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How a Ukrainian national defied odds to launch two businesses in pandemic

She wouldn’t let the pandemic stop her high-end balloon décor and events company, Balloonsiaga, from taking off and soaring to dizzying heights


Mazhar Farooqui

Published: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 8:54 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 8:55 PM

Bad timing. That’s what everybody told Natali Budzei as they tried to comfort her. The young lawyer-turned-entrepreneur from Ukraine had barely opened an event management company in Dubai when the world was hit by a pandemic.

Suddenly, everything from festivals and ceremonies to exhibitions and conferences were decimated. Worse, organising such events became a criminal offence. But 31-year-old Budzei was made of sterner stuff. She wouldn’t let the pandemic stop her high-end balloon décor and events company, Balloonsiaga, from taking off and soaring to dizzying heights. “I saw an opportunity in adversity. People were not going out during the pandemic, but they were still responsibly celebrating occasions like birthdays and anniversaries with their families. So I started sending sanitised, eco-friendly balloon décor to their homes, often in cabs,” she recalls.

“The response was amazing. People loved the idea and I was soon flooded with orders,” she says. As her clientele grew, so did her fame.

Today, Budzei is the go-to person for anyone looking for luxury balloon installations or bouquets in Dubai. Her stunning creations routinely adorn luxury destinations like Burj Al Arab, The Arts Club, Al Naseem, Palazzo Versace and Bvlgari and Address hotels. She is also sought-after by royals.

“For a company that is less than two years old, our success story is indeed remarkable. It’s what we do that sets us apart. A lot of thought goes behind each décor. Of course, there are no compromises on quality,” says Budzei, who uses only high-grade, biodegradable balloons, which she exports from the US, Mexico, Columbia, Italy, Ukraine and Spain.

“It’s quite a challenge to replenish our stocks because novel party balloons are always in short supply. The balloon business is booming worldwide and there aren’t that many manufacturers so I have to source them from multiple countries,” she explains.

Budzei, a graduate in international law, grew up in the city of Alchevsk in eastern Ukraine where her father headed the police division that handled organised crime while her mother taught at a local school.

In 2012, she came to Dubai and did her masters in business administration from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management. “I could have gone to London and New York but I had been to Dubai as a tourist earlier and developed an instant liking for this place,” she said.

Budzei started her entrepreneurial journey by starting an art advisory company with some friends before venturing into the events business.

“I was taught to become a self-learner by my family, so that was a huge advantage. After hanging up his boots, my father launched businesses in oil, petrochemicals and coal. No one taught him how to run them. He managed them on his own. Similarly, my mother established a primary school and nursery after retirement. You just need to back yourself in whatever you do and give it your best shot. I did just that,” says Budzei, who herself is also an accomplished pianist and recently got the UAE Golden Visa in the category of arts and culture.

Buoyed by the early success of Baloonsiaga, she went on to launch a company called Budzy that sells aesthetic yoga mats.

A yoga enthusiast herself, Budzei says the idea came during the lockdown while she was doing market research on the bestselling online products on Amazon.

“Yoga mats ranked among the top 10, so I decided to come up with a fashionable, eco-friendly mat that had better grip and was slightly bigger than regular ones. This is how Budzy was born. I started it with $10,000 (Dh37,630) and the name Budzy as it’s my family name and I want to keep its legacy alive,” she said.

The designs of the mats depict the planet and feature satellite photographs, marble prints and animal skin texture images. Since its launch, her company has sold over 800 yoga mats in the region. A portion of the proceeds goes to sponsoring the school run by her mum in Ukraine.

Budzei says she is planning to take her homegrown yoga brand international next year. “In these challenging times, we need to expand our vision and look for opportunities which never were there in ‘normal times’,” she adds.

She says since she couldn’t travel because of Covid-19 restrictions, she reached out to overseas factories, designers and manufacturers using messaging services and carried out the operations of her yoga mat business online.

“The experience changed my business outlook. Entrepreneurs today have access to a wider variety of tools and technologies than ever before. Social media, instant e-commerce solutions, and automated technology have enabled people to start a business in just a few clicks. People think launching a start-up in the pandemic could be challenging but I launched two of them and I did that on my own.”


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