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Wed 15 Jun 2016 01:47 PM

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Finding your start-up’s North Star in Oman

Manar Al Hinai, an award-winning Emirati writer and entrepreneur based in Abu Dhabi, presents The Lounge Oman.

Finding your start-up’s North Star in Oman

Manar Al Hinai, an award-winning Emirati writer and entrepreneur based in Abu Dhabi, is picking up a pen again to write a monthly column called ‘Chatterbox: GCC Entrepreneurs on The Rise’ for Arabian Business StartUp magazine.

Manar Al Hinai talks to the founders of The Lounge Oman:

If you think about it, our daily actions are all motivated by some kind of story. When we were children, it was folktales that taught us the good from the bad, and instilled some values in us. When we grew up and wondered whether we should follow a traditional career path or start our own business, we were inspired by different kinds of stories. Perhaps we were motivated by the story of Steve Jobs and Apple, or wanted to follow a career path that our father or mother have followed because we witnessed the positive change they were a part of.

Reading the stories of Roald Dahl, a British novelist, short story writer, and poet, as a child inspired me to become a writer. Watching TV advertisements and seeing how they impacted my and my family’s purchasing behaviour, inspired me to start my marketing and branding consultancy where I help businesses become part of people’s lives.

When people ask me what inspires me the most, I tell them that I live in a region and, specifically, in a country that challenges me to keep up with its development every day. I am inspired by our leaders, our economy, and our great youth who want to contribute to the world and add value to it. We do not have to look far to learn from success stories - the Gulf region is packed with rising stars, each contributing to the economy and humanity in their own way.

Through my line of work, I meet a lot of interesting people; people that challenge my way of thinking, or open new doors for me that I did not know existed. In this monthly feature, I will be sharing different stories from across the GCC, to look at how local entrepreneurs are contributing to their economies, helping youth, and making a difference, in hopes that they would somehow inspire or direct you toward your true calling.

This month we travel to neighbouring Muscat, Oman, to learn more about The Lounge, and how this membership-based innovation hub – founded by 23-year-old Fatema Sultan Bahwan, 22-year old Mohammed Al Wahaibi, and 20-year-old Omar Al Harthy, who met for the first time at an event that Al Wahaibi was organising – connects Omani youth with various entities and  provides them with the tools they need through different workshops it organises.

The Lounge Oman (@TheLoungeOman on Instagram) simply is a place for Omani youth to meet and create.

We speak with Omar Al Harthy, who provides us with more insight.

What brought you three to create The Lounge Oman?

Our team’s journey started around three years ago when Mohammed Al Wahaibi wanted to create an online platform to showcase young talents in Oman. His idea was that through different events that he would plan, he would present different growing sectors in the country and inform youth about the diverse opportunities that these sectors present them with. We then went on to create the very first event to highlight Omani talents. We were all just students at the time. After that event we knew what kind of platform we wanted to create. Due to college pressure a couple of the other initial team members withdrew from the project, but we continued to promote our brand/project which was called 1Pulse at the time.

Fatema Sultan Bahwan joined us afterwards, when Al Wahaibi met her again at an event and offered her to be part of the team. She was hesitant at first due to being a third year college student, but when she saw how determined we were in making the slightest positive impact in our community, she came onboard. For the first year, the team planned six events that were aimed at connecting the youth with entities in Oman that offer programmes to enhance their skills. People loved what we were doing and encouraged us to do more and build on this.

It was then that the need of a permanent space/hub became relevant as a place where we would host all our events, a place where young people could just come, chill, and work on their projects. It took us a year to be fully operational, and The Lounge was born.

How does The Lounge differ from other hubs in Oman?

We focus on creating a sense of community, a space of positive encouragement, where we we share personal experience and support each member.

Could you tell us about success stories that have emerged as a result of your hub?

Success to us is measured by the number of people who truly benefited from our space, whether they came to work, learn or, to simply network.

If by being a part of this hub helped them in any way to get one step closer to achieving their dreams, then that is success to us. So far we have helped two groups start their own companies.

The Lounge Oman has 85 members who are mainly university students.

We also have members who took part in competitions like the Business Innovation Forum that was co-created with the Dutch Embassy. The winning team included some members from The Lounge. We also share success stories through our monthly newsletters which would hopefully motivate others to achieve success.

How many members do you have? What is the average age and their nationalities?

We have around 85 members and the average age is around 21, as the majority of our members are university students. We have many nationalities, in addition to Omanis, that include Moroccan, Pakistani, and Sudanese members.

What do members receive in return to their membership?

The membership package offers three paid workshops for members regardless of their original pricing along with the co-working space and access to a set of members-only activities that we create based on their interest. Also, we have just recently announced an internship programme for our members. Through a signed agreement with several companies, our members will be able to intern at different entities in Oman.

Could non-members attend The Lounge’s events?

Absolutely. Events planned by The Lounge partners or those who would like to use our space are usually open for the public. The only private events are the community gatherings and members activities.

As a social enterprise, how do you sustain this business?

Through our membership fees and different projects with different companies. We believe in creating partnerships with entities and people who could add value to our members’ experience and that is why we always strive to work with new people.

What kind of workshops/sessions do you run?

Our sessions revolve around different topics such as IT and programming, photography and filmmaking, and art and design. As for the events that are usually held in The Lounge and not executed by us, we are open to different ideas, latest trends, and interests of the youth.

The Lounge Oman partners with Oman’s Public Authority for SME Development.

Do you believe that Oman’s entrepreneurship scene is evolving?

Definitely. The Omani government along with major entities from the private sector is slowly creating the right ecosystem to support entrepreneurship in Oman. In the end, it all boils down mainly to spreading the culture of start-ups and having a more efficient and easier regulatory system. All of that is taking a bit of time, but we are heading in the right direction.

Do you have partnership with government entities?

Yes. We have a partnership with the Public Authority of SME Development (RIYADA) which aims to spread the culture of entrepreneurship within the younger generation. We also have a partnership with The National Youth Commission where we help link the Commission with Omani youth through different activities.

How about private entities?

We worked with several young companies like VoxLab and Engineering Village. We have just finished working with The College of Banking and Financial studies on creating an entrepreneurship competition for their students that lasted for three months.

Tell us more about how are you acting as a bridge between the youth and government organisations? And are private entities involved?

As we represent the youth segment, we know what impacts our generation and that is one of the reasons why The Lounge is a great way for the government and private entities to reach the youth audience through us.

We also help government entities repackage the information they would like to share with the youth in a way that would attract them and actually yield in a positive result. We also help in designing programmes and executing events that would fit their requirements and ones that the youth would actually benefit from.

Do the services you offer entail helping with business licensing/ registration?

So far we have not done that, but we are working on offering business solutions in our new space “The Lounge Startups” which we cannot wait to share.

Any interesting events that you are planning for this year?

We have just started a series of events with The National Youth Commission and we are working on making them fun and beneficial for all.

What would you advise Omani start-ups from your experience to enhance their businesses?

I would encourage them to never give up and just keep fighting every day. It could get very hard and frustrating at times, but a start-up should always have a North Star to follow through rough waters and pleasant times.

Get in touch with Manar Al Hinai:

Do you know a GCC-based start-up that is creating a positive impact in society? I’d love to know more about it. Reach out to me on Twitter: @manar_alhinai / @ArabianBusiness.

Manar Al Hinai, is an award-winning Emirati writer and entrepreneur based in Abu Dhabi.