Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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A commonality to what confronts SMEs in the Gulf

Despite significant government backing, Oman’s band of entrepreneurs are facing the same challenges that their counterparts elsewhere in the region do. Lack of finance and the steep cost of funds, not surprisingly, top the list of concerns. “In our sector, we continue to face economic uncertainty, rising costs and difficulty in accessing finance,” Eman Al Farsi, founder of Asrar Arabiya, which is into bespoke jewellery design. “It’s this lack of proper financing channels that put the most pressure on us, and in a way forces us to lower the prices on our merchandise.

“As such, the scale of our business qualifies as a “small enterprise” and because of the high competition in the local and Gulf markets, we have no option other than lower prices, But this recourse only makes for an unprofitable business operation and restricts our planned expansion into some of the other regional markets.”

Eman’s business was selected as one of eight small-scale enterprises to receive funding from Zubair Small Enterprises Centre, an Omani entity that offer funding and mentorship possibilities for local SMEs.

“My initial obstacle has been solved … so far,” Eman said. “The rest is now up to me to continue marketing my products in key markets and thus hope to penetrate into the right channels. The aim is establish a reputable brand that consumers can believe in.”

For two other Omani entrepreneurs, Shatha Abbas and Eman Al Whabai — founders of Nejd, a retailer of frankincense laced products, getting visas for employees is one of the main challenges to launching a business in Oman. “Finding a well-trained and qualified employee is another obstacle,” said Shatha.

“Because we couldn’t afford the quality of employees we needed for our business and we didn’t have as much time to dedicate to the marketing of our company, it took us longer to establish ourselves.”

For the woman business owner, the obstacles multiply. Yet, on the plus side, there is still support emanating from the government. “These is huge emphasis on promoting women in Oman today; we feel there is a focus on companies run by women and authorities are happy to encourage them.”

Moreover, Eman added, given the current directives for state support to boost SMEs in the country, an improvement is a live possibility. “Facilities have been granted as the result of the creation of the Public Authority for SME Development and the RAFD Fund for SMEs,” Eman said. “The Central Bank’s mandate to allocate 5 per cent of all credit facilities to SME assistance has encouraged a lot of young talent to emerge and develop their own businesses.”

Hani Obeid, CEO of Zubair Small Enterprises Centre, says that the problems Omani entrepreneurs face cannot be viewed in isolation. “These challenges according to IFAC (International Federation of Accountants) centre around the complexity of regulation, economic uncertainty, rising costs, access to finance, pressure to lower their prices for products and services and competition,” Hani said. In other words, not different to what business owners face elsewhere.

At a broader level, Omani entrepreneurs have proved to be innovative in their services and product offerings and in bringing competitive value to their businesses. Many are starting to think beyond Oman and the aim is to reach out with value propositions into as many new markets as possible.

An Omani government entity organised a three-day Oman SME event at The Dubai Mall to provide an alternate platform for Omani companies to promote and sell their products.