Omani startups take part in global COVID-19 contest

Muscat: Around 24 Omani tech startups are participating in a global competition that will see five of the world’s top teams collecting attractive cash prizes, as well as accolades for formulating the most innovative startup solutions in the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Sultanate is among more than 50 countries taking part in the latest edition of the Startup Weekend – a series of international events organised by Techstars – a US based global platform for investment and innovation. Partnering with Techstars in organizing a country-level competition for Omani startups is Al Jabr, a Muscat-based firm specializing in startup development and corporate innovation projects.

“We are delighted to be organising this competition in Oman,” said Noor al Haddabi, Financial and Administrative Coordinator – Al Jabr.  “It’s an opportunity for us to support the local efforts of the Omani government in alleviating the problems caused by the pandemic here in the Sultanate.”

Speaking to the Observer, Noor explained that the Online Weekend Startup competition is the virtual version of a hugely popular event hosted by Colorado-USA based Techstars in various cities around the world.

“Considering the current circumstances centring on COVID-19, Techstars decided to host country-level Startup Weekends to help support the quest for solutions to the pandemic. The idea behind making them country-based is to support solutions that are unique to the needs of a particular country, while also enabling the participants to work within the laws and regulations of the respective country.”

Over the weekend, 24 Omani startups – shortlisted from a total of 150 people who had registered to participate in the maiden edition of Online Startup Weekend in the Sultanate – attended a series of workshops and mentorship sessions aimed at fine-tuning and validating their COVID-19 themed startup ideas.

The selected startup ideas, according to Noor, offer COVID-19 mitigation solutions applicable to a wide array of sectors, notably, healthcare, education, logistics, environment, and project management.

“On Sunday, April 26, they will make video presentations of their ideas to an online jury. The top 10 of these contestants will be invited later on Sunday night to take part in a live demo of their themes. Of these finalists, three will be chosen as winners of the Oman country round.”

In the next stage of the competition, the winners of country-level startup contests currently underway across the world will be invited to participate in Techstar’s Global Innovation Boot Camp – an exclusive three-day event planned next month. At this event, 20 of the world’s top startup ideas will be offered the opportunity to add value to their projects before they submit their final proposals to an online jury.

Eventually making the cut will be five finalists, who will be absorbed into Techstars’ coveted programmes, as well as receive cash prizes of $10,000 apiece, courtesy of Differential Ventures – a venture capital fund based in New York.  As of 2019-end, American seed accelerator Techstars had accepted over 1,600 companies into its programmes with a combined market capitalisation of $18.2bn.

For Oman, the opportunity to be part of this global contest is a testament to the country’s burgeoning startup and entrepreneurship industry, whose success is critical to supporting self-employment and economic growth.

Partnering with Al Jabr in the delivery of the Oman Startup Weekend are several well-established entrepreneurship support and SME development agencies, notably Al Rudha,
Phase Ventures, Phaze Ro, IDO Investments, OSH (Oman Startup Hub), Riyada, and National Youth Commission (NYC).