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Ecosystem for start-ups is more developed now

posted on 04/04/2016: 2374 views

Team integration, forward planning financial forecasts and sustaining an ecosystem at work are among the key factors that attract investors towards aspiring SMEs and start-ups in Sharjah, said Ameera BinKaram, deputy chairperson of Nama and chairperson of the Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC).

SBWC launched the Start-Up Academy Sharjah Series to contribute to the enhancement of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

More than 100 entrepreneurs received personalised start-up services from industry experts and debated strategies to enhance their business performances.

Held under the theme 'How to overcome funding challenges for start-ups and SMEs', the SBWC and Start-Up Academy are partnering on this quarterly educational event for entrepreneurs. The first event was held on March 30. Subsequent sessions will be held in September and December.

"Entrepreneurship is the life blood of a nation's successful economy. As the Sharjah Business Women Council, we encourage women to step out of their boxes and take on challenges that are unique and unorthodox," said BinKaram.

250 SMEs identified

She added: "Our patron, Sheikha Jawahar bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the Supreme Council, UAE Chairperson of Nama Women Advancement Establishment and founder and patron of SBWC, has given us a mission this year to transform, empower and facilitate the success of 250 women in Sharjah through entrepreneurship development. This was the thought process behind setting up the Start-Up Academy Sharjah."

In his keynote speech, Ibrahim Al Mansoori, COO of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, spoke about the importance of innovation in entrepreneurship and highlighted how the two are intrinsically linked.

"Innovation is the primary driving force in the development of an SME ecosystem. Innovation gives birth to new ideas and creates more effective methods and processes, all of which contribute to meeting the needs of customers. Innovation and entrepreneurship are closely related. Innovation sees new products and services being developed, while entrepreneurship delivers them to customers," said Al Mansoori.

During the panel discussion that followed, the four panellists - Shayma Fawaz, founder and CEO of Gossip the Brand; Elissa Freiha, co-founder of Dubai-based women-only group Womena; Craig Moore, founder of Beehive, and Ibrahim Jaber, co-founder Venturefin - agreed that the ecosystem for start-ups is now more developed than before.

"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.

Since the launch in November 2014, Beehive, the region's first peer-to-peer (P2P) finance platform, has channelled over Dh35 million worth of finance to around 60 SMEs.

Funding challenges

Fawaz was contemplating the idea of starting Dessert The Brand, a home-grown cafe 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. "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. 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 investing in the region through an organised 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 funding."

However, 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 Dh1 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."

BinKaram pointed out that the 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 and funds. – Khaleej Times -


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