Much of the support for high-tech-centric entrepreneurs in the UAE in recent years has been aimed at those with new start-ups. But more established business founders who have created a high-impact venture, with hundreds if not thousands of employees and significant revenues, now have the opportunity to scale up to an even greater level through the help of an organisation called Endeavor.
That is, if they are one of the fortunate few to pass a rigorous selection process that typically takes about one year.
Out of the more than 37,000 entrepreneurs who have been screened globally by Endeavor since the organisation launched in 2007, only 844 have made the final cut.
Endeavor is a global network of business leaders that donates time to advise a select pool of entrepreneurs from emerging markets, including many that work within technological sectors such as e-commerce and medical devices.
In 2013, Endeavor expanded its presence in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) by assembling a board in the UAE that features the who’s who of the local business community. It includes executives from companies such as The Abraaj Group, Chalhoub Group, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, Apparel Group and Majid Al Futtaim, among others.
Some of these board members attended Endeavor’s annual gala in November in New York City, where Richard Branson was honoured by the organisation with an award for being the high-impact entrepreneur of the year.
“As a firm, The Abraaj Group, we’ve been involved with Endeavor across the entire region, seen the great work they were doing primarily in Latin America in the early days and said there’s a lot of entrepreneurship happening in the Arab world but the rest of the world doesn’t see it,” says Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, a partner at Abraaj in Dubai and board member at Endeavor’s office in the UAE.
“We want to highlight role models and felt that if [Endeavor] came here the impact would be substantial,” Mr Abdel-Wadood adds. “As a firm, we invest in entrepreneurs – perhaps at a much later stage – but you need to see that pipeline, you need to see that culture and we want to encourage cross-regional growth.”
Over the past 16 years, Endeavor has built a network of more than 2,700 business leaders who provide mentorship through fewer than 20 affiliate offices around the world, including seven now located within Mena.
The real debut for Endeavor in the UAE, local board members say, occurred in Dubai in December.
That is when the organisation’s international selection panel took place in the Emirates, for the first time, and where candidates from countries around the world showed that their business model, human resource practices and sales have the potential to create a significant number of jobs, generate substantial revenues and inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to do the same.
Michael Lahyani was one of just two sets of entrepreneurs who were selected from the UAE during this selection panel. His online real estate database, Propertyfinder, lists more than 80,000 commercial and residential properties by agents in the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt.
Three entrepreneurs behind the Dubai-based sports-network enabler, Duplays, also joined the local branch of Endeavor for coordinating tournaments and leagues for participants in more than 20 sports. Their venture has recently launched franchising technology that is already being deployed in Qatar, Jordan and India, but is looking to scale internationally as well.
Endeavor also announced in October and December that more than 50 additional high-impact entrepreneurs had survived its interview process over the previous year and had been selected to join the group, including some individuals from Mena.
The founders of Anghami, which sprung up in Lebanon, have produced a music-streaming application for mobile devices with songs in both English and Arabic.
Another digital service, Konutkredisi, became the first online brokerage platform to offer home and personal loans within Turkey.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the entrepreneurs behind TalentS developed hands-on, engaging methods for teaching subjects such as technology and engineering through robotics competitions, for example.
In the past, some of Endeavor’s inductees have gone on to help to relieve the growing unemployment problem many countries face within Mena, says Linda Rottenberg, the organisation’s co-founder and chief executive.
For instance, the founders of Pozitron, a business based in Turkey that creates mobile payment and banking technologies, noted in 2007 that an Endeavor mentor told them to “never delegate negotiation”. They later remained involved in contract negotiations with major clients and brokered partnerships that helped to boost their employee count by 70 per cent from 2011 to 2012, while their revenues increased by 77 per cent during that period.
Board members in the UAE hope to influence local entrepreneurs, including those in the technology sector, in a similar way.
Currently, Endeavor’s affiliate office in Jordan has among the biggest portfolios of tech-focused companies within Mena.
More than 60 per cent of the 11 businesses it helps work within this field. “While we keep trying to diversify our portfolio, it’s the most prominent and fastest-growing sector in Jordan, and it’s hard to disregard all the companies,” says Rasha Manna, Endeavor’s managing director in Amman.
Her office does not invest in companies directly, but rather, helps founding entrepreneurs develop their pitch and link up to some of the more than 50 successful business leaders connected to Endeavor in Jordan. It also hosts roadshows across Mena, as well as in California, to spotlight its network of high-impact entrepreneurs in front of deep-pocketed investors.
“We’re focused on established business models that have scaled in Jordan and are ready to scale outside of the country,” says Ms Manna.
One venture in Jordan, for instance, partnered with an established company in California’s Silicon Valley after Ms Manna’s office made the introduction and helped to foster the relationship. Now, the Jordanian start-up is going to be incubated there.
“We’re going to see a lot of tech entrepreneurs coming from our Middle East offices,” says Ms Manna.