Business as usual; and in Dubai, this has come to mean big business, ambitious business and above all, entrepreneurial business. Entrepreneurial activity is erupting across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA), promising to revolutionize economies and reinvigorate communities. According to the MENA private equity association, venture capital deals tripled in the past 2 years; a strong indication of the growth of entrepreneurship in the region. The rapid and exponential growth has ushered in a new era of business, something which analysts have attributed to the global financial crisis, alongside an improvement of infrastructure and services for start-ups and entrepreneurs.
In November 2010, the Celebration of Entrepreneurship (CoE) event took place. For the first time in the Middle East over 1,500 thought leaders, inspiring entrepreneurs and creative minds came together for a unique gathering. In a landmark event, Abraaj Capital gathered a full ecosystem of entrepreneurs, innovators, business leaders, youth and artists to instigate a new phase of entrepreneurship in the region. CoE represented a milestone in Dubai’s entrepreneurial landscape, where more and more individuals were being encouraged to take that step
In a similar trend, TED, a non-profit “devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading” opened its doors to Dubai under TEDx, its independent chapter, in 2009 to bring under one umbrella the biggest, brightest and most innovative ideas worth spreading in the UAE under TEDxDubai.
During the first meeting, the Parham brothers behind Wild Peeta one of Dubai’s shawarma start-ups, discussed the birth and evolution of their fusion eatery. The founder of Freej, a popular animated series on Dubai Media Inco’s channels, has also spoken of his experiences of turning his love of animation into an entrepreneurial venture. Since its inaugural meeting, TEDxDubai has played an important role in nurturing and showcasing Dubai’s finest ideas worth spreading.
With entrepreneurship events, start-up weekends and even “tweet-ups” becoming the mainstay in the UAE, and particularly Dubai, it has become a little less daunting to turn “dream ideas” into a reality. Services such as those offered by the Department of Economic Development for start-ups and Small and Medium Enterprises, to organizations such as Sentinel Business Centres, which offer all-in-one start-up packages with everything from legal paperwork to office space taken care of, have made taking that courageous step forward a reality for many.
According to Prajit Arora, CEO, Sentinel Business Centres, “It is exciting to see so many ideas coming to fruition under our roof. At Sentinel, our role is to ease the paperwork load, ensure legality of the business and offer a home to business still getting on their feet.”
Dr. Tabassum Khan, CEO of Stratgurus Healthcare Marketing & Management Consultancies spent 23 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and 17 years in top management positions. The SME was launched in 2008, and the small team grew to a regional team of 17 within 3 years; with offices in the UK, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Malaysia.
Dr. Khan discussed the early stages of his business, “I decided I wanted to be on my own so I quit my job and took a risk, moving from France to UAE. There was an evident need for professional consultancy services in the domain of pharmaceuticals, especially in the Middle East, so I started Startgurus in Dubai to make the best use of my international experience.”
Like many of Dubai’s start-ups, Stratgurus was born of a market need. Dr. Khan elaborates, “The previous consultancies, if any, were primarily limited to regulatory work. We were the first ones to offer a complete package to the pharmaceutical industry covering a huge spectrum panning from strategic planning to strategic investments and market access. We also work on in and out licensing of developed and under development pharmaceutical products.”
Seeking a hassle-free set-up, Dr. Khan was referred by a friend to Sentinel. “I was new to Dubai and wanted a professional organization to set up my business. Having Sentinel as a sponsor saved me a lot of headache and also didn’t waste any of my time as everything was handled swiftly. Moreover, the serviced office facility offered the best in comfort and conveniences, letting us devote ourselves completely to the business. Since our launch three years ago we are still located there.”
Like many entrepreneurs in Dubai, Dr. Khan looks forward to a strategic and long stay in Dubai, “We are expanding internationally and are focusing more on the strategic side of business. Dubai is a hub and being located here allows us to tap other markets.”
For many, the lure of the Free Zone option is there. Touted as being the quicker and more affordable option, many companies have blindly opted to pursue this, with many unknowingly operating illegally. According to Mohammed Shael, CEO, Business Registration & Licensing Division, DED, in an interview on Dubai Eye 103.8, “Free Zone companies in Dubai must have a local Dubai branch or local distributor in order to sell goods or services in Dubai, otherwise this is considered illegal.”
“The problem is that a lot of expats do not do their research adequately, and rely too much on word of mouth to make important decisions such as selecting their trade licence option,” added Mr Shael.
Mr Arora elaborated, “Start-up hubs, such as ours, exist to eliminate a lot of the perceived hassle of obtaining a legitimate and appropriate trade licence, and do away with many of the worries faced by start-ups, such as obtaining office space, purchasing furniture and arranging for utilities. The community nature at Sentinel also allows for the exchange of ideas between like-minded individuals.”