By Neil King
New entrepreneur Tarek Al Emam explains how he moved from a corporate career to launch his start-up business, Freezmate
I meet Tarek Al Emam about a week after he became a full-time entrepreneur. And you can feel the excitement emanating from him.
Drawing an end to his high-flying career in banking and finance, the former American Express, Dubai First and Amlak Finance executive is now treading his own path as the founder of Freezmate – a pad that provides cool or warm temperatures during extreme weather conditions.
Ideal as a cool blanket for the beach, and with a large number of other uses, Al Emam came up with the idea for his product while taking some thinking-time under the sun, considering whether to continue in his financial career, or make a break and become an entrepreneur.
He explains: “I had a job offer, which would have meant relocating, so I took time to decide whether I wanted to remain in corporate life, or change and do something I always wanted to do.
“I went to the beach and wondered whether I should take the job or stay in Dubai. I put my towel in cold water to cool down, and it felt great. Immediately I got really interested in doing something like that, and lots of ideas came up, so I started working on it straight away.”
A series of trials, studies, and research strengthened Al Emam’s confidence that his idea of a cooling blanket would be popular in the region, given the hot temperatures and the myriad of uses the product could have.
But turning the idea into reality wasn’t necessarily straightforward.
He says: “When it came to manufacturing the product, I bought materials from all over the world – it had to be the best. I couldn’t go wrong once, or I would go wrong all the time.
“I had 26 failed attempts. I was going back and forth, but I had to keep going until I got the trick behind it.
“In the end we made a product that can be used everywhere, could keep people cool, could keep people warm, is practical and efficient, looks good, and has many uses. It’s colourful and bright, so it was the whole package.”
The result of his efforts was a pad filled with gel that can be frozen or heated to provide either hot or cold temperatures to the user.
After a few hours in the freezer, Freezmate can stay chilled for up to four hours in 40C heat, or eight hours during the night, while heating it in the microwave can produce a warming blanket that defies the heat.
As well as for use as a blanket on the beach, Al Emam explains a few other functions that are the tip of the Freezmate iceberg.
“The main two uses are probably the pool and beach,” he concedes.
“But there are lots of other things you can do. Most parking lots are outdoors and not covered, so when you get back inside your car it’s very hot. Some people will put tinted windows and covers, but the heat still comes in. Freezmate can go into a car, and release cool air so that when you come back there’s a cool feeling.
“Also, a lot of parents would like to take their children out for a walk but are concerned about the heat. You can put the blanket on the top of the stroller and the cool air will go down to keep the baby at a cool temperature.
“Some people would like to use it while sleeping – perhaps they like to sleep in cool temperatures while their partner prefers warm temperatures. And you can also use it for the backs of horses to cool them down rather than throwing water over their backs, or for their pets – dogs love to sit on cool surfaces.”
Currently available online at www.freezmate.com, and delivered across the GCC, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt through Aramex, Al Emam says there has already been a lot of interest in his product, and that he is only just getting started.
“There is one product at the moment, and there will be two new products in March and April that I’m very excited about,” he says.
Having taken the bold step out of the corporate world and into entrepreneurial waters, Al Emam offers a few words of advice to those also thinking about making a change.
He says: “I want to encourage people to push themselves and follow their dreams. Everybody who has an idea has to stop thinking about the idea and start doing it instead. They have to go the extra mile and make it a reality.
“It’s very difficult, but at the end of the day if you can sacrifice six months or one year of your life, your life could change. And at least you can say you tried, that you put yourself out there.
“Hopefully what I’m doing will be a motivation for other people who have relatively small ideas. Why wait for a big company to do it? The small ideas are still really important and can be really great businesses.”