KUWAIT: Zain Group, a leading mobile telecom innovator in eight markets across the Middle East and Africa, announces the opening of its Zain Innovation Center (ZINC) in Kuwait. Located within the Zain Head Offices, ZINC Kuwait falls within the company's youth empowerment initiative led by Zain Vice-Chairman and Group CEO, Bader Al-Kharafi. The co-working hub is the first of its kind in Kuwait provided by a corporate entity and aims to bolster youth entrepreneurship and the country's startup ecosystem.

The inauguration ceremony of ZINC took place on Sunday that saw the attendance of Kuwait's Minister of Commerce and Industry, Khaled Al-Roudhan; Bader Al-Kharafi and other Zain senior management plus successful identities from the Kuwait and regional digital ecosystem.

ZINC Kuwait is set to encourage young minds to think and act creatively outside of the norm in an open, supportive environment. The design of the hub utilizes light and is deliberately modern and sleek, with the view to creating the right atmosphere for entrepreneurs to generate new ideas and develop them into viable opportunities.

Apart from the inspiring co-working hub facilities, ZINC will provide aspiring entrepreneurs and startups access to experts in various fields and advice from mentors from the region and across the globe, including from Zain senior personnel and associated technology partners.

Bader Al-Kharafi commented, "The generation of successful innovative ideas is likely to become one of the greatest differentiators between societies that progress into the future. We are well-aware that there is a strong local entrepreneurial culture that is just waiting to be tapped into and we are excited to be fostering and unlocking opportunities for young Kuwaiti professionals."

Hub for startups

Al-Kharafi added, "The ultimate aim of ZINC is helping young innovators turn their ideas into productive projects that would be marketed locally, regionally, and internationally. We plan to link them with angel investors and large technology companies, enhancing Kuwait's position as a fertile oasis for entrepreneurs and a major hub for the incubation of startups in the region."

The ZINC initiative was first launched in Jordan, where it has proven to be an exceptional success where the creative startup culture, development of innovative ideas by entrepreneurs and successful commercial launch of many young Arab entities is booming. In recent years, many dignitaries toured ZINC Jordan and met with startups and shared their experiences, including visits from royalty of the likes of HM King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan as well as the Prince of Wales and Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

Additionally, over recent years, Zain Group and other country operations have been very active in the entrepreneurial and digital startup ecosystem across the region partnering key events like the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Startup competition held in various regional capitals that sees over 5,000 startup applications annually. Also in Sudan, the company partners in driving the success of the country's Global Entrepreneurship Week, while in Lebanon, 'touch', the mobile operator managed by Zain, recently opened an innovation lab and partners with Arabnet on events and much more to bolster the local ecosystem. In Bahrain, Zain holds a weekly event every Thursday allowing the Kingdom's aspiring youth to showcase their new startups ideas.

Furthermore, in Kuwait the company has partnered with the Tmkeen Kuwait annual Youth Empowerment Symposium since its introduction in 2012; and holding four annual Zain Great Idea programs in Kuwait that sees 10 Kuwaiti teams undergoing a thorough incubator process travelling to Silicon Valley and more. Also, the company partners with INJAZ, to deliver educational programs on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness for the country's youth as well as partnering Nuqat, a not-for-profit organization, in an innovative new educational and creative program.

Additionally, in Kuwait this year, Zain launched its 3rd Generation Z program for high caliber Kuwaiti graduates aimed at enhancing their digital skill sets and bridging the gap between today's curricular and the future's unpredictable corporate environment.

Notably in 2017 across all operations, Zain Group launched Zainiac, an internal e-platform initiative created by employees where ideas are shared and solutions are created aimed at stimulating creativity within the company. To date more than 100 initiatives and project ideas have come from Zain employees with the main aim of the initiative being to promote internal innovation and push employees to start new businesses, and hopefully become the next unicorns in our region.

The introduction of ZINC to Kuwait is another step forward by Zain aligning to its brand values and Corporate Sustainability objectives, as well as the company's active investment in delivering on its strategic digital lifestyle aspirations. Zain expects to attract major global pioneers and mentors from across the digital value chain to make appearances to ZINC and inspire budding entrepreneurs through presentations and workshops and much more.

