Team integration, forward-planning financial forecasts and sustaining a
collaborative environment at work are among the key factors that attract
investors towards start-ups and SMEs, stated Her Excellency Ameera BinKaram,
deputy chairperson of NAMA and chairperson of the Sharjah Business Women
Council, at the launch of the Arabian Business StartUp Academy Sharjah Series.
An exclusive launch event of the Arabian Business StartUp Academy
Sharjah Series was held last month at the Executive Office of Her Highness
Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, UAE
Chairperson of Nama Women Establishment, Founder and Patron of the Sharjah
Business Women Council (SBWC).
Held under the theme How to Overcome Funding Challenges for Start-ups
and SMEs, the SBWC and Arabian Business StartUp have partnered on this
quarterly educational event for entrepreneurs, organised under the patronage of
“Entrepreneurship is the life-blood of a nation’s successful economy,”
said HE BinKaram. “With its characteristics of innovation, determination,
ambition and perseverance, it is truly what drives a country to great heights
and help secure its healthy future.
“As the SBWC, we pay particularly attention to the art, science and
wonder that is entrepreneurship. We encourage women to step out of their boxes
and take on challenges that are unique and unorthodox.
“Our patron, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohamed Al Qasimi, wife
of the Ruler of Sharjah, UAE Chairperson of NAMA Women Advancement
Establishment and Founder and Patron of the SBWC, has given us a mission this
year to transform, empower and facilitate the success of 250 women of Sharjah
through entrepreneurship development.
“This was the thought process behind the setting up of the Arabian
Business StartUp Academy Sharjah Series.”
The keynote speech of the opening ceremony was delivered by His
Excellency Ibrahim Al Mansoori, COO of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise
Development, who spoke about the importance of innovation in entrepreneurship
and highlighted how the two were intrinsically linked.
“Innovation is the primary driving force in the development of an SME
ecosystem,” said HE Al Mansoori. “Innovation gives birth to new ideas and
creates more effective methods and processes, all of which contribute to
meeting the needs of customers.
“Innovation is essential to improving the quality of life, providing
better resources and enhancing the way we interact and communicate. Innovation
and entrepreneurship are closely related. Innovation sees new products and
services being developed, while entrepreneurship delivers them to customers.”
During the panel discussion that followed, the four panellists – Shayma
Fawaz, founder and CEO of Gossip the Brand; Elissa Freiha, co-founder of WOMENA;
Craig Moore, founder of Beehive; and Ibrahim Jaber, co-founder of Venturefin –
agreed that the ecosystem for start-ups was now more developed than
“There is now a desire, and an acceptance, and understanding [among
local investors] that the younger generations are founding tech,
knowledge-based businesses,” said Moore about an increasing support to
start-ups and SMEs in the UAE.
Since the launch in November 2014, Beehive, the region’s first
peer-to-peer (P2P) finance platform, has channeled over AED 35 million worth of
finance to around 60 SMEs.
“It is important to get the right type of funding at the right time,”
Moore advised the attendees. “We are used to speed. It is critical for banks to
learn how to serve SMEs. Time is critical for SMEs. Debt finance cannot take
months. That is a challenge for banks and that has given birth to P2P
platforms. I would say that we are a more efficient and effective [money]
Dr. Fawaz was contemplating the idea of starting Dessert The Brand, a
home-grown café with branches in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, from her college
days. She left her six-year-long career at Mubadala to start her business which
was supported by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development.
“For banks you have to have some kind of collateral,” Fawaz said about
the problems she encountered when seeking finance at the beginning. “But with
the Khalifa Fund, I didn’t need that. A lot of people are put off from starting
a business because of that.
“The second thing is interest rate. And also there is no grace period.
You know, start-ups take a while. With the Khalifa Fund I didn’t have to worry
for 1, 5 years about paying back my loan. I could focus on my business. “
In 2014 Freiha co-founded WOMENA, a Dubai-based women-only angel group,
to facilitate informed and streamlined investing in the region through an
organised and professionally-managed angel group. In her opinion, angel
investors are more interested in the personality of an entrepreneur than banks.
“Banks tend to be more corporate, they look at numbers and we look at the
person,” she said. “So add a human element to it, don’t just give them
However, Ibrahim Jaber, co-founder of Venturefin, a Dubai-based equity
and loan crowd investment platform, called for more understanding for the
banks’ hesitation to fund start-ups.
“Would you take some people’s money and give AED 1 million to a
three-month-old start-up?” Jaber said. “We don’t want another crash like 2008
to happen. So as much as we want to help these businesses, we need to
understand the reasoning of the banks here as well.”
When asked by Neil Wood, publishing director at ITP Publishing, who was
moderating the panel, what entrepreneurs themselves can do to increase their
chances to obtain finance, Freiha said: “Talk about your idea and don’t be
afraid that somebody will steal it. That mentality really fosters the
ecosystem. Don’t be shy about your business. There’s nothing more off-putting
than an entrepreneur lying or hiding something about his or her business. “
Jaber agreed and added: “People here are too scared, even paranoid to
talk about their idea. There is only one degree of separation from you and some
other entrepreneur. Why don’t you learn from each other?”
