5th annual Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival opens with insightful discussions on the nation's vision for the UAE's entrepreneurial ecosystem over the next 50 years
• Bodour Al Qasimi: We are paving the way for the next phase of local entrepreneurial growth.
• Dr. Ahmed Belhoul Al Falasi: Investments into the UAE have doubled in the past four years.
• Fadi Ghandour: The UAE's ecosystem is bubbling and changing the face of the economy.
• Najla Al Midfa: We are not a business incubator; we are a talent incubator.
• Magnus Olsson: The region has half-a-trillion-dollar opportunity to tap into.
Sharjah, November 22, 2021
The UAE's strong focus on innovation and the substantial opportunities open to aspiring founders at every stage of growth has cemented its status as a vibrant startup hub in the region, said experts at the 5th Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF 2021), organised by Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), which opened today (Monday) in Expo Centre Sharjah.
Lauding the entrepreneurial spirit of the UAE, these changemakers from different sectors asserted that 50 years down, entrepreneurship will serve as the infrastructure of UAE's post-oil economy, and hailed the nation's business environment that is attracting creative talents from around the world and supporting the growth of businesses seeking efficient solutions to pressing global challenges.
Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), said: “Having the required skills and confidence in one's abilities and a growth mindset are factors that form the basis of entrepreneurial success. Therefore, here in Sharjah, we seek to inspire the next generation of founders by spotlighting the unique challenges, journeys and stories of success of leading entrepreneurs from the UAE, the region and the world”.
“Entrepreneurship serves as a wellspring of sustainable and diversified economic growth. It champions innovation and celebrates new, path-breaking ideas that carry a promise of the kind of change that truly serves the needs and aspirations of one and all in our ever-changing societies. The SME sector is distinctive in the way it has been serving as a primary economic driver and trendsetter in society, especially in the UAE's, and here in Sharjah, we are paving the way for the next phase of local entrepreneurial growth,” Bodour Al Qasimi added.
‘Entrepreneurial spirit in the UAE is thriving'
Ahead of the UAE's golden jubilee in December this year, SEF 2021 opened with an insightful discussion on the role of entrepreneurship in securing the progress of the UAE for the next 50 years and beyond, at an engaging panel session titled, “50 Years of the UAE: The Growth of an Entrepreneurial Nation”.
Stating that the country is open for entrepreneurs across sectors and revealing that investments into the UAE have doubled in the past four years, HE Dr. Ahmed Belhoul Al Falasi, UAE Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said that the goal of the Ministry is “to create a platform for the ecosystem by the ecosystem.”
The focus is on changing the culture of entrepreneurship at an early age, he said, adding, “a big part of what we do is to bring students in schools and universities into the system to increase the funnel of founders in the region.”
“The Ministry has set an aspirational target of having 20 unicorns by 2031,” he added, “but our overarching goal is to work with entrepreneurs to help them overcome barriers and ensure their progression across different stages of the journey. We work to enable entrepreneurs make the transition from micro to small or small to medium enterprises to maximise their potential.”
Urging the youth to consider entrepreneurship and avail of the opportunities available in the UAE, he said: “At your age, failure is less of a barrier than it would be when you are 40 or 50. So, fail young, fail fast, and repeat.”
Fadi Ghandour, Executive Chairman of Wamda Capital and founder of Aramex, one of the leading logistics and transportation companies in the Middle East and South Asia, said: “Entrepreneurial ecosystems are about funding, government support, ease of doing business, open borders, and more – and the UAE's ecosystem is bubbling and changing the face of the economy.”
Describing how he had to “plough through during the 1980's when building Aramex”, Ghandour opined that in the UAE's post-oil economy, the right infrastructure has been established successfully. “The startups here are building the future of the country's next 50 years, but there are entrepreneurs in the government too – individuals who are challenging the status quo, looking at ways of doing things better. The existence of a Ministry of Entrepreneurship in the UAE testifies to this.”
Entrepreneurship is a mindset, further added Ghandour, emphasising the importance of having the right team and being patient when building a company. He also called on investors in the region to reinvest in the ecosystem to develop it further. “Recycling our energy and funding into the ecosystem is what makes the ecosystem grow and flourish. I urge national investors and especially family-run businesses to stop being conservative and reinvest their funds here. The UAE's ecosystem is thriving and happening – this is where you can make your money grow.”
Detailing the challenges of venturing into the startup field almost nine years ago, Magnus Olsson, co-founder of Careem – the Middle East's first unicorn, said that the basic entrepreneurial infrastructure in the UAE has improved so much that “entrepreneurs can now focus on the problem they are solving, and not have to build the rails underneath”.
“There is a shift in mindset and entrepreneurs are now seen as rockstars,” said the Careem founder, adding, “We call ourselves unicamels – as we are born of the desert!”
Olsson, who moved to the Middle East in 2006, said that when building a business, “Everything is about talent, and the region has absolutely no shortage of it. The startups here are taking on the challenges of solving local problems and very soon, the UAE will be the hub that finds solutions to address global challenges.”
He added: “There is the potential for every type of businesses to be built here – especially as the region moves online, creating half-a-trillion-dollar opportunity to tap into. The UAE has today become the preferred remote place to work and successfully kept its people safe from Covid, and by attracting new talent, limitless opportunities abound in this ecosystem.”
Alper Celen, Founder, Enhance Ventures, who moderated the session stressed that many founders chose to move to the UAE to set up new ventures because of the exceptional business environment and the opportunities for growth.
Sheraa – Nurturing the dreams of founders
Pointing out that in a world that is emerging from the pandemic, building businesses alone was not enough, Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa, reiterated Sheraa's goal to nurture the brilliance in every individual to enable them to pursue and fulfil their dreams and thrive.
“We are not a business incubator; we are a talent incubator,” said the Sheraa CEO in a keynote address at SEF 2021, emphasising the collective responsibility of the ecosystem to believe in the dreams and ideas of aspiring founders.
Calling Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival as the ‘home' where founders have the freedom to dream, Al Midfa hoped that at SEF 2021, entrepreneurs would find a “home for self-expression, transformation, and human connection.” She said: “In a world of doubters, let us be the first believers. As a community, we don't fail when a business ceases to exist. We fail when we stop believing in our entrepreneurs.”
The opening of the two-day event welcomed more than 4,000 young entrepreneurs and future founders, regional and global investors, thought leaders and innovators, who gathered to meet and network to drive meaningful impact and foster positive change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the UAE and the region.