ABU DHABI // For as far back as he can remember, Mohammed al Mazrouei's life has been connected with the date industry. Both his grandfather and his father had date farms in their hometown of Liwa in Al Gharbia, and he, too, has kept up the tradition.
But Mr al Mazrouei has also built on his family business, setting up the Liwa Centre for Dates Processing and Trading with the help of a Dh5 million (US$1.4m) loan from the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. Yesterday afternoon, Mr al Mazrouei's hard work was rewarded when he was honoured as one of the fund's success stories for 2009. He was among four Emirati entrepreneurs who received awards for their successful small and medium- sized businesses, at a ceremony attended by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.
"I started this company before I got the funding, but the money helped me to expand more and produce different types of products," Mr al Mazrouei said, standing at his stall, adorned with boxes of dates, as well as honey, vinegar and paste all made from the fruit. "All of my family have worked with these trees, and that's why I love this business. I tried to take my experience and develop it. Dates are like oil - you can make so many things from this one product."
The other winners included Naeema al Maysari for her photography business, Ghanim al Hajeri who runs a furniture company and Mohammed al Mehairbi, who won the green award for his environmental services business. For the fund's second-anniversary event, awards were handed out in four categories ? Khutwa, Bedaya, Zeyada and environmentally friendly projects. The fund offers three programmes: Zeyada, which provides up to Dh5m to existing businesses with growth plans; Bedaya, which gives up to Dh3m to business start-ups; and Khutwa, which helps projects with up to Dh250,000.
Hussain al Nowais, the fund's chairman, described the men and women starting and developing their own businesses as the "backbone of Abu Dhabi's economy". "Over the course of the past two years, the Khalifa Fund has provided funding and support to enable local citizens to make a contribution to the development of the national economy," he said during his address. "These businesses reflect the diverse range of budding enterprises in the UAE, focusing on agriculture, trade, production and sales."
Twenty recipients of Khalifa Fund loans showcased their projects at yesterday's event at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Sheikh Saif toured the venue, viewing businesses producing perfume, fresh juice, traditional handicrafts, among others. The Khalifa Fund was established in 2007 to foster entrepreneurship and help support small and medium-sized enterprises in the UAE. Last year the size of the fund was more than tripled, from Dh300m to Dh1bn, following a directive issued by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE.
Yesterday the fund also announced the launch of a new Dh100m direct investment fund to further support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises run by Emiratis. Since it was established, the fund has provided more than Dh320m in support of nearly 200 projects, including Abdullah al Dhaheri's Juice Palace, which was on display at a stall yesterday. "I love fresh juice; this is the first reason why I developed this idea," said Mr al Dhaheri, 27. "But I could never find fresh juice without extra sugar and flavours."
He now has two Juice Palace branches in Al Ain, with plans to expand to Abu Dhabi. In addition to financial support, the fund has provided training to more than 1,100 men and women, teaching business and financial skills. The training programmes include Al Radda, billed as a first in the UAE, set up to assist people in prison prepare for life when they are released through business-training programmes and, in some cases, funding.
Similarly, Ishraq has been developed by the fund and the National Rehabilitation Centre for recovering addicts as they work to reclaim their lives, providing them with business advice and support. Another joint project, developed with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, is Sougha, which works to support Emirati artisans and promote their entrepreneurial skills. Beneficiaries of this project include women who have developed handicraft businesses from their homes.