x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Three women learn 'to be' entrepreneurs

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for less than 20 per cent of Abu Dhabi's economy

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for less than 20 per cent of Abu Dhabi's economy, well below the average in developed countries of between 60 and 70 per cent. The Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development (ADCED) plans to change that with its Akoun campaign to promote entrepreneurs, which named the winners of its first business plan competition yesterday. Akoun, which means "to be" in Arabic, awarded Dh10,000 (US$2,722) to three Emirati women from Abu Dhabi City, Al Ain and Al Gharbia.

Their business plans were for a catering service that sells organic salads to schoolchildren; a traditional UAE coffee shop that could be franchised; and a tourism business that would offer accommodation resembling Emirati homes rather than hotels. "We need to inspire local Emiratis to turn to entrepreneurship," said Fahad al Raqbani, the deputy director general of ADCED, which means "to be" in Arabic and was launched last year.

Officials hope programmes such as Akoun will encourage young Emiratis to think beyond the public sector for work. Boosting start-ups is a keystone of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 plan. The Khalifa Fund to Support and Develop Small and Medium Enterprises will provide further training to the students as they seek to refine business plans and seek funding from investors. "I would like to have my shops be like Starbucks," said Hanaa Jaafar al Moosawi of Abu Dhabi, whose plans are to build a more indigenous coffee shop chain.

Dubai is also home to a variety of programmes aimed at boosting entrepreneurship. One of the oldest, the First Steps Programme at Dubai internet City, has programmes designed to support start-ups. They include a lecture series by entrepreneurs sharing their experiences, and DemoCamp where tech entrepreneurs who can pitch their ideas to an audience of angel investors and venture capitalists. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development estimates there are about 80,000 SMEs in Dubai. Last December, the development foundation announced definitions of what makes a business "micro", "small" and "medium" based on the number of employees, annual turnover and industry classifications.

As part of the Akoun campaign, ADCED held 12 workshops hosting 1,000 students since last November at universities in Abu Dhabi. Of about 40 submissions, three students were awarded money and further mentoring, while nine others will receive guidance. ashah@thenational.ae