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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Meet the young Arab entrepreneurs paving the way for region's future

The Mohammed bin Rashid Awards for Young Business Leaders on Monday rewarded dozens of young entrepreneurs and SMEs for their work towards the region's development

UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, and Dubai Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, attend the Mohammed bin Rashid awards for Young Business Leaders in Dubai. Satish Kumar  /  The National
UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, and Dubai Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, attend the Mohammed bin Rashid awards for Young Business Leaders in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

The Mohammed bin Rashid Awards for Young Business Leaders, which took place in Dubai today, has rewarded young Arab entrepreneurs and SMEs for their hard work and for contributing to the region’s development.

Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council Dubai, presented the awards to young entrepreneurs across a number of different fields, including renewable energy, healthcare and construction.

One of the winners, chief executive of Future Group, Abrar Al-Masoud, created a TV show that sees other young aspiring entrepreneurs compete to come up with an idea that could contribute to the country’s development plan. She said: “Our initiative began in Kuwait four years ago to support young entrepreneurs under the umbrella of Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait.

“The idea is a co-operation between the government, private sector and NGOs to support young entrepreneurs. It’s a reality TV show, the first in the GCC, and the unique idea is the co-operation.”

Competitors in the show could win up to Dh6 million as well as mentoring from consultants and experts. This year’s season will be the first to include other Gulf countries. Ms Al-Masoud said: “We incubate [the competitors] from the start and we later integrate their projects in to the country’s plan.

“In Kuwait, we have lots of support for entrepreneurs, but it is [scattered] so we have put all the support, from start to finish and beyond, in one pool.”

Over the past four years, they have trained 770 entrepreneurs in Kuwait in more than 15 projects – mostly industrial – implemented in the country’s development. “The aim is to do this in the rest of the Gulf,” Ms Al-Masoud said. “The US State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Programme has also agreed to cooperate with us now and we’re targeting different sectors like healthcare and industry applications.”

Winners pose for the group photo after receiving a Mohammed bin Rashid Award for Young Business Leaders in Dubai. Satish Kumar  /  The National
Winners pose for the group photo after receiving a Mohammed bin Rashid Award for Young Business Leaders in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Abdullah Al-Saaidi, a 28-year-old Omani engineer and chief executive of Nafath Renewable Energy, was also among the winners. “We work on the design and maintenance of solar panels,” said the graduate from the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. “We established in 2012 when I was still an engineering student and today we have more than US$8 million in revenue. We grew quickly over the last three years and get lots of work around the GCC.”

He also plans to enter the UAE market thanks to the country’s focus on renewable energy and sustainability. “We’re trying to develop a solution to increase the efficiency of solar panels and develop a cheaper way to clean them,” he said. “We’re currently testing them in Oman, but we plan to expand around the Gulf in the future and start a manufacturing line for solar panels, because all GCC countries are focused on renewable energy.”

His passion started as a student when he developed a solar-charged electric car in 2011. “We succeeded, so I always wondered what the next step was,” Mr Al-Saaidi said. “We had oil and gas at the time, but nowadays we’re working at the right time because there is a need for [renewable energy]. It was difficult at first, especially when all my colleagues graduated and immediately got a job on oil fields with high salaries – everyone including my family tried to stop me. But now they’re very proud.”

Abdulla Jengan, an Emirati, is a second generation entrepreneur, having taken up his father’s trading business and moving it towards manufacturing. “We design, fabricate, assemble and test low-voltage diesel generator sets and sell them to different countries in the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “We design water pumping systems, too, that can be used to transfer water in buildings and pump water and wastewater inside commercial buildings like hospitals, villas and malls. The generator sets are a power back-up.”

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Mr Jengan’s father started the company in 1963. “He was one of the pioneering businessmen in Dubai who brought in diesel engines to power water pumps and power alternators to produce generator sets,” said the 47-year-old SME owner. “We’re trying to become manufacturers to shift away from traders. Large corporations rely on SMEs to support them because it’s uneconomical if only large corporations exist – SMEs play a big role in the economy to stabilise the prices.”

The number of SMEs in the UAE has been growing at a rapid pace: since 2016, there has been a 10 per cent growth and they comprise 95 per cent of businesses in the country.

Abdul Baset Al Janahi, chief executive of Dubai SME, one of the event’s organisers, said: “If you talk holistically about creating an eco-system, identifying companies, entrepreneurs and business leaders that started very small and are growing – people and the community should know about them.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to be identified by the media, public, their financiers and investors so they know there are people who are growing and doing very well.”

He said SMEs were vital for the country’s economy. “We’ve created the best environment in the region to attract, help and support start-ups and SMEs. This gives any economy a healthy standard.”