Muscat: An innovative student development programme aimed at transforming promising undergraduate projects into small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has been launched by The Research Council (TRC).

Named Upgrade, the programme will nurture students with outstanding projects in the field of ICT and will eventually help convert these into fully operational SMEs.

TRC, Omantel, Information Technology Authority (ITA), Riyada and Ibtikar Development Programme are collaborating in the student development scheme.

According to Ali Al Shidhani of TRC, the ICT is a booming sector in the world and Oman has a large number of students taking up ICT related higher education disciplines.

“With most top level companies in the world operating in the ICT industry, Oman needs to step up its ICT development and this programme will do exactly that. We have a large number of students pursuing higher education in ICT related fields and they are perfect to nurturethrough such programmes,” he added.

As per the programme, TRC and partner companies have identified specific ICT areas in which students will develop their projects. This would be followed by a selection and filtering process.

Rigorous interview

The final step would be a rigorous interview process that would focus on the economic viability of any project and the willingness of the concerned studentto carry the project to the next level.

According to Al Shidhani, only one per cent of the estimated 300 ICT projects taken up by undergraduate students will be considered for this grant.

Al Shidhani plans to extend the programme outreach to every college in the Sultanate by visiting them personally and speaking to the students.

Unlike earlier programmes with a similar aim, the Upgrade programme has a guided itinerary from selection to execution. The first step would be administering and managing the project which would be taken care of by TRC and would include evaluation and selection of projects.

The next step would be developing the intellectual property,providing seed funding and facilitating internships for the selected candidates followed by an incubation and development process. While internships will be funded and facilitated by Omantel and IDO, the incubation and development will be the ITA’s domain.

The final step of developing the startup into a full-fledged SME would happen with the support of Riyada.

“Two things make this programme unique. The first is that this programme will help develop an SME unlike other competitions and programmes that provide a cash award and other incentives. The other special factor is its ability to provide continuity in academics. Once a student develops a project on the back of an exceptional academic career, the programme will enable him or her to continue to develop it through academic excellence. Thus, it will be providing a platform for direct academic application,” explained Al Shidhani.

The winners of the competition will be given a seed capital of up to OMR 10,000, followed by help with incubation. TRC is also in talks with international organizations that will accommodate winning students as interns in order to harness their skills.

The competition will pick up three winners every year who would receive the awards. Winners for this year will be announced in July 2017.