UK Government Called on by FinTech CEO to Do More for UK-Middle East Tech Relationships
LONDON, April 18, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Pan Kokkalis, CEO of the FinTech algorithm company InvestingBetter.com, has written to the U.K. Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, and the Lord Mayor of London (the latter two have just returned from a visit to Qatar), pointing out their calls for closer U.K.-Qatar ties, especially in FinTech, which are made difficult by the Saudi/UAE blockade of Qatar.
CEO Pan Kokkalis welcomed the visit of the Lord Mayor and Minister Liam Fox to Qatar, and he said that “these are opportunities we want to take advantage of.”
Specifically, he noted: “Many look to the United States and Silicon Valley as one of the world’s leading centers of innovation. Quite clearly, it would be hard to argue with this statement. But, having said that, the Middle East must be in the running for one of the world’s most underrated hotbeds of innovation.”
There are plenty of examples, but he focused on one game-changer that will undoubtedly revolutionize how Qataris work and play. Just several days ago, Qatar became the first country on Earth to place a voice phone call through a 5G network. British giant Vodafone has begun preparing to roll out 5G services across Qatar, which would be one of the first countries on planet Earth to leverage the benefits of 5G technology.
In fact, according to Ooredoo, Qatar is considered one of the five “top 5G” countries in the world. This disruptive technology will unleash innovation throughout Qatar—particularly in sectors like logistics. Considering that Qatar gained independence less than 50 years ago, these developments are extremely promising and increase the odds that a unicorn will be incubated in the country.
Beyond Qatar itself, there has already been at least one unicorn incubated in the Middle East. Careem, a ride-sharing company based in the United Arab Emirates, was recently acquired by Uber for USD $3.1 billion. Careem was founded in 2012 and operates in 120 cities across 15 countries. According to the press release announcing the acquisition, Careem has created more than one million economic opportunities in the greater Middle East.
The Careem acquisition is just one example, but the point remains that exciting startups are being born in the region. That said, InvestingBetter.com believes that the public and private sectors in Qatar are on the right track to incubate the next unicorn in the Middle East.
The company pointed out that Qatar is cash-rich—notwithstanding a controversial blockade by neighbors like Saudi Arabia. The economy is strong, and the living standard, as always, is extremely high. Without these baseline factors, incubating any startup—including unicorns—is difficult. Therefore, Qatari startups are already starting from a great position in their quest to create the next unicorn.
Along with this, the government has created conditions that incentivize private enterprise throughout the country. In effect, they are creating their own version of Silicon Valley—with a twist.
Specifically, the government has created Qatar Free Zones, which house international companies like Microsoft and Cisco, along with local tech-focused firms. The objective of these free zones is to allow well-established corporations and young startups the chance to advance their technology, collaborate in unique ways and access critical tools for any entrepreneur—like funding, facilities and networks.
But that naturally leads to one question: which sectors and companies will be the ultimate winners?
Venture capitalists and angel investors contemplate this question every day, and even they are often wrong.
But having said that, some areas to closely watch are the chemicals and plastics industry and the logistics industry. This is for a number of reasons.
First, the Middle East is a major contributor to the world’s chemicals and plastics supply, and these numbers are only expected to increase. At this time, the Middle East contributes 10 percent to the world’s chemicals and plastics production, and by 2025, it is expected to increase to 23 percent. Along with these promising growth estimates, entrepreneurs in this space can also leverage Qatar’s free zones for their businesses. Within the free zones, entrepreneurs in the chemicals and plastics sectors can focus on everything from chemical processing, plastic resins and plastic processing to composites and finished products.
As for logistics, Qatar is well-positioned in the global logistics performance index, ranking 30th in the world. The free zones are also located at Hamad International Airport and Hamad Port, which facilitates global distribution. In fact, there are tremendous markets right next to Qatar. Over 25 economies are located within 3,000 kilometers of Qatar, and those economies contain over two billion people.
The fly in the ointment remains the blockade of Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, forcing some companies to choose between Qatar and those leading the blockade. Indeed, given the attractions of Qatar’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, boosted by the resistance to the blockade, it’s clear the blockade could backfire. The British Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr. Liam Fox and the Lord Mayor of London were both in Qatar this past week to boost U.K. Qatar links. “However, they should call for an end to the blockade to help boost links,” concluded Pan Kokkalis, whose company is actively looking at a base in Doha.
Name: Pan Kokkalis
Organization: Investing Better
Tel: +44 7967 232645
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