Bahrain is a highly emerging fintech hub in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region and a visible catalyst of its efforts has been Bahrain FinTech Bay, which is currently celebrating its three-year anniversary.
Bahrain FinTech Bay (“BFB”) is a leading fintech hub in the region located in the Arcapita Building in the Kingdom of Bahrain’s capital and largest city of Manama. Bahrain FinTech Bay provides the ecosystem with a physical hub to incubate insightful, scalable and impactful fintech initiatives through innovation labs, acceleration programmes, curated activities, educational opportunities and collaborative platforms. BFB partners with governmental bodies, financial institutions, corporates, consultancy firms, universities, associations, media agencies, venture capital as well as fintech startups to bring the full spectrum of financial market participants and stakeholders together.
Since launching in February 2018 and currently celebrating its three-year anniversary, BFB has attracted over 100 local and international partners, 17 Venture Acceleration Platform partners, incubated 50 fintechs, 5 accelerator programs, 3 conferences, and published 8 in-depth market ecosystem reports.
Speaking with The Fintech Times on its three-year anniversary, Khalid Dannish, CEO of Bahrain FinTech Bay, said, “Over the past three years, we have built a holistic proposition for the Kingdom’s ecosystem and have established a one-stop-shop for fintech. Collaboration and partnership with government and industry have enabled us to collectively deliver on a unified vision to ensure Bahrain is on the global map for fintech and create a competitive and conducive environment for entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators to thrive.
“The events of last year have laid down a marker for a permanent paradigm shift in consumer behaviour across the region as well as the rapid growth of digitalisation and accelerated the adoption of fintech. Our purpose-built platform has supported all ecosystem players in growing our fintech sector, which has now firmly established itself to be strategic for economic growth and cross border collaboration. Looking forward, we will continue to innovate and proactively drive our ecosystem through the strength of our platform offering and partnership network to ensure we continue to build upon the momentum of Bahrain’s fintech journey.”
BFB has implemented other initiatives to promote Bahrain’s strong fintech ecosystem. For instance, FinTalks was introduced, an all-virtual webinar series featuring prominent global speakers across the fintech industry, airing over 20 episodes and live events on trending emerging tech topics, bringing together over 2,000 industry players and fintech enthusiasts from all over the world seamlessly under one virtual platform.
In addition, Bahrain FinTech Bay has partnered with Tamkeen, which is a Bahraini public authority established in 2006 tasked with supporting the Kingdom’s private sector and positioning it as the key driver of economic growth and development. Notably, BFB and Tamkeen launched the National FinTech Talent Programme, which aims to create a more robust and resilient workforce through fintech education led by world-renowned universities and industry leaders. As a result, BFB successfully employed 50 Bahraini university graduates through full-time jobs and internships with their partners of fintechs, financial institutions, and corporates. Other educational initiatives include developing working professionals across the region through their Georgetown FinTech Programme, by Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, looking to pivot the youth and become digital transformation leaders in their respective organisations.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Bahrain FinTech Bay was still active and supporting the wider fintech ecosystem in Bahrain. For instance, they launched “Innovate for Bahrain” last April, an initiative to locally drive solution sourcing in crucial areas such as business continuity, community, and healthcare. Hence, focusing on community-driven innovation by launching four structured acceleration programs and virtual challenges. As a result, they’ve welcomed over 250 local startup applications, provided over $50,000 in total funding to 8 winning teams across the various acceleration programmes, including but not limited to:
- Standard Chartered Women In Tech Bahrain (SC WIT): A bespoke women-only acceleration program, in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, had previously launched other versions in Dubai, Kenya, Pakistan, and New York. The Bahrain chapter launched in March 2019, having successfully welcomed over 150 applications, ten shortlisted female-led startups, and five winning teams. Building on that success, the second edition of the programme is expected to launch soon.
- Build for Bahrain: In partnership with the Middle East Partnership Initiative and US Department of State, recently shortlisted 10 out of 20 innovative Bahraini startups. At present, the selected teams are receiving incubation at Bahrain FinTech Bay and mentorship by leading industry experts. Three winning teams of the Demo Day will receive funding to develop their solutions fully and receive Amazon Web Services (AWS) Activate credits. They will also secure places in one of the FinTech Consortium Institute’s education programme.
The Kingdom, as part of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, established diplomatic relations with the former last year and as a result has seen a growth in collaboration in the financial services, wider tech and fintech space. For instance, this includes a partnership just last month with BFB and the FinTech Association of Israel – FinTech Aviv (FTA) signing an agreement that outlines the intention of both parties to cooperate and collaborate on matters of mutual interest relating to the development of the fintech industry in the region.
As highlighted earlier, BFB have published various thought leadership report pieces about fintech in Bahrain and beyond. Two notable ones last year were MENA Financial Inclusion Report 2020 and Bahrain FinTech Gender Balance Report. The ladder examined gender representation in the context of education, employment and society across financial services, ICT and fintech. It aligned recommendations to the Supreme Council for Women’s National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women.
Finally, Bahrain being a leader in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region and the Middle East region as a whole in terms of promoting fintech has been evident in its past – from Open Banking regulations to having the first onshore regulatory sandbox. This year and beyond will most likely see the Kingdom of Bahrain continue to promote its fintech ecosystem, as with much of the Middle East as a whole.
Want to know more? Watch an interview below with Khalid Dannish, the CEO at Bahrain Fintech Bay.