For the UAE to retain its competitive edge in the GCC region, investors will need to look beyond investing in tech companies, experts said at the 2019 Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF),
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Eman Al Mahmoud, manager, Strategy & Partnerships at the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa), said that the entrepreneurship ecosystem has seen a lot of development, especially in the UAE. "There are a lot of numbers that we are really proud of, and which have come about as a result of the government's initiatives. For example, 80 per cent of all investment that takes place in the Middle East region takes place in the UAE. The government has put a lot of effort into establishing funds, incubators, accelerators, and the regulatory framework, in order to cultivate more entrepreneurs."
However, in terms of challenges, there is still a stereotype where only tech companies are seen as being good investments, she said. This is mainly due to the success of a lot e-commerce channels and apps in the region.
"What we need to do is ensure that we keep our competitive edge, and look at the research that is being done across our universities. The commercialisation of research at that level is still a big area that is neglected."
Al Mahmoud was also quick to point out that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be adopted when dealing with a fledgling business idea. "We need to ensure that we developing models that best fit with the ideas."
Another challenge that Sheraa is keen on tackling revolves around the barriers created by culture.
"More important than financial support, mentorship, coaching, and the availability of co-working spaces, are tackling the barriers created by a cultural mindset. To a certain extent, in this region, the culture still stigmatizes failure. We have a culture that is still risk-averse, and entrepreneurship, by its very nature, is seen as a risky business venture. There is an element of awareness that needs to take place, which is why we tell all our entrepreneurs to focus on what motivates them; to find out where their passions lie."
Held under the patronage of Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan al Qasimi, the 2019 Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival is organised by Sheraa, and brings together over 100 inspirational speakers, start-ups, and aspiring entrepreneurs.
"Sheraa's message to the ecosystems of the world is: shift the focus from reckless growth to a holistic understanding that combines economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Let's focus on building amazing businesses that give the power back to the community, providing them with jobs, dignity, independence and the true joy of a meaningful life, well-lived," said Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa.