sales and funding, Tahani Abbas works on customer acquisition and marketing, and Zain Al Khalifa takes care of operations. We have engineers who work remotely to develop our products.
BL: What’s your own background?
NK: I graduated with a master’s in entrepreneurship from Babson College, which helped with introductions. However, much of what is required in start-ups is executional knowledge. That isn’t taught at business school. No education matches the practical experience of entrepreneurship.
BL: What might winning ‘The Bahrain Award for Entrepreneurship’ mean to you?
NK: It would give us another boost to pursuing our dreams. We have received incredible support from the BDB, EDB and Tenmou, and this would prove yet again that Bahrain continues to back innovation and entrepreneurship. The prize would give us tools, such as the subsidised Tamkeen scheme, to push our product to greater heights and reach a broader audience. If we don’t win, it will have been a fun journey, and we’ve learnt a lot from the experience. That’s a good enough prize in itself.
BL: You receive mentoring support from Tenmou. Who else from the business world particularly inspires you?
NK: I have been very fortunate to work with entrepreneurs and mentors who have helped show the way. We couldn’t have done it without them.
Pierre Juhen, CEO and Founder of PATYKA, is a great inspiration because of how he grew a young company into a global brand operating in over 30 countries. His business acumen is inspirational, and I often reach out to him for guidance and support. Every entrepreneur should have a mentor – the guidance is priceless.
BL: What immediate opportunities do you see for ‘eat’?
NK: We are currently focusing on the Bahraini market to ensure we have a solid foothold. Once that is done, we aim to grow to Dubai later this year and operate in four GCC locations by the end of 2016. Our mission is to be the recognised brand for fine-dining restaurant reservations.
BL: What is your favourite place to eat in Bahrain?
NK: Mirai is my favourite restaurant by far. I also love drinking tea at The Orangery. We are fortunate to have both restaurants on ‘eat’.