By Rooda Al Neama
Rooda Al Neama founder of Level 99 Lab, explains that by providing assistance to other small business local entrepreneurs can build a more supportive entrepreneurial environment for all
Anyone who has tried embarking on the entrepreneurial journey in the MENA region will tell you about all the really difficult things they went through. Writing up my MBA thesis on how entrepreneurs acquire resources in the UAE I realised the huge importance of local businesses in supporting each other.
In my own business I found that my best leads and long-term relationships were created out of supporting local talent. So if you are trying to start up a business, and trying to dig up missing information from outdated websites, or long queues in the Economic Department, look at these five ways how start-ups can support one another:
Share your resources
Sidiqa Sohail, founder of Spontiphoria Boutique and Café, a Dubai-based concept store, picks different themes across the year to bring the community together. In April, they launched the Small Businesses Month, where home-based female business owners showcased their products at Spontiphoria and attended networking events.
Spontiphoria not only gave home-business owners a platform to network and showcase their products, but also benefited from their networks and word-of-mouth to spread the word about the boutique. It is a win-win situation when both parties can benefit from each other’s expertise and networks.
Being passionate about the craft of your business means you are passionate about the ecosystem as a whole. This is something every entrepreneur should not forget when falling into the black hole of never-ending things to do when starting up.
One great example is Tamashee, a Dubai-based footwear brand, which showcases artists in its pop-up shops across the region.
This is a brand that truly stands for the art they are creating with their footwear brand while also supporting artists in sharing their own talents and experiences at their events. This is a great way to create brand advocates that see how the brand is all about nurturing the community.
At Level 99 Lab, the creative consultancy I founded, my team and I make sure that we highlight local talent first when it comes to clients’ proposals.
The norm may be to look at foreign talents, such as designers, app developers, and speakers, but we like to balance the budget and find exceptional local talent first whenever we can.
This is not only because it is easier, but because we truly believe in the talents we have in the region. It is also because they deserve the support from a local agency first before a global agency takes notice.
So, next time try to see if local talents can fill your need, or if there is a like-minded co-founder from across the road to start up your team.
Make impactful referrals
When you are just starting out, you need as many referrals as you can get. Your network is your source of everything from customers, suppliers, and advocates. The key is knowing who can make the right referrals and connections for your growth.
Iman Ben Chaibah, CEO of Sail Publishing, has grown Sail Magazine with its designers and writers from the referral of the writers and the advocates that supported her from the start.
Don’t underestimate the impact of a connection you make, it will return to you ten-fold when you need it. At the end of the day, you are building a reputation of yourself as a brand, and your communication and networking skills can help you stand out when you need help, and when people seek help.
Fill in the gaps
There is some information you just cannot seem to find anywhere. Such as how much extra office space you really need for your current team, where to get the space approval from, and which gas tank model you need for your restaurant to get its license.
Sure, they tell you to hunt some website, or to go to a certain counter at the Economic Department but you keep getting mixed messages, until you find someone who went through it!
Hearing about the whole process of starting up from someone else makes it real, somehow manageable, and understandable when you don’t have to go through 500 pages of policies and regulations. The information gaps on starting up can quickly be filled by those who had taken this treacherous path of getting all their papers in order, all you have to do is ask!
The whole experience of starting up is difficult to go through alone, and you need the expertise of those who did it before to avoid costly mistakes and bureaucratic pitfalls. Your network is much bigger than you may think, so seek referrals, ask the right questions, and find established start-ups that are more than willing to help support you and themselves in return. It is a win-win situation.
About Rooda Al Neama:
Rooda Al Neama is the founder of Level 99 Lab, a creative agency that works with organisations and youth forums to empower, appeal and educate their personnel through creative programmes, events and campaigns. She has an MBA in entrepreneurship in emerging markets, and is a certified coach that loves coaching youth and entrepreneurs. Al Neama is also a columnist at Sail Magazine.