Besides their focus on niche groups of customers, a luxury pet hotel, an organic restaurant and a gourmet snack maker may seem to have little else in common.
But Cloud9, Slices and Popular Popcorn have each received funding from the Khalifa Fund For Enterprise Development, based in Abu Dhabi. The organisation supports about 100 new ventures each year that are owned by UAE nationals, with up to Dh3 million (US$816,771) in loans or a maximum of Dh10m in project investments.
"We're trying to create a culture of entrepreneurship," says Hussain Al Nowais, the chairman of the Khalifa Fund.
"Traditionally, the first thing that comes to mind [among] young nationals is being employed by a government organisation," he adds. "The government has a ceiling to how many people they can employ."
Since it launched nearly five years ago, the Khalifa Fund has provided almost Dh650m in financial support to about 365 projects. It has also expanded its presence in the UAE by opening additional branches in Abu Dhabi, as well as Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman, which support entrepreneurs from any emirate.
Here, Mr Al Nowais speaks to The Nationalabout how aspiring business owners can boost their odds of obtaining support through the Khalifa Fund.
Know your market
Conveying ambition is one of the most important traits to get across to Khalifa Fund representatives during a consultation about a new business idea. But even more important is selling the right idea.
Some applicants have come looking to start a brick factory, for example, because they believe the construction industry is still as hot as it was during the boom years. "Then you show this person that the demand has gone down; that there's an oversupply of bricks in this country," Mr Al Nowais says.
"They become sensitive and say, 'If others fail, I can succeed.' No, you can't, because the market has parameters."
Consider new growth areas
Entrepreneurs may have a better chance of getting the green light and access to a pool of Dh10m in funds, under a programme called Tasnea. "We help people establish medium and small [ventures] that try to use raw material coming out of major government-owned enterprises [such as] Emirates Steel and Emal [Emirates Aluminium]," Mr Al Nowais says.
"The idea here is to add value to products you're creating here," he says. "We train them and help them with marketing."
Fill skills gaps
The Khalifa Fund conducts what is known as a gap analysis. "We assess the skill-set of the individual - be it a woman or man, healthy or disabled, young or old," Mr Al Nowais says.
"We assess their passion, train them then develop [their idea] into a commercial business in cooperation with various entities."
Training comes in the form of one-month, tailor-made courses on topics such as how to run a business, and is provided through a partnership with the Higher Colleges of Technology. Additional education and insight is provided to aspiring business owners through an entrepreneurship support department as well as working professionals who act as volunteer mentors.
"We try very hard to take the best of the individuals and develop it," Mr Al Nowais says. "Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail."
Stick with the business
Some local entrepreneurs say their applications have been rejected for having business partners who are not Emirati, and for not wanting to locate their proposed venture within the UAE. Those entrepreneurs that have been approved for support from the Khalifa Fund are visited by monitors each month, who help check up on operations, challenges people are facing but also ensure UAE nationals are still the ones driving the business forward.
"Now, naturally they need help, so they could get expats here to help them with certain skills and expertise, which we support," says Mr Al Nowais.