Fahad Saeed Al Raqbani is director general of the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development. He also helps oversee the Akoun programme, which fosters entrepreneurship among university students, and talks about what's needed to increase the number of Emirati entrepreneurs in the capital.
What's your definition of an entrepreneur?
There are lots of definitions, but I think you can define an entrepreneur as a risk-taker. A person who likes challenges, has great ideas … and who's able to take uncertainty in addition to having passion about what he's about to embark on.
Why aren't there more Emirati entrepreneurs in the UAE?
I think part of it is cultural. A big portion of the students who end up in private business work for their family, and the kids just continue what their parents have been doing. Part of it will also be on the financial risk of the start-up. The reason Emiratis are shying away is because of risk from the unknown.
What kinds of skills do they need before they can launch a new venture of their own?
The entrepreneurs must understand how to put a business plan and feasibility plan together. It's not about "well, I have money and I'm going to go and set up a plastic factory". It's more than money. It's more about, first, how are you going to set up this factory? Where are you going to market these products? Who are your competitors? What is your break-even price? These are things we're trying to make students think of before starting a business.
Exactly how does the Akoun programme try to create entrepreneurs?
We have brought Emirati entrepreneurs to talk to students about their success stories because they speak the same language and can help the students or prepare them for not being afraid. That really helps. We also have specialists across all the universities in Abu Dhabi, [where] we have presentations and workshops. We had more than 1,000 attendees this year.
What's the biggest challenge in continuing this programme in the future?
Awareness is one thing, but I think one more thing is the fear factor here. The fear from failure is, I think, the challenge we want to overcome. You have some entrepreneurs who are going to start the business and then they're not successful the first time. Some of them say: "OK, that's it. I gave it a shot and it didn't work out, so why don't I find a job with a salary? No need for more headaches." This is what we're trying not to have.
So what are you trying to have?
We want them to think in a way, "I failed" - or "I wasn't successful this time, but maybe it wasn't the right business for me. Maybe I should try something else." This is the entrepreneurship mentality, and the successful entrepreneurs in history were the ones who kept going.