x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Emirati 'apprentices' battle for start-up cash

Eight young Emirati entrepreneurs are taking part in a UAE-based competition, vying to win Dh73,000 to launch their ventures.

ABU DHABI // Eight young Emirati entrepreneurs are on the verge of their most lucrative business venture, battling for a US$20,000 (Dh73,000) prize that will get their ideas off the ground. The eight are taking part in a UAE-based Apprentice-style competition that aims to encourage Arabs to get into the business world. They have spent nearly three weeks in Brazil, honing their business skills alongside 10 young Brazilians in various challenges.

Now they have taken that knowledge and crafted four business proposals - a coffee shop, a football centre, a fashion company and a youth hostel - to be submitted to the organisers. One winner will be selected for the final in the summer. The Brazilian training "reminded me of being on The Apprentice", said Noor al Suwaidi, one of only two women to take part. "On the first day, we walked into the classroom, they divided us into groups of four or five and gave us US$5 and 45 minutes to go and make some money.

"We didn't know each other or the country, so it was daunting and difficult. But we learnt to think on our feet and make the most of everything around us." Last year, a similar workshop took place in Jordan, featuring 10 Jordanians, 10 South Africans and five Argentinians. This year's winners will be pitted against last year's winners for the cash prize. The money will be used to execute a business idea.

Lina Hourani, from Al Ahli Holdings, which devised the programme called Global Business Opportunities (GBO), said the competition was tough. "They have to go through a series of interviews to be accepted onto the programme, and when they are in the workshops, they work very hard," he said. "The idea is to get them to work together on a global scale and eventually become successful entrepreneurs." The participants, aged 21 to 27, called the experience life changing.

"It was magical, there is no doubt it changed my life," said Ms al Suwaidi. "I learnt my own strengths and weaknesses and how to communicate. Even if this business doesn't work out, it was still an invaluable experience." Khalid Ali al Abdulla, 20, said he had reservations before he went to Brazil, but they dissolved as soon as he arrived. "I thought Brazil was all about football and beaches, so I wasn't sure how useful the programme would be," he said.

"But the people I met were very impressive and welcoming. It felt like I was meeting my second family." Mr al Abdulla said he was in daily contact with the Brazilian members of his team and their business plan was well developed. "We really want to win," he said. "It will be a great business if it goes ahead." @Email:aseaman@thenational.ae