Abdul Baset Al Janahi interview: Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development

Al Janahi was recently handpicked by telco du as one of the judges for its reality TV show, 'The Entrepreneur'
By Sara Anabtawi
Sun 01 Apr 2012 09:39 AM

“They are the people that are in love with their project… they do not want to have an affair with it, but [they want to] really love it and [marry it],” says Abdul Baset Al Janahi, CEO, Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Development.

A man that has done a great deal to support the SME sector, and who passionately believes in the idea of entrepreneurship, he knows what he is talking about.

In fact, he has recently been handpicked by du as one of the judges to oversee a new TV reality show, 'The Entrepreneur'. The show offers AED1m in cash to winning entrepreneurs, in addition to more than half a million dirhams in professional services, ranging from setting up an office to providing exceptional networking.

“You see, the success of any business, 60 percent if not 70 percent, relies on the personality of the entrepreneur. He or she makes it or breaks it,” adds Al Janahi.

He thinks that a strong relationship should bridge entrepreneurs to their projects, much like a marriage.

“This entitles entrepreneurs to give a lot of time and commitment [to their projects], and they become like trains, they set their own railways and nothing can stop them,” he says.

Under Al Janahi’s direction, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development, an agency of the Department of Economic Development (DED), has assisted more than 10,000 entrepreneurs, of which around 800 are active members of the establishment.

“As Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment… we have two different programmes,” says Al Janahi. “There is a programme called the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Programme, [which is] for UAE nationals specifically, then there is the agency itself, which is the Mohammed Bin Rashid agency for SME Development, [which is] quite open.”

Years ago, Al Janahi laid the groundwork for the entrepreneurial development process from scratch, which enabled the unravelling and flowering of businesses in the region.

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This covered core pillars such as development advisory, incubation, funding, capability development and market access.

To grease the wheels of SMEs’ access to market opportunities, the establishment secured its members exclusive privileges by locking up vital agreements with diverse leading private and public sector organisations.

Among the recognised UAE companies proudly embraced, supported and created by the establishment include:  Emirati 3D animated cartoon, Freej and evolutionary gourmet shawarma restaurant, Wild Peeta.

“In the UAE, and specifically in Dubai, it is very easy for people to start SMEs,” says Al Janahi.

He adds, “I think we are the easiest in the region, if not in this part of the world. This is the land of opportunity.”

The interest in SMEs and specifically in entrepreneurship started around ten years ago, and since then, awareness in how important the sector is, has been growing.

“The interest is very high, and I think, today, we are very well situated in comparison to the rest of the region,” says Al Janahi.

Despite the cushion that the programme offers to SMEs in the UAE, obstacles, or as Al Janahi prefers to call them, challenges, are still obvious. “The biggest challenge is: if you open next to Burger King or McDonalds, how do you make yourself different?” he says, referring to the food industry.

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Malls around Dubai are home to many of the world’s most popular food chains. Big names ranging from Subway to PF Changs are liberally sprinkled throughout local food courts, and aspiring entrepreneurs need to think creatively to make projects happen.

“How do you bring your brand out and stand out in this busy branding exercise and competition?” Al Janahi questions.

Apart from trying to stand out from the crowd, he also admits that funding is also often a source of difficulty.

“[It is only a challenge] for startups, but with SME, when you run your business, especially when you are in a non-tax environment, [most of your profit], you book it for yourself, and so you can go back and you [can] reinvest it,” he says.

Yet another challenge facing businessmen and women in the region is the speed to carry out required processes, says Al Janahi.

“When you start a business… [whether] you want to open a restaurant or you want to set up your own office… usually, you have to go through all the approvals, then you can perform your business… that takes you from three to six months sometimes.”

But fortunately for business hopefuls, there is constant lobbying for new laws to help sustain SMEs.

In March, for example, the DED said in a statement that it would bring in a 120 -day hassle-free licence in an effort to promote the emirate’s competitiveness, simplify procedures and facilitate business.

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The 120-days licence, which should be in play by the end of this year, allows would-be executives to start a business immediately and complete the rest of the licensing requirements, such as approvals from other government authorities concerned, within the next 120 days.

“With the [120-day gap], [the new licence] is giving you enough time to set up your business, be operational, [and] follow the guidelines,” says Al Janahi. “[After that period], they can come and check if things are in place.

“I think these are great ideas and great initiatives,” he says.

 “It a shift on how we can help businesses [carry out their] work. Dubai has always been innovative when it comes to these things and I think the rest of the world will follow,” he adds.

Al Janahi also confirmed that the foundation is lobbying for new laws to help SMEs, however, they cannot be disclosed at the moment.

“While the laws and regulations are very friendly for SMEs…we are working with the rest of the government agencies… [to make the laws] friendlier,” he says.

Ninety five percent of Dubai’s economy is comprised of SMEs, a large number that accounts for an extremely healthy environment. However, Al Janahi believes that the market can do more to attract an even larger number.

“I think the education system needs to encourage people by training them, by giving them the option of thinking, of starting their own business, [rather than] working for other people. That is very important,” he says.

“I think that encourages more start-ups, more entrepreneurs and more SMEs. We should have — all of us, me and you —been engineered while we were in school to think of entrepreneurship before working for someone,” he adds.

Hope has been and still is on the horizon, as Al Janahi strongly believes that the shift is happening.

“It is slow, but it is happening,” he says.

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