Sana Bagersh started Tamakkan four years ago in Abu Dhabi to advise start-ups and entrepreneurs. It is staffed and administered by her advertising and marketing company BrandMoxie as well as volunteers. Ms Bagersh, a former journalist, is chief executive of the social enterprise.
Why did you start Tamakkan?
I started Tamakkan in July 2009 as a response to a real need. Up to then I used to spend a lot of time providing pro bono advice to start-ups and entrepreneurs. I gave guidance on subjects like how to get started, how to develop a business plan, how to develop a marketing plan, down to specifics like how to write a press release, how to select a shop location in a mall, and how to organise a focus group among others. I was astounded by what I perceived to be a high rate of failure among new businesses. Unlike many markets it was not usually because of lack of funding, or even lack of commitment. Rather, a lot of times it was because the entrepreneur passionately pursued his or her dream without having sufficient business knowledge to make it work.
What are Tamakkan’s activities?
Tamakkan has mostly focused on providing regular seminars on entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation areas. Sometimes we focus on nuts-and-bolts topics such as how to fund your business, how to market your goods, how to develop a distribution strategy, how to select staff, vendors and partners, and how to use technology. Sometimes our sessions focus on specific areas such as marketing, franchising, branding, merchandising and social media. Lately we have also emphasised women leadership and empowerment, and also youth entrepreneurship.
Please give us an example of a challenge one of your clients faced.
There was a woman who met with me after one of the sessions and expressed her frustration with the business manager who she believed was cheating her. I learnt that she was an engineer and she had a travel agency. It became apparent that she knew very little about the travel business so it was difficult for her to know whether or not her business was being managed well. This, by the way, is a classic problem in the UAE, where nationals maintain their jobs in government, but set up businesses on the side, for the purpose of deriving secondary incomes, and then they are unable to monitor their businesses well and in many cases do not know enough about the business to see the signs of impending failure. Sometimes they make the wrong business decisions, and in some cases get cheated by others. So my advice to those wanting to set up a business, whether it is solely for the purpose of generating income or to manage it themselves, is to know as much as they can about the business before setting it up. I often advise Emiratis to intern, or participate in long, even unpaid, apprenticeships, long enough to learn the ins and outs of a business before deciding to open a similar business themselves.
How often do you meet the entrepreneurs?
I realised that the initiative needed to be frequent – and so the idea was to hold it monthly or at least every two months – so that entrepreneurs could continually link up with people who could help guide them, and answer their pressing needs.
What kind of institutional support do you get?
When I sent up Tamakkan I needed space to hold our seminars, and Zayed University offered us space to meet. Soon I realised that while ZU was an excellent venue, I couldn’t easily attract many of the professors from other universities to participate. I approached Mamoura and presented them with our initiative. The sessions are held in the Mamoura building now. Among other entities supporting us are GE Capital, American Chamber of Commerce Abu Dhabi and JBI/Serco.
How many entrepreneurs have you trained so far through Tamakkan?
Our seminars are typically attended by about 100 to 120 people, and our database has grown over the years to around 17,000 contacts. Attendees register for those topics that appeal to them.