To connect and promote ZINC activities to the local startup community, a ZINC Kuwait app was developed to facilitate such. Interested young startups and entrepreneurs who wish to contact or visit ZINC Kuwait, please email: [email protected]

Govt to support the youth

Minister Khaled Al-Roudhan during the opening of the Zain Center for Innovation (ZINC) said that the State supports and encourages business accelerators and incubators, and we have clear instructions from His Highness the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah; His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al- Sabah; His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah to wholeheartedly support the country's youth in their business aspirations.

The Minister added that the government has established the Kuwaiti National Fund for the Welfare and Development of Small and Medium Enterprises (NF), which is responsible for the care and development of small and medium enterprises, supporting youth, fighting unemployment and empowering the private sector to achieve economic growth in Kuwait.

"There are efforts to introduce legislative amendments that are in line with these objectives, and we are in advanced stages of creating a favorable legislative environment to support enterprises and small businesses. Recently, amendments have been made to trade licenses, which has seen a fourfold increase in the issuance of commercial licenses, exceeding 12,000 licenses."

"We must invest resources in enhancing cooperation between the government and the private sector properly. We are optimistic that the future is better for all Kuwaitis driven by the evolving passion and ambitions of our youth towards entrepreneurship."

Al-Roudhan noted that the opening of ZINC embodies these efforts. Ideas are always influenced by the care they receive and I believe ZINC will provide adequate support to foster and develop these ideas. Zain has a successful track record in management and marketing experience and will provide the right business environment and consultancy to develop emerging ideas.

"Global markets are looking for smart innovative ideas, and Kuwaiti companies are moving to these areas. We believe that launching business incubators will help the country's ambitions." The Kuwaiti National Fund is an independent public corporation, with a total capital of KD 2 billion, that will finance up to 80 percent of the capital for feasible small and medium sized projects submitted by Kuwaiti citizens. The Fund's vision is to build a pioneering society that motivates entrepreneurs to innovate and achieve economic development opportunities in Kuwait.

Be patient and determined

Zain Vice Chairman and Group CEO Bader Nasser Al-Kharafi welcomed Minister Al-Roudhan during the inauguration of the Zain Innovation Center (ZINC). "We are delighted that Minister Khaled Al-Roudhan is with us to support this initiative. His reputation is well recognized as a keen supporter of youth empowerment and the results of his efforts have already proven successful on multiple fronts, and his presence today further solidifies his support for young startups and entrepreneurs."

"The idea of establishing the ZINC in Kuwait was to continue our journey in Zain, supporting young innovators and great minds and this follows the success of the inaugural ZINC in Jordan."

We believe that smart ideas need to be nurtured to achieve their desired goals. Accordingly, as an internal initiative, we initiated within Zain a program called Zainiac, inviting our employees who have unique ideas to come forward to evaluate them. We have already received dozens of ideas and we have chosen five ideas to support them and encourage their owners to further develop them. Now we have ZINC as an incubator to foster these ideas, having a healthy and enabling environment for turning these ideas into successful businesses."

"We encourage our employees to embrace the spirit of creativity and innovation, and through ZINC we will provide them with the right atmosphere for these ideas," Al- Kharafi said. "We are inviting our people to spend one hour per day to engage with entrepreneurs to nurture and enrich emerging ideas."

"There is no magic formula," Al-Kharafi said. "Success depends on being well prepared and the owner must be determined and have the appropriate will-power to succeed. Ideas need effort and joint-cooperation to succeed."

"In confirmation of this, during my recent visit to the Kuwait Festival for Emerging Projects, which was held at the College of Engineering and Petroleum, I found many talented young minds with creative abilities and distinctive ideas, and they shared concerns about difficult bureaucratic procedures to implement ideas. My advice to them was that will power and determination are needed to ensure distinctive ideas see the light of success.

During the ZINC Kuwait inauguration, Al-Kharafi made special mention of a $100 million fund that Zain Group Board of Directors have approved to support the company's digital lifestyle strategic aspirations. Over the last 18 months, this fund has and will continue to invest in strategic innovative opportunities and digital startups from across the region that can create wealth creation for Zain stakeholders as well as possibly offering Zain customers unique services to enhance their mobile experience.

Al-Kharafi concluded his presentation by inviting other Kuwait corporate entities to invest in the startup ecosystem and visit Zinc and play a contributory role in its future prosperity.