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Entrepreneur of the Week: Mohamed Anwar Sheikhaldeen, co-founder of EXA.iO

Bahraini entrepreneur Mohamed Anwar Sheikhaldeen considers an opportunity to sell technology developed in Bahrain to Japanese clients among the major milestones achieved by EXA.iO, his Manama-based start-up which provides an affordable high-speed rendering service.

Sheikhaldeen explains that EXA.iO, a cloud 3D processing service for architects, studios, interior designers and engineers to accelerate their 3D and VR processing workflows at a fraction of the cost, is the first Bahraini business registered in Fukouka, Japan.

3D rendering is the process film studios use to turn the 1’s and 0’s of raw digital data into the images that compose movies with animated components, such as the blockbusters Transformers and Madagascar.

Launched in 2012 by Zakaria Moustapha, Ibrahim Mokdad, and Sheikhaldeen, the EXA.iO’s innovative solution has won several regional and international awards, including the first place at the Intel Business Challenge in the GCC and being chosen among the last eight out of 18,000 at the Intel’s Global Challenge in Silicon Valley in 2013.

“The idea was to build a high performance computing service here in the GCC,” says Sheikhaldeen.

“We believed we can use the same technologies in more commercial sectors, like 3D rendering for architecture and entertainment, since those are usually used in the oil and gas sector.”

Initially bootstrapped by the three co-founders, EXA.iO later received seed investment from SeedStartup Dubai. “We had issues securing our initial investment since we did not have enough capital to become an investable business entity before securing that initial investment,” explains Sheikhaldeen.

“That was a chicken and an egg situation, and we had to register our business as a Delaware C-Corp to get our investment released.

“However, Bahrain is now focused on developing a supportive ICT ecosystem, which allows the private sector to thrive and creates a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. The kingdom’s start-up ecosystem is actually maturing at a very rapid pace.

“It’s not Silicon Valley, but I believe the regulations and facilities, which offer platforms for education, guidance and financing, that we enjoy on the island kingdom, are what other parts of the world, such as Singapore, are struggling to achieve. Bahraini entrepreneurs also enjoy several subsidy opportunities which mitigates the risk at the riskiest time of a start-up’s life.”

Prior to co-founding EXA.iO in 2012, Mohamed led several system engineering roles in a number of government and private sector organisations, including Bahrain Economic Development Board and the General Organisation of Youth and Sports.

The EXA.iO team, based in a business centre in the Hidd area of Bahrain, is also dedicated to actively mentoring fellow entrepreneurs as part of the Rowad programme and the University of Bahrain Technology Incubation Centre (UBIC).

“Do not look at what you cannot do, be it expertise, fund, regulations or whatever,” Sheikhaldeen advises. “Grasp the opportunity with whatever you have now, even if that is just a laptop and an internet connection, which is what we had at the beginning.

“And never focus on the goal, but on the process to reach that goal! Also, you must read about SPIN Selling and LEAN start-up methods.”

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