AL JABR, an Omani company focusing on startup development and corporate innovation, has recently launched a joint programme with the United Kingdom’s innovation centre and co-working space, Plexal, to offer the innovators from the two countries a platform to share their ideas and knowledge as they counter challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement issued on February 1, AL JABR stated that the Rapid Innovation Accelerator programme - a virtual-first, six-week programme in partnership with Plexal - ‘will connect digital innovators in Oman with counterparts in the UK to help them in developing technology-led solutions and overcoming challenges posed by COVID-19’. AL JABR and Plexal’s innovation team analysed the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on Omani society and businesses earlier in 2020 and the response to the pandemic from UK startups, to design the Rapid Innovation Accelerator, it said. The organisers selected mentors from across Oman and the UK to support Omani entrepreneurs through a bespoke educational programme that includes workshops and mentoring. “The past year has shown us more than ever how important startups are in pushing things forward,” Mohammed al Wahaibi, CEO of Al JABR, said. “We have a growing startup ecosystem,” he said, while underlining that “the Rapid Innovation Accelerator programme is here to reinforce and boost this growth that we at AL JABR are committed to”. “We are proud,” Wahaibi said “of the partnership with the UK-Oman Digital Hub, Plexal and Imperial College London to bring together mentors and supporters to elevate Omani startups through developing the Rapid Innovation Accelerator programme”. “During the pandemic, we have witnessed how much we have in common across the world. We shared similar challenges and now, we must learn how to solve them together,” Al JABR CEO added. The aim of the Rapid Innovation Accelerator is to support entrepreneurs in developing their early-stage digital solutions that assist more businesses to transition and thrive, enable all startups in Oman to learn virtually and support virtual communities, the press statement said, adding that the programme recognised that the UK innovation community has stepped up during the pandemic in these three areas in particular. 'They used technology to enable communities, education providers and businesses to continue operating or finding new markets and audiences. Thus, such knowledge exchange with Omani startups can create an impact for their newly developed solutions,’ it added. The SME development authority (Riyada), Oman’s Ministry of Transport, Communication and Information Technology as well as the Centre for Financial Technology at Imperial College London are the programme’s strategic partners, who will help AL JABR and Plexal deliver the course content. Henry Howard, head of the UK-Oman Digital Hub - a British Embassy initiative - said that over the last year COVID-19 has impacted lives and businesses all over the world. “On top of this, Oman has faced additional economic challenges due to fluctuations in the price of oil.” “But with these challenges come opportunities,” he said. “Omanis are continually finding digital solutions to everyday problems and the global crisis has accelerated this trend,” Howard said, adding that “we are really excited by the Rapid Innovation Accelerator project and to be working with Plexal, Imperial Collage London and local partner AL JABR”. “Together, we aim to help the budding startup ecosystem overcome challenges and develop resilient solutions.” Andrew Roughan, managing director of Plexal, said, “Economies and communities across the world are facing similar challenges created by the pandemic. It’s more important than ever that innovation hubs collaborate and share knowledge.” “Oman has a thriving startup community and we’re excited to unite the brightest minds from the UK’s academic and business ecosystem to support Omani startups with developing their solutions,” he said. “Our virtual-first accelerator demonstrates the sort of borderless collaboration we need more of and Plexal’s intention is to continue working in this way with many more hubs around the world.” Highlighting the need for sustainable developments, Professor Deeph Chana from the Imperial College London said, “As encapsulated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the world faces numerous challenges ranging from climate change, the eradication of poverty, access to education and establishing secure and resilient societies.” “Technologists and innovators will play a crucial role in solving these problems with startups providing the driving force for the imaginative solutions of tomorrow,” he added. Bringing together a partnership in innovation excellence from Oman and the UK, the Imperial College London professor said “provides the opportunity to demonstrate the value of international collaboration and how the best conditions for accelerating progress can be established and sustained”. The six-week long programme will include a virtual demo day on March 14, the press statement said, adding that one may access for more information on this.