By Tamara Pupic
Female entrepreneurs across the MENA region told to look beyond their fears at this year’s first Arabian Business StartUp Academy.
An unspoken agreement reached among the attendees of this year’s first Arabian Business StartUp Academy was that women entrepreneurs need to learn how to back themselves more and doubt themselves less.
Organised in partnership with AJSM Investments and Creative Zone, the Arabian Business StartUp Academy was held at The Address Dubai Mall on Monday.
The event welcomed Sarah Jones, founder of Mini Exchange, and Nina Curley, a proven supporter of regional entrepreneurs who is currently developing a number of programmes to help women in leadership overcome confidence gaps and manifest their visions over time, to the stage.
“In terms of personal growth, I work amazingly hard but also try to have a work-life balance,” says Sarah Jones, a British entrepreneur who founded a ‘go to’ online marketplace for everything mums and kids in the GCC region – Mini Exchange – in 2014. “Now that I have a great team around me and great managers who can own their different sections of the business, this is finally achievable.
“I think it is so important to make sure that you have that personal area of your life because, otherwise, work can be all-consuming. A great network or family and friends is key.”
Having grown the company to currently feature more than 35,000 products from 750 brands on the site, Jones shared with the attendees that Mini Exchange is set to launch a dedicated Saudi website on 1 April.
More importantly, she openly talked about both building and stumbling blocks she encountered during her entrepreneurial journey.
“Our company culture is amazing, and I’m very focused on trying to keep our start-up office “buzz” as the team and company grows,” she adds, answering how she has built a company culture that attracts talent and keeps up the growth momentum.
“We have employees who started with us when we had no annual leave policies or reporting structures which obviously is not sustainable as the business grows so it is an exciting shift to manage – growing and trying to maintain the fun and dynamic environment I was always so keen to create at Mini Exchange.”
After a short networking break, Curley led an engaging and interactive confidence building workshop – Closing the Confidence Gap: A Workshop on Expectation & Excellence – that saw the attendees, both male and female, working in small groups to openly discuss what tempers their ambitions and how to improve self-esteem.
“My message for women who are building a business or looking to build a business is that knowing yourself is the most important thing you can do as a creator,” explains Curley. ”Once you take the steps to understand what expectations and conditioning you have and let go of things that are not really your truest self, you have come to a place where everything you do is in line with your truest excitement and your deepest self.
“I believe that is the most important step that you can take by doing personal examination to build the best business or project or whatever you want to create.”
Following her role as the editor-in-chief of Wamda, the largest entrepreneurship news site in the Middle East, Curley was instrumental in setting up Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi, a UAE branch of the Egyptian digital start-up accelerator. She is also an original member of WAIN, a Dubai-based women’s angel investment network.Curley is supporting the growth of sustainable business in the region as the manager of Launchpad, a UAE-based platform that fosters the development and execution of impactful social enterprises and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
“The whole point of this kind of work is to know what your own definition of success is. If you launch a business and you are using somebody else’s definition of success, at some point you may find yourself miserable,” she adds. “I think that entrepreneurs have to know what the success is for them.”
From a 14-year-old girl who dreamt of becoming chief executive of eBay to one of the youngest recipients of the CEO Middle East’s Small Business CEO of the Year Award, Jones knows what is required to succeed in business. “My two main tips for anybody starting up a business are, one, hire a great team of inspiring people who are highly intelligent and capable in their own fields,” she says. “This will allow you to focus on growing the business. Without the whole Mini Exchange team we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today.
“And the second is not to expect an easy ride. The upsides of starting your own business are incredible and hugely rewarding, however it’s not all glossy and it’s not all glamorous. You do need to be very passionate and also tenacious because there are ups and there are downs. Sometimes you get to the stage where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then you suddenly see it. You have to work through these times and work unbelievably hard to get to the end goal.”
To conclude what proved to be an inspiring and thought provoking workshop, Curley invited the attendees to set a personal intention as a step towards greater self-confidence. “The biggest lesson [of the workshop] is that a lot of the expectations that women are facing are very universal,” Curley says.
“One woman was reading off her list of challenges and [the women at] the other table felt as she was reading from their paper.I think that every time a woman takes a step forward in the personal domain to challenge an expectation on her or challenge a certain type of conditioning, she really takes a step for all of us.”
The next Arabian Business StartUp Academy in Dubai will take place in May under the theme “How Emiratis Cultivate a Culture of Giving Back”.
To learn more about our future events, please contact Joanna Farrer, events and marketing manager at ITP, at firstname.lastname@example.org