More than anywhere else in the Gulf, Qatar residents have expressed a desire to start their own businesses. But the barriers to entrepreneurship here can be daunting.
Some 83 percent of Qatar youth recently surveyed by telecom provider Ooredoo said they would like to run their own company – but only 17 percent have actually taken the plunge.
Meanwhile, only 38 percent of aspiring entrepreneurs in Qatar are women, according to a Booz & Company study from 2013. That may be because of a lack of female role models here, the report states.
But like for men, red tape also plays a role, say many enterprising women who have spoken to Doha News. That, and cultural barriers, are among the main challenges women who wish to be their own bosses face in Qatar.
Those who start businesses here must be willing to make a significant financial investment.
Before registering a company, Qatar requires business owners to have QR200,000 (US$54,921) in their bank account, and to have secured a one-year lease for office space that’s been approved by Civil Defense – a commitment that can run above QR100,000 ($27,460).
According to Layla Al Dorani, CEO and founder of fresh juice company Raw Middle East, local banks only recognize cash, land and stocks as equity. Speaking to Doha News, she said:
“Financially, local banks and Qatar central bank are not ‘entrepreneurship’ friendly when it comes to supporting startups. They don’t recognize assets (commercial machinery and vehicles) as collateral.”
She added that though she manages a limited liability company (LLC), banks still request personal checks as guarantees, “which contradict the whole concept of what a limited liability is.”
Getting started is not the only issue. Rima Arab, a Canadian expat and CEO/founder of consultancy company Executive Training Solutions, said staffing can also be a challenge.
“The most challenging situation is not being able to hire a full time employee, unless he/she takes care of their own residence visa, and rent an office,” she said.
Al Dorani agreed, adding:
“Hiring is a critical step to a company’s success. In Qatar, almost all laborers are imported and it is required by law to sponsor them before they start working for you.
In that regard, we can’t afford to pay and invest in labor before we even know if they are qualified to understand our process or work as a team player. These are tough stipulations for small companies on limited budgets.”
Sponsorship rules and questions about visas and license procurement were some of the other challenges faced, many female business owners said.
Speaking to Doha News, Qatari entrepreneur Fatima Al-Hudifi, owner of six Tasmeem Flowers and Chocolates’ stores, said:
“Just make it a little bit easier on giving licenses when it comes to new concepts and projects. It is very normal to see people wanting to open new concepts that we would like to invest in and open in Qatar.”
Hillary Kozma, founder of three Glow American Salons, added that “time is money,” and said her greatest challenge was the slow pace of getting government approvals to move forward on projects.
Some companies who find office rental rates exorbitant opt to rent villas, which can go for QR10,000 a month (as opposed to office space, which can cost some QR25,000 monthly). Other women say they simply work from home.
“The rent is way too high. I have my home office and luckily since I offer training, clients prefer me to visit them,” Arab said.
Certain home businesses, including ones in which food is prepared from individuals’ kitchens, are technically illegal in Qatar, despite high demand for such services.
Jihan, an Australian expat, started Glamourous Cakes in October 2013. An agricultural engineer by profession, baking and designing cakes is a hobby that she would like to turn into a full-fledged business. But restrictions on home-based startups have given her pause, she said.
“I will be studying the market and the laws for a while before moving to the next step,” she added.
There is hope for the future. According to Shareefa Fadhel, managing director and co-founder of Roudha Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, an in-depth research study is being carried out by Enterprise Qatar to develop a home business law.
As they cope with restrictive laws and financial difficulties, female entrepreneurs here must also grapple with cultural considerations.
Al Dorani said that unmarried Qatari women are expected to take full-time jobs for financial security, and to carry out any start-up ideas on the side. Those who veer from that path and push to succeed sometimes get judged for being too masculine, she added.
“I am tough, direct, know what I want and not sensitive when it comes to business. These are not feminine qualities that men like to see in a woman in this culture.”
Fadhel, however, argued that Qatari culture doesn’t have one mindset with regards to female startups. It depends on the family, she said, quoting an example of the father of a budding designer who accompanied his daughter to London Fashion Week and was eager to see her reach her potential.
“The Qatari culture is not against women having their own businesses, but the environment of doing the business is the question. I think Qatari women today have shown that they are ready to take their position in business.”
To improve the lot of Qatar’s female business owners, entrepreneurs suggest that the government allocate more funds for local start-ups, such as making it easier to get loans and providing assistance with rent, licenses and visas.
Fadhel adds that implementation of free-zone areas for expats to open up their businesses without a local sponsor is also a prospect that is being considered.
Further, the concept of venture capitalists and angel investors to make the financial funding easier has still not taken flight in this region and has to mature in terms of implementation. That may begin to change this summer, however, when Enterprise Qatar launches its $100 million investment fund for startups.
Al Dorani also suggested that the subject of entrepreneurship be raised with children in school at an early stage to encourage them to be “innovative and creative in business.”
Still, Peter Moore, a mentor at the CNAQ Entrepreneurship Centre, said that while education provided a platform to learn and understand the foundation and principles of business, it could not teach the “experience of taking risks,” which is a critical part of being an entrepreneur.
Last year, the Telegraph reported research that proved women make better bosses than men on account of being fair decision-makers and creative problem solvers.
However, Kozma concluded by saying that, “At the end of the day, it comes down to the individual person to succeed and gender does not determine success!”