x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Small-business friend Shelter reopens in Dubai

The relaunched Shelter offers a haven for small and medium enterprises.

DUBAI // Free office space and training are being offered to small business owners after a popular creative forum has reopened.

It is hoped Shelter, which closed in February and reopened last month at a new location in Al Quoz, will play a more active role in promoting creative exchange among entrepreneurs.

Instead of asking people to rent desks at the venue, visitors can have a seat and use the internet free of charge. The only thing they have to pay for is the coffee.

And the owners, the Emirati twins Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib, have also hired a company to organise workshops and panel discussions aimed at helping small business owners.

A seminar on online businesses in the region was held two weeks ago and more than 100 people attended to exchange ideas.

"We've started putting educational programmes together," said Ahmed bin Shabib.

"We've shifted from the idea that we're just a space to a space that engages people with ideas."

The brothers have hired another small business, Bon Education, to organise the events.

Mary Ames, the associate manager of Bon Education, said a masterclass for would-be fashion designers would be held on October 27.

Representatives from leading fashion industry brands will be there to offer advice and look at designers' work.

"There's never any training for small businesses, so any opportunity that people have to come in and learn, they jump on it," Ms Ames said.

She said the challenge now was to attract people to come to Shelter in the daytime to use the free facilities.

"When we organise events in the evenings, we draw in a pretty great crowd," Ms Ames said.

"What we're working on now is drawing in a daytime crowd of at-home offices to transfer into here."

Mr bin Shabib said in January this year that Shelter was considering moving to Media City, which would enable tenants renting desk space to apply for a trade licence in the free zone.

But the plans were altered because of a change in focus of the business," he said.

"A lot of people already have trade licences," Mr bin Shabib said. "We're targeting people now who want to come to our environment to accelerate their ideas."

The brothers also decided to drop the idea of charging for workspace because they wanted a more dynamic environment where people could come and go, and not stay chained to their desk.

Shelter was designed by the Japanese architect Takeshi Maruyama and features a kind of shed made of recycled wood in the centre of the converted warehouse.

The warehouse is based in Al Serkal industrial area and while it is close to other art galleries, it can be difficult for a first-time visitor to find.

Only about 10 people visit each day, and only one or two stay there for long periods to work.

But Mr bin Shabib said that by extending an open invitation, he hoped the numbers could increase gradually.

"We've only been open a month," he said. "It will take us a year, I think, to get the momentum going."