Maximising opportunities for UAE start-ups

Since 2013, the UAE chapter has grown to 32 entrepreneurs from 22 companies across all industries.

The Scale-Up UAE event shed light on the United Arab Emirates’ entrepreneurial system with leaders from various business sectors speaking about their experiences and explaining why they mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Early stage entrepreneurs spoke on the types of scale-up challenges they face and a later-stage one dwelt on why accelerator programmes are important and what they learn from them.

Endeavor UAE, which put on the event, has been instrumental in launching many start-ups that have had an effect in the United Arab Emirates and the region. Noor Shawwa, Endeavor UAE managing director, said: “We work closely with our global organisation and offer invaluable access to knowledge and experience that money cannot buy.”

Guided by Endeavor, new entrepreneurs “generate sustainable economic growth and jobs, become role models and help nurture a culture of entrepreneurship, which spurs investment and encourages people to innovate and think big,” Shawwa said.

Shawwa said that since 2013, the UAE chapter has grown to 32 entrepreneurs from 22 companies across all industries.”

Shawwa said that from the time entrepreneurs are inducted they benefit “in terms of organisation, cost control, profitability and human resource efficiency maximisation, which helps set the stage for scalability on a global scale.”

Annual Scale-Up UAE events are designed “to extend this knowledge to the wider entrepreneurial community,” Shawwa said. “We try to offer value beyond the ‘aspirational’ discussions, offering additional opportunities such as on-the-spot clinics with legal, marketing and HR professionals; speed networking sessions with investors or mentorship programmes with early stage entrepreneurs.”

The key takeaway from a panel discussion was that partnerships can prove to be imperative for the rise and success of businesses, small or big.

“Patrick gave a great example of how Chalhoub Group has partnered with different potential competitors in order to enhance and expand their services to customers within the cosmetics industry — at lower cost, risk and logistical investment,” said Shawwa, referring to Patrick Chalhoub, Co-CEO of the Chalhoub Group and Endeavor UAE board member.

“In addition, it is significant for entrepreneurs to realise the importance of cost-cutting over the long-run, through proper planning. Such as if a catering start-up partnered with a strong food chain supplier who can offer them the right tools to benefit from economies of scale and widespread distribution channels, as an example,” he said.

The UAE government is helping with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund, the establishment of Area 2071 and similar initiatives, Shawwa said.

“Where we feel entrepreneurs really have the capability to create the highest impact is in the scale-up phase,” he said. “Giving start-ups a place to sit is great but helping them overcome barriers to growth will really benefit the ecosystem as a whole, because these are the companies who have gone beyond the start-up phase and have a real capability to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.”

Shawwa admitted that more needs to be done. “Endeavor does a fantastic job working with a select number of entrepreneurs, offering systemic mentoring, a sophisticated advisory board and access to networks but, as a non-profit organisation, we can only physically help so many entrepreneurs at a time as it is extremely labour intensive,” he said.

“Finding the right mentors is critical. Ask them about their biggest mistakes and learnings. Ask them everything. Their feedback can help you make better decisions and highlight potential blind spots.”

Regarding areas ripe for start-up ideas, Shawwa said there were “raw inefficiencies and gaps across most industries, leaving room for entrepreneurs to solve them. There is no shortage of opportunities and fields where entrepreneurs can start businesses. At the end of the day, each entrepreneur should move into a space he or she is best positioned to add value in.”

N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.