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Corporate innovation festival fuels startup growth across MENA region: StartUp Bahrain Week

Unbound Bahrain doubles in size with attendees gaining insights into startup growth and the future

“You have a government here who is willing and able to help you succeed” said Excellency Khalid Al Rumaihi (Bahrain), Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) as part of his opening remarks at leading innovation festival Unbound Bahrain which took place in Manama, Bahrain this week.

The event took place in conjunction with StartUp Bahrain Week, a community-led festival that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation connecting attendees from around the world.

The event takes place as the corporate innovation model taking hold in the MENA region over recent years gathers pace with corporations venturing into the startup realm to find solutions to an ever changing marketplace.

“Corporations are recognising the power and influence of regional startups, your Careem, Fetchr, Talabat are all disrupting traditional business models so corporations are adopting one of two solutions: find skills and resources to compliment them or find ambitious startups to partner with and help them develop.” said Sheikh Abdulla Al-Khalifa, Director of Communications, Zain Bahrain.

“Corporates need to partner with startups” said Searchie, an Ai powered talent solution Co-Founder Sahiqa Bennett, a finalist in the AWS Battle of the Startups competition at Unbound Bahrain, an innovation festival connecting promising startups with corporate innovation departments.

“Corporates are looking to transform recruitment and develop their existing employees.. Startups provide that linkage for them to solve problems” she added. Culture, values. Needs and skills make high performers, imagine what this could do to businesses.

Over 100 startups from across the world exhibited at this year’s Unbound Bahrain event with large delegations from UK, India, Hong Kong and the wider MENA region. Major international and regional corporate tech players such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Zain and CrediMax partnered with the event to meet with and hopefully build relationships with early emerging market players.

AWS held the MENA Startup Battle competition attracting hundreds of applications across the region with heats taking place in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 12 startups were selected for the finals where Statys, a fintech startup that reduces the cost of risk assessment for banks and other lenders, was announced as the winner.

The MENA region is beginning to see a surge in interest from startups around the world.

“We came to Bahrain to explore opportunities and we’ve had very positive discussions. If we can secure roll out of our product, Bahrain would be an ideal place to set up business” said Harvider Hingh, Chairman of AIRSENSA, an environmental startup focused on improving air quality.

Another startup exhibiting at Unbound Bahrain is planning establishing a headquarters in Manama.“We’re participants in the Flat6Lab in Bahrain. We have offices already in Chile and India but we’re looking at establishing our headquarters in Bahrain, it’s perfectly positioned for us” said Ahammed Unmi, CTO of ExpressBase.

Unbound Bahrain was held at Bahrain National Theatre over the 6th and 7th of March with a series of cutting edge keynotes, panel discussions and pitch competitions.

The second day saw speaker sessions from Tom Goodwin, CEO of Zenith Media and top LinkedIn Influencer, Tim Draper, American Venture Capitalist, Chris Rogers, Partner, Lumia Capital and Ali Sabkar, Global Chairman of Global Social Media Club.

Corporate and startup engagement is growing as a trend demonstrated by a near 3,000 attendee event in Manama, a near double attendance on 2018.

“Openness is crucial if corporates are to engage with startups. At Zain Bahrain we offer an opportunity to startups every Thursday to showcase themselves to our employees and promote them over our social media channels. We are helping amplify the ecosystem around the region through platforms such as ZINC and it’s having a positive effect for entrepreneurship overall.” Sheikh Abdulla summarised.

Speaking about Unbound Founder and CEO Daniel Seal said:

“This year we welcomed over 100 successful startups and 3,000 attendees, nearly double the number from last year to network and gain insights into how to do business through our unique workshops. Thank you to the EDB for giving us the opportunity to do business in Bahrain and highlight one of MENA’s most promising ecosystems. It’s been another successful year for Unbound Bahrain, highlighting its ability to become a global tech hub for the MENA region. Long may it continue.”

Over 3,000 startups, investors and businesses in AI, blockchain, digital wellbeing, energy, fintech, investment and sustainability took part in Unbound Bahrain 2019.

This year’s leading innovation festival was the biggest yet and was composed of 35% corporates and brand executives, 35% founders and entrepreneurs, 15% digital and media agencies, 5% Government and trade agencies, 5% investors and 5% journalists.

The event, which celebrates global innovation, was the anchor of Startup Bahrain Week which is under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and Chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB).

Unbound Bahrain provided regional and international entrepreneurs with unique networking opportunities, workshops and speaker sessions that gave unique insights into the latest in tech innovation.

Key Speakers this year included:

His Excellency Khalid Al Rumaihi (Bahrain) – Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB)

Tom Goodwin – LinkedIn #1 Voice in Marketing, EVP Innovation, Zenith Media

Chris Rogers – Partner, Lumia Capital

Wael Attili – Creative Founder, Kharabeesh

Hussain Mohammed Al Mahmoudi – CEO, Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP)

Tim Draper – Draper Associates/DFJ/Draper University, Founder

Leena Al Olaimy (Bahrain), Founder, Diversity on Board

A number of initiatives took place this year including pitches to investors, The Female Founders challenge, Flat6Labs demo day and ask the VC. Workshops included the BIBF Technopreneurship Workshop and STSChain.

Unbound is a global innovation platform, with festivals in Bahrain, London, Singapore and Miami. As a powerful, trusted brand with a globally respected voice on innovation, Unbound bridges the gap between entrepreneurs, corporate business, governments and trade agencies to fuel a digital future. It encourages innovation by showcasing pioneering ideas to digital communities around the world.

In 2018, Unbound festivals welcomed 25,000 of the finest minds in tech to hear from a thousand future-focussed speakers, and take part in immersive brand experiences, pitch sessions and startup battles.

About Marc Mcilhone

Marc Mcilhone
Marc Mcilhone is ArabBrains' Editor - sourcing news and features content and overseeing the work of the site’s contributors. Marc’s work is informed by his technical background in architecture having worked for some of the UK’s leading practices on projects within the education, healthcare and housing sectors. Marc has a particular interest in how innovators are creating sustainable solutions that have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives. Please email press releases and news to:

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