x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Original thinking a must for region's business future

Gulf start-up companies need to fill gaps in the Middle East market rather than "copy-cat" cloning successful businesses in the West, experts and entrepreneurs advise.

Gulf start-ups need to change a "copycat mentality" of trying to replicate successful businesses in the West, say experts and entrepreneurs.

Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) business leaders, speaking at a networking event for young entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi last week, stressed the need for new companies to build commercial entities that are uniquely Middle Eastern.

"The Arab world's priorities are not the same as Europe and North America," said Mohammed Johmani, the chief executive of O2 Network, a communications agency based in Dubai.

Young entrepreneurs should look for ideas that can become marketable success stories for the Middle East, Mr Johmani said.

The seminar, organised by the not-for-profit group Tamakkan, was hosted by Sana Bagersh, the chief executive of BrandMoxie, a marketing and advertising company based in Abu Dhabi.

She told the audience there tended to be an "infatuation" with importing ideas from overseas and that entrepreneurs needed to adapt for the "gaps in the economy" on a local level.

Tamakkan is an industry-led initiative designed to transfer knowledge and business insight to young entrepreneurs and innovators in the region.

Through Tamakkan, members of the business community engage in seminars to discuss specific topics and help entrepreneurs to network.

Mr Johmani, who also spoke at the event, set up O2 Network in 2005 with the aim of building a communications company to rival the international players dominating the Middle East. The company now operates from six locations in the Gulf with a team of more than 70 staff.

Dr Peter Heath, the chancellor of the American University in Sharjah, also believes more needs to be done to promote Arab enterprise.

"I think there's a mentality to take successful models from Europe and the US and say 'why don't we do something like that in the Middle East'?" he said.

"Rather than creating businesses like Facebook and Google, people should be analysing the market and looking to fill the current needs here."

Part of the problem, Dr Heath said, was that the local market did not have the necessary tools and easily accessible data to help entrepreneurs get started.

"At the moment, you need personal contacts or to be part of a family business," he said.

Dr Steffen Hertog, a lecturer on Gulf politics at the London School of Economics, said there was a widespread "copycat mentality" in the Middle East, where many start-ups, smaller and medium-sized companies, and investors, relied on existing business models that were often fairly low-tech, low-margin and built by foreign labour.