After the magazine she was working for shut last June, Claire Malcolm decided it was time to get back into the business world - only this time on her own.
Ms Malcolm recently joined 19 peers also planning to launch new businesses, or who have recently launched one, in a women's-only certificate programme at the University of Dubai focused on entrepreneurship and business-plan development.
"For me, it was perfect timing," says Ms Malcolm, who founded the consultancy Alpha Communications in October after originally moving to the UAE more than a decade ago. "I had gone from being in the corporate world for 20 years, more or less, to going out on my own. I had a business plan in mind, but to have that support of actually going into a structured educational environment - supported by lecturers with business backgrounds to reinforce what I thought I was doing right - was helpful," she says.
The University of Dubai first teamed up with Citibank's Citi Foundation in 2005 to foster entrepreneurial activity through both grant funding and an educational programme aimed exclusively at women who were starting a new business. To date, the programme has helped train more than 150 women and covers topics such as the screening of business ideas, cash-flow management and understanding an industry and its competition, as well as how consumers make purchasing decisions.
"Most of the funded programmes are only for UAE nationals, and the rest of the expatriate community is devoid of any support or mentoring," says Usha Kaul Saraf, the director of the Centre for Management and Professional Development at the University of Dubai. "But they have impact on the economy. That's the reason why [we] ensure the mandate will be [to help] all women across all nationalities."
Lynne Zarbhanelian says she joined the latest certificate cohort, which meets three times a week for two and a half months, in order to get help "setting up the correct business plan from the start". After running her first business for nine years, Ms Zarbhanelian recently became the managing director for learnpurple UAE, a talent management consultancy. She and Ms Malcolm agree the courses have been particularly helpful in establishing a financial plan for their businesses.
"Knowing how to develop a sound financial backbone - that's vital and something I do need," says Ms Malcolm.
But as the regional marketplace has evolved, so has the certificate programme, based largely on feedback from past graduates.
"Over the years we've ensured the hours and elements of mentoring and support provided has increased," says Ms Saraf.
This year, the support will be bolstered by an outside organisation that aims to provide one-on-one instead of just group-based mentoring, for three months. Women who show a commitment to their business plan and meet monthly milestones during these sessions will receive customised feedback on how to conduct research in their niche market, test the pricing of their products or roll out their plan if they run into unexpected obstacles.