Muscat: With Oman introducing major economic reforms to make up for a huge budget deficit, the small and medium enterprises are also feeling the heat.
“The year 2016 is going to be very challenging,” entrepreneur Ayesha Al Shoily told the Times of Oman (TOO) on the sidelines of an informal monthly chat event (or Caribou Chats series), organised recently by Startup Oman - the Sultanate’s only online platform developed by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.
“It is going to be very challenging,” she said, adding, “People have to be very creative. They will have to stand on their own feet. It is not going to be better,” she said.
Al Shoily, a personality development expert and alternate therapist, plans to launch her business in March, and says the venture is going to be “very testing.”
She said she has been meeting many upcoming women entrepreneurs who were concerned about the economic situation in the Sultanate and who often asked, “Do you think it is the right time to start a business? Do you think it will work?”
She said that a bigger problem in the country is “people like to copy and paste business ideas or strategies.”
“If someone has opened a cupcake business, we will have hundreds of people starting cupcake businesses the next day. If a woman opens an Abbaya shop, everyone races to start the same business,” she said.
“I am not joking. Once upon a time it was a normal thing to have Karak tea (or Indian spiced tea). Then suddenly, it became a brand, and in just a few weeks, everyone was selling Karak tea. We have to be creative and sustain whatever we do,” she said.
To Jokha Al Husaini, CEO of Shumookh Engineering Consulting, current year is difficult for her firm, too.
“2016 is a big challenge because the market is slow,” she told TOO.
“I am planning to get projects in any case, either from the tender board or through sub-consulting with some international company to support myself and my 14 staffers,” Al Husaini, who also works as quantity and land surveyor with the justice ministry, said.
Besides the economic challenges, the knowledge among entrepreneurs about programmes related to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) remains dismal, Sherry Colbourne of Startup Oman told the TOO.
She cited a recent survey that showed the highest ranking programme in Oman from an awareness standpoint was Intilaaqah, which was recognised by only 43 per cent of the study group.
Intilaaqah is one of Shell’s social investment initiatives aimed at encouraging the development of SMEs in the Sultanate by offering professional training, guidance and business development services.
The study, conducted by the National Poll Centre in March 2015 in support of the Entrepreneurs’ Conclave, challenged the perceptions of entrepreneurs in Oman regarding their overall awareness of programs related to the SMEs.
The study was conducted via an online insight community in which 206 people participated in various activities. The highest number of participants in any one activity were 75.
Only 37 per cent of the respondents were found to be aware of the entrepreneur programmes of the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises Development, also called Riyada.
Barely 22 per cent of the participants were aware of Bank Muscat’s al Wathbah programme that offers diverse financing and banking services to targeted sectors.
Regarding the entrepreneurs’ programme in Sultan Qaboos University, only 8 per cent of respondents were aware of it, while a mere 2 per cent of the participants were aware of the entrepreneurs programme available at Caledonian College of Engineering in Muscat.
“We believe these numbers demonstrate the gap that we (Startup Oman) anecdotally heard exists in Oman’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Colbourne said.
She added, “Startup Oman aims to close this awareness gap for the benefit of Omani SMEs and create a cohesive community of support.”
About predictions for 2016, she said, “Collectively, we need to be creative in terms of the support provided to SMEs.”
She said her group will work closely with SMEs to identify the challenges they face and develop plans, in co-operation with the various stakeholders, to constructively adapt solutions to their issues.
“Lastly, we will continue to bring international content to Oman SMEs in order to develop a mind-set of innovation and resource allocation in order to improve market reach,” she added.