x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Conference that aims to nurture entrepreneurship

Small start-ups mingled with big-business chief executives at a conference that aims to nurture entrepreneurship.

Zaid Dkeidek pours Batatee5 watermelon juice during the Celebration of Entrepreneurship at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
Zaid Dkeidek pours Batatee5 watermelon juice during the Celebration of Entrepreneurship at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.

DUBAI // Neil Hegarty and Rukhsana Kausar have an unusual dream, especially for a desert climate.

They want to make water out of air.

They plan to use Australian technology to extract moisture from air, in a process that consumes less electricity than air conditioning units of the same size, before filtering and mineralising it.

They argue their Liquid of Life product will taste better than most bottled water - minus many brands' chlorine and salt.

Since launching last October in Dubai, the couple has been working on expansion plans with Barclays Bank and The Kanoo Group.

"Of course our dream is to have it in every home in the UAE," said Ms Kausar, 32, from the UK. "It's challenging to change people's minds about the way they drink water, but I really think this is the future."

Liquid of Life is among hundreds of small businesses from the region making the most of a two-day session devoted to fostering entrepreneurship in Dubai.

Yesterday and today the Celebration of Entrepreneurship 2010 at the Madinat Jumeirah hosted 160 speakers and almost 2,000 guests.

Chief executive officers of multinationals could be found next to the people behind the newest start-ups. In a bid to shake things up, all guests were asked to wear casual clothes.

"It's fantastic exposure," Mr Hegarty said. "The decision-makers are here today. These are the people difficult to get hold of on a normal day and so it is invaluable to us to be here."

Mr Hegarty was hopeful he could find investors who would take his air-to-water business to the next level.

The event was opened by Arif Naqvi, the chief executive of the event's funder, investment bank Abraaj Capital.

As well as offering lectures, workshops and discussion forums, Mr Naqvi also used the event to launch Wamda, a new website to serve as a support network for entrepreneurs across the region.

"Entrepreneurship defines the world we live in," he said. "It is about a spirit and an energy that comes from us. It is essential for us to foster those agents of change."

Rashid al Tunaiji, 30, from Ras al Khaimah, said he had undergone a lot of challenges in the last three years setting up his landscaping and general contracting business.

"For me there was no support from the Government, no financial advice, no medium for people like me to communicate on and no fair competition," he said.

"I was lucky because I had my father but not everyone is as fortunate as me. I believe if we all had the chance to develop we will all help our economy. All the small businesses make up the bigger picture."

The event attracted entrepreneurs from across the Mena region, including Mohammad Eideh and his partner Mahmoud al Hamawi from Jordan.

It was a year ago when they decided to launch Batatee5, with a simple business model that involved serving watermelon juice and ice to shoppers in their local souk in Amman.

The venture was an immediate success, and by the end of last summer they had served eight tonnes of watermelon to a growing customer base.

"When you open your own business it encourages you to believe in yourself," said Mr Eideh, 23. "It is more satisfying and because you are involved in the process at every step it teaches you patience. We dream that one day everyone will know Batatee5."

The event captured the spirit of enthusiasm and the need for role models that are essential when it comes to launching one's own business, said Tariq Alasiri, 35, from Saudi Arabia. In 2007, he set up the Arabic financial news portal Argaam.

"Four years ago when I said I wanted to set up online, people said I was crazy," he said. "I believe one day everyone will be talking about entrepreneurship."

aseaman@thenational.ae