By Cornelio Gomes
Cornelio Gomes, Career Development Centre coordinator at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, explores how universities across the region are helping young entrepreneurs to begin their business journey
Across the globe, young entrepreneurs fresh from university are creating groundbreaking products, revolutionary companies and entirely new industries. The UAE is no different and graduate start-ups have the potential to play a critical role in the country’s economy.
A thriving landscape
Recent figures from HSBC’s Expat Explorer 2015 survey suggests that despite volatile markets and instability across the region, the entrepreneurial landscape in the Middle East is thriving. Dubai has been chosen as the second best city globally for entrepreneurs, providing the ideal foundations for ambitious businessmen and women due to the great business conditions, world-class infrastructure and the work/life balance that the city offers.
Indeed, here at the University of Wollongong in Dubai we’re noticing an upward trend in the numbers of students looking to start their own businesses. In recent years, we’ve seen students develop successful start-ups encompassing everything from an online community and bazaar for mothers residing in the UAE, to a business that offers world class parking options for organisations, to creative digital and events agencies, app development businesses and professional development consultancies.
With innovative ideas, novel approaches and a passion for technology, it’s no wonder that these young entrepreneurs are changing the business landscape at a rapid rate. As many of the students who choose to follow an entrepreneurial path tell me, as an emerging market economy Dubai provides the perfect blank canvas in which to start their own business. Young entrepreneurs here excel in finding market-based solutions to social challenges, are adept in demonstrating lean and sustainable business models and are inspiring in their mission to align public and private stakeholders to form new kinds of partnerships.
Over the course of my career working at UOWD’s Career Development Centre I’ve honed my skill at spotting students early on who have an entrepreneurial streak – sometimes before they even realise they have one.
Quite often these are the students who get involved with a range of extra curricular activities, clubs and societies from early on in their university career and who dedicate a lot of time and energy to coming up with novel ideas to address different problems – whether that be how to raise money for charity, how to engage outside speakers with an event they want to run, or how to successfully market a student ball.
We also work closely with academic staff from the faculties of both business and engineering to spot students who have developed novel business ideas as part of their university projects.
Universities across the region have put a number of initiatives in place to support young people on their entrepreneurial journey.
Many organise regular events throughout the year, which give current students an opportunity to network with alumni who have gone on to set up their own businesses, giving them a unique opportunity to grow their ‘little black book’ of business contacts. We also run talks, industry panels, forums and conferences where start-up founders and established businesses inspire students with their own tales of success.
We’ve found that guest lectures also offer a great chance for students to connect with some of the world’s leading entrepreneurial experts and we also encourage students to take up internships wherever possible to gain an understanding of how successful businesses run.
University Career Development Centres throughout the region often offer one-on-one career counseling to students, and many universities’ marketing and PR teams provide support when it comes to getting word out about a students’ fledgling business or to encourage financial backing in the very early days of a start-up.
UOWD’s Student Services Department also runs a number of business and entrepreneurship focused clubs and societies, and inspire students to participate in business competitions and initiatives – of which there are many run by both the public and private sector in Dubai.
It’s our firm belief at UOWD that support for entrepreneurs shouldn’t stop after graduation. One of the biggest privileges we have at the Career Development Centre is witnessing students’ career journeys beyond their time at University.
Our alumni network is very active and regularly engages with its 8,000 members with events that give entrepreneurs a chance to network. We also offer business owners a chance to list their organisation on the University of Wollongong Business Directory and offer benefits, including discounts and rebates off their products or services, to other UOW alumni worldwide.