x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Canadian University of Dubai runs Apprentice-style course for entrepreneurs

The Life: You're hired: a course/contest at the Canadian University of Dubai nurtures the entrepreneurial know-how of its students with a paid internship awaiting the winner.

Students pitch ideas at the Canadian University of Dubai, where enrolment in its entrepreneurship course was expanded to 80. Lee Hoagland / The National
Students pitch ideas at the Canadian University of Dubai, where enrolment in its entrepreneurship course was expanded to 80. Lee Hoagland / The National

Donald Trump and Sir Alan Sugar have underlined their business credentials through the popular TV show The Apprentice - denying callow youths a chance of untold riches with the emphatic "You're fired". Now the Canadian University of Dubai (CUD) aims to motivate its alumni with the help of the region's online business guru Saygin Yalcin.

The CUD's entrepreneurship course will not be so damning of its students' ideas but the culmination of the term is a pitch to prominent regional businessmen with a paid internship up for grabs with Mr Yalcin. As vice president of souk.com, the largest e-commerce site in the Arab world, and founder of the private shopping club sukar.com, he's certainly someone who will take some impressing.

Mr Yalcin is also one of the course lecturers and feels the challenge goes some way to creating an environment that fosters a can-do culture and a belief that business and entrepreneurship is not something that one is born with, but can be learnt.

"I am trying to awaken entrepreneurship and a lot of the students are entrepreneurial. I am just trying to show them how to make those dreams come alive," he says.

This is the first time CUD has run the course as part of a BA in communications to show the students their skills can be turned into business ventures. It was hoped that the course would attract 20 students but its enrolment had to be expanded to take 80.

Of those 80, a panel comprising Mr Yalcin, Tarek Yafi, Google industry manager for the Middle East, and Lothar Hohmann, president of The Precise Group, whittled their ideas down to a final five who then delivered business pitches to the panel in front of academic staff and students.

Of the five, some ideas were already up and running. Mohamed Ashraf Al Mamlouk, 19, from Egypt, opened a garage to boost the performance of VW cars, a passion of his, three months ago.

"I own a VW and I am in a members' club that race the cars," says Mr Al Mamlouk, who is already Dh70,000 in profit. "Because I am in the VW members' club I tell everyone I meet that I have this garage and it has paid dividends so far. I am not mechanically minded, I hired the people to actually carry out the modifications but I am in charge of the financing and the business.

"The course has taught me how to plan for a business. Even when buying stock I look at what is most reliable, regardless of cost; I want the best so that our customers get the best. Nothing makes me feel more proud than when I see one of our modified VW GTIs beating a Lamborghini or a Ferrari."

Franziska Apprich, assistant professor at CUD, also supports the notion that students can learn how to be entrepreneurs.

"We get people from industry; we talk about business plans, and financing but the most important thing we teach the students is don't be afraid to fail," she says. "If you look at all the world's leading entrepreneurs from Steve Jobs down they have all failed at something they tried to create but learnt from the experience and it made them stronger."

Just like all reality shows, the journey to the winner's rostrum was fraught with tension, passion and a pinch of emotion. But the panel decided that the student who will be starting a paid internship in the summer with a drive-in movie theatre idea was Mohammad Mahdi Shafiei, a 19-year-old Iranian.

Of his idea, Mr Shafiei says: "Dubai is famous for its cars. Whoever has the best car has the most eyes on them, and the drive-in theatre is an old-fashioned idea that can be revamped, especially if it's in a good venue. It is the perfect idea for Dubai as it fuses cars, driving, movies and youth."