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Loulou Khazen Baz was crowned winner of the reality TV show The Entrepreneur last night. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National
Loulou Khazen Baz was crowned winner of the reality TV show The Entrepreneur last night. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National

Tweet turned out to be worth Dh1m for The Entrepreneur winner

Loulou Khazen Baz was crowned winner of The Entrepreneur last night for her start-up Nabbesh.com, having applied to be on the reality TV show after seeing a tweet from its sponsor.

It was the tweet that changed her life and bagged her Dh1 million in prize money to establish herself as a top entrepreneur in the region.

Loulou Khazen Baz was crowned winner of the reality TV show The Entrepreneur last night for her start-up Nabbesh.com, an online skills marketplace aimed at the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

"I saw the tweet from du [the show's sponsor] and followed the link. It was a four-page application process. I didn't even think about it, I just filled it in and said 'OK, let's wait and see'."

After the gruelling shortlisting process and four weeks of filming Ms Baz was finally announced the winner and awarded Dh1m (US$272,260) to develop her business idea.

Nabbesh is a website that helps to connect skilled individuals with those interested in hiring them either on a short-term or long-term basis. Users can list their skills and services while recruiters can post their requirements.

The website helps to connect them together using geo-location services.

Ms Baz was one of two women in the final 10. Her socially aware, digitally focused idea caught the attention of the four judges.

"I could see them nodding during my pitch. They loved it." After the show, two of the judges told her it was a fantastic concept and "they wanted to support me beyond the show".

The 31-year-old UAE resident of Lebanese descent funded the project herself which she began in August last year after leaving her job at a venture capitalist firm.

"I wanted to be part of something bigger and create something that had social benefit. I became very bored and demotivated. I had all this work experience but there was no channel to say these are my skills and I can do some consulting for a fee. There was no skills marketplace and so I decided to create one."

The numbers supported her quest. With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, the Middle East is in need of such a service.

"Labour force participation is 50 per cent in Mena compared with 65 per cent in the US. Among women it is 25 per cent in Mena, so there is a massive opportunity," said Ms Baz.

Since April the website has racked up 3,000 subscribers, with thousands more expected thanks to the exposure it has achieved on the show.

One of the biggest hurdles is to find the right talent. "We had a whole fiasco [in the beginning], trying to find the right people for the job. I am not from a technology background so it was very challenging," said Ms Baz.

The prize money will go towards building up her team and presence in the region. There are currently 10 employees, all recruited via Nabbesh.com.

"We need to grow the technology and marketing team if we want to make an impact and be regional."

She is also concentrating on social and digital media, marketing the brand and the idea through various networks. Nabbesh has signed up with Microsoft to create a Windows 8 app, but Ms Baz also plans to have an offline presence to reach out to those in remote areas or without internet access.

Currently the platform is available only in English, but plans are already under way to launch an Arabic version.

"It has the potential to change the lives of millions. The time of entrepreneurship is now. It has a role in creating jobs, improving the economy and politics," said Ms Baz.

thamid@thenational.ae

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