Rapid Innovation Accelerator

Plexal’s working with UK innovators to support Oman with pandemic-related challenges.

COVID-19 has placed pressure on economies, healthcare systems and communities across the world. It’s also accelerated the pace of digital transformation, spurred on startup innovation and encouraged deeper collaboration between sectors and across borders.

And that collaborative spirit has seen Plexal being appointed by the UK Oman Digital Hub to collaborate with AL JABR, an innovation development company, on supporting Oman’s startup ecosystem. Together, we’re aiming to find and develop solutions to local challenges created by the pandemic.

Our innovation team has analysed the response to the pandemic from UK startups, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on Omani society and businesses.

We’ve designed a virtual programme of activity that will see UK startups, corporate innovation specialists, academics and business leaders share what they’ve learned with counterparts in Oman through mentoring and workshops.

We want to support Omani innovators to build solutions around three challenge areas.

CHALLENGE AREAS

How can technology enable more businesses to transition and thrive online?

How can technology enable all students in Oman to learn online?

How can technology support virtual communities that would typically gather offline?

Supporting startups in Oman

We’ve invited UK startups to express interest in taking part in the programme. Applications are now closed, and we’ll be revealing our teams soon when the programme launches.

Our innovation team will support entrepreneurs in both the UK and Oman, as well as work with AL JABR to unlock open data that will enable teams to build their solutions more quickly.

Challenge 1: Digitising Businesses

OMAN: As shopping has moved online, traditional offline shops in Oman faced an immediate challenge and are still fighting for survival.

Innovation in this space is already under way to enable traditional businesses to move online. For example, fishing is the largest sector in Oman and in April 2020 an online fish auction platform called Behar was launched with support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as logistics company Asyad and the Oman Technology Fund.

UK: Retailers in the UK have rapidly adapted their business models, finding new routes to new customer bases. For example, Elchies Estates used to sell its produce at the Speyside Producers Market but when all markets were temporality closed it won over £30,000 from the government’s Fast Start Competition to install open-all-hours vending machines stocked with fresh and frozen farm produce.

How can technology enable more businesses to transition and thrive online?

 

Challenge 2: Digitising Education

OMAN: The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of making sure learning isn’t disrupted by a crisis. And in Oman, technology has enabled students to continue their education remotely.

The Ministry of Education has supported online learning through its digital learning platform, partnering with Ooredoo Oman (a telecoms company owned by Ooredoo) to deliver virtual classes. Meanwhile, the E-Wathiq edtech platform delivers audio and visual content for grade 11 and 12 students in Oman through paid memberships.

But there are challenges to edtech being adopted throughout the country: the population is spread across a vast distance and not everyone is able to access reliable broadband.

UK: The UK’s edtech sector continues to grow, and during the pandemic both schools and museums have delivered content virtually using innovative and immersive technology. For example, the Musemio app features interactive cultural content inspired by museums and cultural institutions while OBRIZUM received £1m from Innovate UK to redefine the future of digital learning for organisations using AI.

How can technology enable all students in Oman to learn online?

Challenge 3: Digitising Communities

OMAN: Virtual communities like the Muscat Hub (a network developed and led by young people) are already coming together, while during the pandemic artisan traders who typically appeared at the Souq Es Sabt market turned to Instagram to connect with customers.

UK: Startups in the UK are tackling the isolation and loneliness brought on by the pandemic, while people have shown a desire to connect with each other and support neighbours, local businesses and the vulnerable.

For example, the NextDoor app was already being used before the pandemic to unite communities, and the app creators added new features to enable users to find or offer help as well as support local businesses.

How can technology support virtual communities that would typically gather offline?