HE BinKaram spoke from the audience to point out that the Arabian
Business Sharjah Academy Series was initiated to push the boundaries and help
entrepreneurs connect to each other as well as to utilise the best use of the
current institutions, initiatives, funds, and similar.
On behalf of the Khalifa Fund, which has invested AED $1.4bn into local
businesses of which 60 percent are start-ups, His Excellency Al Mansoori added:
“We need to collaborate because the ecosystem is not only the government, but
also the public sector, the private sector and academia. You cannot expect one
organisation to do something on a standalone basis.”
After the panel discussion, Joy
Ajlouny, co-founder of Fetchr, the first Silicon Valley-funded app in the MENA
region, was invited to the stage to share her main learnings for securing
Fetchr app has revolutionised
courier services in the region by offering a solution to parcel delivery in a
region where address systems can be difficult to navigate. It relies on a
patented technology to schedule pickup and delivery using mobile phone GPS
Prior to Fetchr, Ajlouny had found
another successful business – her company Bonfaire, a Silicon Valley-based
e-commerce platform for luxury footwear, was bought by Conde Nast and LVMH.
“Raising money as not only a woman,
but anybody, is the hardest thing you can do,” Ajlouny said. “But there is no
magic about how to raise money.
“You have to have a solution when
you pitch to investors, but you have to have the passion. In Silicon Valley,
they ask you about your story. They invest in a person who has the drive and
passion to succeed.”
Fetchr is a first of its kind app
for the Middle East region, and also the first that has successfully raised $11
million in Series A funding from Silicon Valley-based New Enterprise Associates
(NEA), the largest venture fund in the world.
Speaking about her entrepreneurial
experience in the region, Ajlouny added: “Most of the difficulties I had [here]
were about how to deal with fear. It is very hard to start a company
“In Silicon Valley you need [only]
a garage and your mother’s WiFi whereas it is very expensive [here].
“But people come here with a dream.
So I think that it is good, but we can be better. The UAE should be the centre
for tech innovation in the Middle East.”
During the last session, Mudassir Sheikha, co-founder of Careem,
a UAE-based start-up success story, and Huda Al Lawati, partner and CIO at The
Abraaj Capital, Careem’s leading investor, shared their tips on securing
finance in the region.
“Entrepreneurs love problems,” said Sheikha. “You have to be looking for
problems and focusing on solving them. They [Uber] came with more money and
better technology, and the only thing that helped us was that we were solving
local problems. That has remained our DNA.
“Number two is to be quick and flexible. We were quite fascinated with
the concept of minimum viable product (MVP) at the beginning. So we gave
ourselves six weeks to develop our MVP and listed 10 features it should have.
“We launched it, and until this day we still haven’t built all 10
[features] because the market hasn’t been asking for them. But we have created
a culture of listening and adapting to the market. You have to be
“Now growth is our priority and our target is to grow 30 percent per
month. Each of our employees, not just the management, gets a notification
every 15 minutes about the current percentage of our growth. So we get reminded
about whether we are on track or not.
“When we are not growing six to seven percent per week, we quickly look
into all possible issues. Time is against you, so you need to be quick and
“The third thing is to hire awesome
people. Here it is a bit challenging to hire great people. Interestingly, top
talent can make more difference at a start-up than in a big company.”
In November 2015 Careem secured one
of the largest investments in the region’s emerging technology sector to date
from a pool of investors led by The Abraaj Group (Abraaj).
The Series C investment of $60 million, which has been used to drive
Careem’s growth into new markets, also included Al Tayyar, STC Ventures, Beco
Capital, Impulse (a subsidiary of Kuwait Investment Authority), Lumia Capital
and Wamda Capital.
“The fourth is to have a purpose, and, lastly, to get local allies,”
Sheikha added. “We have always preferred local investors and people at Abraaj
can give us insights into the local market.
“They [local investors] can be your ears and eyes on the ground.
“Also, when investors come on board, don’t be afraid of them, but make
sure to give them some work. There is a lot of willingness in this region to
help and support others. Don’t be shy to ask.”
Al Lawati added: “The most important question we need to address is what
do investors look for in entrepreneurs? What are the driving factors that
enable them to achieve the growth they look for?
“This is no science, the formula doesn’t exist. Investors seek growth in
their financial performance while entrepreneurs seek growth through their
“To establish equilibrium where both parties work together in harmony,
entrepreneurs need to establish a sustainable infrastructure which investors
can access to learn more about their businesses’ financial standing and
“Additionally, entrepreneurs need to develop a strategy highlighting
their businesses’ core competencies and the quality of demand they have created
through their products or services.”
SBWC and ITP Publishing Group’s Arabian Business StartUp magazine will
organise the next event on 30 May while the subsequent sessions will be held in
September and December.
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