Sun shines on a go-getter
DUBAI // The signs that entrepreneurship and technology would play a big role in Sami Khoreibi's life appeared at an early age.
When he was only six he opened a lemonade stand. Several years later he built a remote-controlled feather duster.
Entrepreneurship runs in his family's blood. His father used to own a telecommunications company in Canada and his three siblings have all owned businesses.
The first big business concept he toyed with was the possibility of providing wireless internet to Dubai hotels.
In 2000, when he was a student of economics and psychology he considered the idea during a summer holiday away from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada.
Only four years later, he helped found a Toronto-based oil and gas business, Camdax Energy.
Now still only 30, Mr Khoreibi is president and chief executive of the Abu Dhabi solar technologies company, Enviromena Power Systems.
The inspiration for the business dates back to early 2007, when he was spending a lot of time in the region and learnt about Abu Dhabi's plans to launch Masdar, the clean energy company. Even though solar was a new concept for the region, he was inspired.
"I thought it was a great time to start something around the potential created by this initiative," he said.
In the early days he dubbed the venture "project shams", Arabic for sun.
Mr Khoreibi and friends - Erik Voldner, executive director, operations, Sander Trestain, executive director, technical, and Arpad Sebe, executive director, finance - decided to create a company that installed photovoltaic systems capable of capturing energy from the sun and turning it into electricity.
They had to learn on their feet, at a time when "solar" was a new concept in Abu Dhabi.
"We really gave ourselves a crash course … as to the real key success factors for a renewable industry to exist and companies within the sphere to flourish," he said.
In early 2007 the project won its first round of financing, worth US$5 million (Dh18.3m), from a British venture capital firm, Zouk Ventures. In August of that year, Mr Khoreibi and his partners moved to Abu Dhabi at what was then "the peak of the property crunch".
Besides finding an office, registering the company was also a challenge. The term solar integrator did not exist in the company classifications then available at the Department of Economic Development.
"When we registered the company, we had to create that designation on the trade licence," he said.
The young company did not have to wait long for its big break.
In August 2008, Enviromena Power Systems was awarded a contract to build a 10-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant to supply clean energy to Masdar City - the carbon neutral development being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
Back then, it was the biggest solar project not only in the UAE but the entire Gulf region. Winning that contract so early on turned out to be a breakthrough moment for the young business.
"We always thought it was going to start with some small rooftop installations," he said. "Less than a year before we were four people and an idea and then we were in charge of the largest solar project built in the region."
The project was completed on time in early 2009 and has been feeding the Abu Dhabi electricity grid with clean energy ever since.
"Two years later we are able to say the technology works in the region and it works very well," said Mr Khoreibi. The company has grown to 30 employees and is looking to expand further.
Mr Khoreibi is "energetic and upfront", said his friend and colleague, Mr Trestain.
"He is a strong public speaker, he is charismatic and he is very good with people," he said.
"We work very closely together on just about everything. A typical day at Enviromena would see two or three or all four of us working together for hours on end," he said.
"We are all friends three-and-a-half years after we started and this is a good sign."