The Life: Owners and executives of small to medium sized firms are increasingly coming under the spotlight of larger companies, which are hoping to grow their own business.
Small businesses on show
Potential car buyers browsed through Gargash Enterprises' Mercedes-Benz showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, inspecting shiny new models such as the C200 for Dh181,500 (US$49,413) and the GLK300 for Dh182,000.
But cars and four-wheel drive vehicles were not all that was displayed in the showroom that night. Dozens of executives from small to medium enterprises (SMEs) were also in the spotlight, milling about in the centre of the showroom during an after-work networking event known as SME Connect.
The gathering was first held last year, then went dormant and was revived last month after business owners took to the group's Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages to find experts to help them expand their companies.
"From this platform, we started seeing business opportunities," says Mohammed Tayem, the managing director of Entourage, a marketing and events company that organises SME Connect.
"Even if it's small business opportunities, at the end of the day it's a business opportunity," says Mr Tayem.
Entourage, as well as business partners that support SME Connect, plan to make the event a quarterly occasion. It is aimed at filling gaps for small businesses by linking contacts in areas such as information technology, marketing and banking.
At the same time, event sponsors have homed in on SMEs as a growing customer base for their own businesses.
Gargash, for instance, is focusing on selling some of its fleet vehicles to smaller businesses in the UAE that need to purchase a minimum of two cars, says Rajith Shankar, a business development manager at Gargash, which is the authorised distributor for Mercedes-Benz in Dubai. Reaching this customer group is also why Gargash donated the use of its showroom for SME Connect, says Mr Tayem.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (Adib), another partner behind the event, has been rolling out more products and services for SMEs. But an executive of the bank told SME owners that to access financing at the best rates during expansion, they should establish their ties with the bank from the start-up phase of their operations.
Adib highlighted some of its offerings, including a credit card for businesses, in brochures tucked into a goodie bag for attendees at SME Connect. RealHR, a recruitment consultancy in Dubai and another partner of the networking event, threw in vouchers for a free human resources audit to help businesses build "effective, efficient and engaging working environments".
Just before a leadership expert spoke to the group of SME executives, Abhijit Shahane, the manager for business development at the Jumeirah Lakes Towers free zone, noted that the "bulk" of the free zone's thousands of companies are SMEs. He also added that the free zone offers many packages and services tailored to this segment of the market.
But it was an Adib executive who got the warmest reception - through a bit of humour - during his speech. He noted that the bank is a "one-stop shop", with about 20 representatives mingling at SME Connect.
"They are always sitting and talking to each other," he said. "I told them 'go and mingle around'. They are sponsoring this event."