x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Tomorrow's new start-ups are mired in today's red-tape

To succeed in their enterprises, the UAE's young entrepreneurs need a helping hand from the authorities, not more obstacles.

The word "entrepreneurship" has been spreading around the Arab world like wildfire, in large part due to the ever-increasing value, innovation and support that entrepreneurs bring to developing nations and their respective industries.

But more importantly, entrepreneurship is being given extra attention by leaders across the Arab world as an answer to the unemployment wave that the region still struggles to come to terms with.

Some Arab countries already suffer from double-digit unemployment figures. With job prospects low, many individuals are looking to their own devices, rather than private corporations or the government sector, to make ends meet.

These people are not, however, always getting the help they need. That goes for aspiring business leaders here in the United Arab Emirates.

There are two aspects to developing entrepreneurial industries - awareness and implementation. On one of these the UAE is doing quite well. But on the other, the UAE continues to suffer.

There are many separate initiatives working in parallel to promote entrepreneurship for the nation's youth. These awareness undertakings are vast and varied.

Shining examples of these initiatives on a government level include the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development and the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development's Akoun entrepreneurship awareness campaign, which is currently in its third year of operation.

These respective entities tour universities throughout the UAE hosting speaker sessions, workshops and competitions in hopes of pushing young people into the private sector by starting their own small to medium enterprises. Both government initiatives have been a success if judged by the amount of capital being disbursed to start-ups - measured in the billions of dirhams.

Even non-profits have started getting active. One, Injaz-UAE, partners with various business leaders and entrepreneurs to inspire people as early as high school to venture into the world of entrepreneurship through the learning and development of entrepreneurial best practices.

The list of awareness initiatives goes on; some might argue it's too much. But for the good of developing entrepreneurial spirit, these efforts are helpful.

And yet, such initiatives still leave young people asking: "What now?" This is where business programmes in the UAE have failed to deliver.

While fund-raising is among the most critical issues for entrepreneurs around the world, the problem here is not as acute. The implementation I'm talking about has to do with getting a business up and running, and navigating various elements of government bureaucracy such as the municipalities, authorities and legal entities.

For reasons that are difficult to understand, national and local agencies across the board seem stuck in a tangle of red-tape, preferring outdated procedures and processes rather than efficiencies. This slows down the start-up culture of the UAE.

There is a state of mind I put myself into when it comes to finalising paperwork in government-related entities that goes something like this: "I doubt I will get this finalised today, because I am sure there is a letter I didn't receive, a stamp I didn't get or a supporting letter I am just finding out about that I didn't bring."

For a lot of people this is a painful process, visiting the same office seven times a day to get a single step of the start-up process finalised. Compared to some of the top countries on the World Bank's ease of doing business index, the UAE is lower than it should be.

The process is one thing, but as important is the rationale behind each step of the process, which is why getting an answer like "I don't know" to a basic question or decision can be frustrating.

An entrepreneurial culture has to be holistic, a give and take between government and those putting their necks on the line to build a business.

And yet, there remain entities within local and federal government that make the process as hard as possible. Some of the entrepreneurial awareness taking place in educational institutions could be spread to those government entities to speed up business development.

New businesses benefit from smooth start-up processes, that allow entrepreneurs to focus on perfecting their products and services and not on wasting time getting tied up in the unnecessary bureaucracy.

The UAE's leadership has called on businesses, banks and government-related entities to promote entrepreneurship. But government has a role here, too. The nation owes it to those who take up the call to make the process as pain-free as possible.

Awareness campaigns and start-up initiatives on how to proceed are well advanced, but they are only half of what must be done to turn on and keep the UAE's entrepreneurial spirit burning.

 

Khalid Al Ameri is an associate at an Abu Dhabi development company