Bahrain Development Bank (BDB) was established in 1992 as a development bank to provide financial and non-financial support to startups and SMEs. BDB’s aims are in line with Bahrain Economic Vision 2030 in implementing a strategy to stimulate entrepreneurial activities within the Kingdom.
As such, the Bahrain Development Bank (BDB) recently appointed Mr. Sanjeev Paul as their new Group Chief Executive Officer. With more than 30 years of banking experience in more than 9 countries in Asia, Mr. Paul has a notable experience in the field of corporate finance, SME financing, banking product management, risk management and more. Mr. Paul also serves as the Chairman and NED of the Board of Directors of Standard Chartered Bank Vietnam Ltd.
Startup MGZN had the pleasure of speaking to the newly appointed CEO, where he shed light on Bahrain’s growing ecosystem and BDB’s upcoming plans and strategies to continue supporting entrepreneurs.
Here are the 10 interesting takeaways and insights from our conversation with Mr. Paul
- Bahrain is a unique country with key advantages. According to Mr. Paul, the Kingdom of Bahrain has some unique advantages that aren’t usually available in other countries. This includes:
- Bahrainis have a high education level and literacy rates. “They’re very hungry for success and they are very keen to learn,” Mr. Paul tells us.
- Bahrain has the connectivity and easy access to the biggest market in the region, that being the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s just a 30 minute drive from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia through the King Fahad Causeway.
- Bahrain has a homogenous investment environment for any company or any multinational to come and invest in. “So you could be in the city of Muharraq or you could be in the south of the island, and it’s all the same rules,” he says.
- “Bahrain Development Bank is much more than a bank.” In addition to providing finance to small and medium enterprises BDB also runs the Rowad Program which provides coaching and mentoring to entrepreneurs on how to become better businessmen and grow their businesses. BDB also runs the Seed Fuel Equity Program, where we provide seed capital to entrepreneurs of up to BD 25000. We also run two incubators through BDB- the Bahrain Business Incubator Centre (BBIC) which offers Bahraini entrepreneurs with mentorship and a subsidized facility where they can operate and manage their businesses and the Bahrain Women Incubator Centre (Riyadat) which is the only centre in the Kindgom that focuses primarily on women entrepreneurs. BBIC also manages the Arts Cluster that supports and promotes art related projects in Bahrain and the newly launched Farmers Market in Hoorat A’ali. The market sells Bahraini agricultural products. Mr. Paul states that BDB is the only bank which caters to Bahraini entrepreneurs and enterprises right from an idea stage, to startup and then to grow into full-fledged profit making enterprises – this is quite a unique enterprise model.
- His new plans involve further supporting the startup ecosystem. Whether it’s supporting entrepreneurs in seed stage or through incubation, advisory or mentoring, or funding, BDB will continue doing that but in a more accelerated and a coordinated fashion, Mr. Paul tells us. He adds that the team is really charged up to accelerate the pace of onboarding new clients. So far, BDB has over four thousand current clients. Beside these there are several hundreds which have benefitted from the Banks Rowad coaching and mentoring programmes.
- It’s all about taking your business into the next phase. BDB doesn’t only focus on seed-stage startups, but it also provides help and support to SMEs in any stage of their business lifecycle. According to Mr. Paul’s assessment, there is room for improvement to help entrepreneurs take their business to the next level. “I think that’s one of the areas where BDB can play a big role in helping Bahraini entrepreneurs take their business to the next level,” he said.
- “We are here to facilitate the process and make it easier.” Launching or scaling your business could be challenging, this is where BDB comes in. As mentioned, BDB is not just a bank that provides you with financial assistance, but it also guides you and supports you through your journey.
- “Al Waha Venture Capital Fund of Funds (The Fund) is all about promoting the ecosystem.” Mr. Paul believes that The Fund will contribute greatly towards promoting and investing in Bahrain’s and the regional startup ecosystem. He adds that BDB is the appointed Fund Manager, they will be investing into the Fund of Funds alongside other Limited Partners (LPs) some of these include Tamkeen, NBB, Mumtalakat, and Batelco Group. “Through our fund management due diligence process we have identified professional fund managers that we will invest in through their funds. Their expertise, track record alongside the strategic impact is what we are looking at to ultimately provide benefits and support to our startup eco-system here in Bahrain.”
- Lack of focus leads to a startup’s failure. According to Mr. Paul some entrepreneurs fail because they tend to be opportunistic. “You start with a certain business idea, and then suddenly you see another opportunity, in say, real estate. And then you divert your funds, and say let me do this on the side,” he says. This is problematic for two reasons as he suggests, one is that you don’t understand the business, and the second is that you just saw an opportunity you wanted to seize but don’t know much about it. “So you tend to divert both management time and money to something which is unrelated to your original idea and business plan,” he adds. Mr. Paul believes that one needs extreme focus for extended periods of time to make anything a success.
- Always have a five year plan for your business. “If you don’t have a plan, then you are planning to fail,” Mr. Paul says. Any entrepreneur who is about to launch his business need to have a five year plan that will guide him through his journey. Even though things change and the plan will change, the very process of creating a 5 year plan helps the entrepreneur to achieve clarity of thought and prioritize execution. He states that entrepreneurs need to have the ability to adapt to the rapidly changing environment.
- Bahrain’s market will keep evolving with new needs and new requirements. The pace of change will only accelerate in all countries including Bahrain and entrepreneurs will need to be nimble and adaptable to change. For example, we will at some stage have a VAT introduction in Bahrain and businesses will have to adapt to a very significant change.” It’s a constantly evolving game, where new knowledge gaps will emerge and those will have to be filled up, either by BDB or other organizations within Bahrain,” he says. The good thing is Bahrain has a very strong and progressive leadership and has built solid institutions like the EDB and Tamkeen and many more who are working tirelessly to help entrepreneurs and Bahrain to succeed.