UAE’s new start-up initiative, Arabian Business StartUp Academy Sharjah Series, launched

The Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC) launched the “Arabian Business StartUp Academy Sharjah Series”, the UAE’s new start-up initiative to help grow the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the event held at the Executive Office of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, UAE Chairperson of Nama Women Establishment, Founder and Patron of SBWC, guests spoke on “How to Overcome Funding Challenges for Start-ups and SMEs”,

Her Excellency Ameera BinKaram, chairperson of SBWC, stated that the mission is to facilitate the success of 250 women of Sharjah this year through entrepreneurship development. This, she added, was the thought process behind the setting up of the StartUp Academy Sharjah.

In his keynote speech, His Excellency 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.

The panel discussion featured – 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.

Moore of Beehive said: “It is important to get the right type of funding at the right time. We are used to speed. Time is critical for SMEs. Debt finance cannot take months. That is a challenge for banks and that has given birth to P2P platforms. I would say that we are a more efficient and effective [money] distribution platform.” Since the launch in November 2014, Beehive, the region’s first peer-to-peer (P2P) finance platform, has channelled over AED 35 million worth of finance to around 60 SMEs.

Dr. Fawaz was contemplating the idea of starting Dessert The Brand, a home-grown café 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.

In 2014 Freiha, who co-founded WOMENA, a Dubai-based women-only angel group said angel investors are more interested in the personality of an entrepreneur than banks. Ibrahim 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.

His Excellency Al Mansoori said: “We need to collaborate because the ecosystem is not only the government, but also the public sector, the private sector and academia. You cannot expect one organisation to do something on a standalone basis.”

Joy Ajlouny, co-founder of Fetchr, shared her views on securing start-up finance. Fetchr has revolutionized courier services in the region by offering a solution to parcel pickup and drop in a region where address systems can be difficult to navigate. Fetchr successfully raised $11 million in Series A funding from Silicon Valley-based New Enterprise Associates (NEA), the largest venture fund in the world.

Mudassir Sheikha, co-founder of another UAE-based success story – Careem, and Huda Al Lawati, partner and CIO at Abraaj Capital, Careem’s leading investor, shared views on securing finance in the region.

In November 2015 Careem secured investments from investors led by The Abraaj Group (Abraaj), Al Tayyar, STC Ventures, Beco Capital, Impulse, Lumia Capital and Wamda Capital. Al Lawati asked what is it that investors look for in entrepreneurs? She added: “Investors seek growth in their financial performance, while entrepreneurs seek growth through their passion. To establish equilibrium where both parties work together in harmony, entrepreneurs need to establish a sustainable infrastructure where investors can access to learn more about their business’s financial standing and market-value forecasts. Additionally, entrepreneurs would have to establish a strategy highlighting their business’s core competencies and the quality of demand they have created through their products or services.”