When Zaina Kana'an moved to the Emirates from Montreal two years ago, she struggled to find a gallery that would exhibit her paintings.
So she decided to set up a website. Then her sister suggested she may as well open it up to any artists who wanted to sell their work.
"We started working on the business two years ago, but we are relatively new," says her sister and co-founder Rania, who is also the company's managing director.
The sisters, originally from the Palestinian Territories, launched ananasa.com three months ago.
It sells anything and everything made by artists in the region, from paintings to photographs, to accessories and furniture. It aims to expose Middle East art to the world.
"We ship all over the world. Our aim is to really get it to Asia and the West," says Rania, who lives in Dubai.
The sisters found artists through fairs, Facebook and contacts, and word quickly spread.
So far, the website features about 500 items by 155 artists, who come from countries including Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE.
"It is just amazing how much art and talent there is in the region that is not exposed. Some of them don't know how to market themselves, some of them don't want to deal with the hassle of logistics and shipping, that sort of thing," says Rania. "We take their headaches away so they can focus on doing their beautiful work."
They chose the name ananasa because of its meaning: ana means "me" in Arabic, while nas translates as "the people". "The whole point is that each artisan is for the people. They are creating these beautiful items so someone else will appreciate it and carry it forward," she says.
Artists are provided with space on the site top open an online store. In exchange, ananasa takes a commission on sales.
"[We have made] around five sales since October. But that is just with organic social media marketing. We still have to do our online marketing campaign so we are very optimistic about growing our numbers for 2012," says Rania.
Zaina recently gave up her job to concentrate on the venture full-time. But Rania still works.
"I really enjoy what I do on both fronts, whether it is my work or ananasa. I do work a lot and sleep very little, but right now is the best time of my life," says Rania.
However, the start-up was not without its challenges.
The sisters found it tricky to track down good web developers. And locating a secure payment portal was another issue altogether as online shopping is a relatively young concept in the Arab world.
"It is a very new market but people are kind of [reluctant] about using credit cards and even finding a payment gateway which is secure [was difficult as] there are really only a few providers," says Rania.
Just 6 per cent of internet users regularly shop online, according to a recent survey by the Dubai market research company Real Opinions.
But the sisters may have entered the market at just the right time. Shoppers in the region currently spend about US$1.1 billion (Dh4.03bn) on the internet, a figure that is expected to double to $2.2bn by 2016, according to research by Euromonitor.
"With anything you do there is a bumpy ride and you find obstacles, but the most important part is hanging in there, being persistent, being stubborn," Rania says.
"Eventually if you are driven and you really believe in something if you just hang in there just a little bit you will get there."