Safa Sharif is a champion of startups in his native Bahrain – and all around the world, really. An engineer by education, he has spent plenty of time in corporate environments. That is — until he launched his own company, called MASY, which specializes in providing products and services to the construction industry in and around Bahrain.
“I am very passionate about startups and entrepreneurship — volunteering my time as a mentor or judge whenever I get a chance to do so.” Shariff explains. “I am active with Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) locally and globally and am currently the chair of the EO council of Middle East, Africa, and Pakistan.”
Sharif works in an office dripping with paintings and beautiful art and sculpture. His company has published two books about the history of Bahrain and collecting and he is, not surprisingly, working on making a third happen.
Something of a Renaissance man (and definitely not one to sit still) Sharif is an entrepreneur — not just an entrepreneur, but a serial entrepreneur. Sharif recently started a new venture, called WhyStockIt SPC, which is where he spends most of his time these days. The company’s mission is to help distressed companies sell idle assets – equipment, stock, inventory, and raw material. Like many startups, WhyStockIt was born from a pain point Sharif experienced while trying to support his company during a global financial recession.
“The world is changing at a never-before-seen pace in our history. In the coming five years, industries will change, and business sectors will diminish.” Sharif adds, “Creative minds and creative businesses will lead tomorrow’s markets and industries. This sector will have a tremendous global impact going forward. It is imperative for me and for my business to be part of this change and hence my interest.”
Bahrain has been very active in trying to create and uplift its startups ecosystem. “It has been a national priority, and we view investment in the ecosystem as an economic solution to employment and future economical prosperity and security – particularly since we are an oil dependent economy,” he explains.
The creative economy is a major initiative in Bahrain. The Economic Development Board (EBD) has a dedicated department for startups, The Tamkeen Labor Fund has numerous products, projects, and offerings to support startups.
The country boasts several startup events throughout the year, ranging in industry sector focus –Unbound, Mashroo3i, Global Entrepreneurs Weeks, Startup Weekend, GSEA Global Student Entrepreneurs Awards, Pitch at the Palace, and Crown Prince Awards.
Additionally, Bahrain will host Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC ) in April this year, which is a true testament to how serious the government is in marketing the island as a global startup hub.
Bahrain has a highly developed ecosystem and infrastructure. In fact, it is much more developed in terms of infrastructure than the number of participants who take advantage of it.
“We have a skilled workforce with highly qualified employees — engineers and corporate workers. Getting the word out is part of our challenge. Another challenge we have is that banks in Bahrain are conservative and do not have flexible offerings.” Sharif continues, “The startup sector needs more financial liberty to try and explore, more investment offerings.”
And, of course, regulations are an issue, but Sharif is confident. “Change is happening and the pace of change is improving.”
Bahrain will soon see new generations coming into the marketplace more focused on impact, creativity and development. “Creativity is driven by a since of responsibility, purpose, impact, and the ability to try, fall, persist,” says Sharif.
Startups in Bahrain are viewed as an economical solution and opportunity that will create jobs, attract cash and boost the economy.
“Living through it and getting the chance and privilege to participate as a mentor and a judge in many local competitions, I can see a steady change in the mindset of the next generation — the way they think, the way they behave, the shift in the business ideas; the shift and boost in creativity is fascinating,” says Sharif.
The startup sector in Bahrain is thriving and will continue to do so because of creative thinkers who are also problem solvers.