Leading UAE-based founders praised the nation’s startup ecosystem, the ease of access and support it provides to dreamers with big ideas of change during a panel session at the 5th edition of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival.
Hayat Al Hassan, founder of peer-to-peer car rental app Sweech; Ihsan Al-Hayek, Mena regional manager of banking API Dapi; and Maria Sohb, cofounder of sustainable solutions company, The Concept, led the conversation about the UAE’s world-class entrepreneurial landscape and its vision for the future in the context of the Golden Jubilee year.
Manar Al Hinai, journalist and co-founder of Sekka magazine, moderated the session ‘Charting a new course: Entrepreneurs as Changemakers’ and said the UAE offers best support to the young entrepreneurs.
“In business, as in life, the home is the biggest support system and for all of us entrepreneurs here, Sheraa has been our home; our lifeline guiding us through our entrepreneurial journeys,” she said.
The panelists pointed out that the UAE invests in the country’s youth, making their dreams come true in the ‘here and now’ instead of 10 – 15 years in future. They credited their successes to the Sheraa’s structured support system, the introductions provided to investors and corporations, being offered a real sense of encouragement during nascent stages, and the UAE’s forward-looking attitude in all sectors.
“With Sweech, I wanted to give every user the joyfulness of discovering the UAE on their own terms. I hope to be able to compete globally. This requires an innovative tech and product ecosystem, and the development of technical talents to build scaleable and reliable solutions, all of which the nation offers,” said Al Hassan.
Al-Hayek pointed out that the UAE can easily be the fintech hub of the world.
“Dapi is a homegrown application that filled a market gap integrating with multiple banks across different regions via a single connection, and enabling them to build a bridge between their applications and their users’ bank accounts to initiate secure payments. This is proof that we can navigate emerging challenges in the tech landscape and build solutions that can be applied locally and globally,” he said.
Sobh noted that sustainability is always at the heart of the UAE’s policies.
“With incubators like Sheraa, you see that nurturing is taken to the very core of venture building. Even students with business ideas are given the space and mentoring to do what they want to do, like I was. All this incredible support has been made so easily accessible for us in the UAE with the right entrepreneurship ecosystem,” she said.
Changing the world with an app
In another session, Calm meditation and sleep app co-founder Michael Acton Smith had a chat with UAE-based VentureSouq’s founding partner Sonia Weymuller on changing the world with an app and promoting the movement towards making mental health mainstream.
“When the idea came to us 10 years ago, we felt we could potentially build a Nike of the mind. There was so much scepticism about mental health being as important as physical fitness back then, and we struggled to raise money from anywhere – VCs to Silicon Valley – but what kept us going is our belief that we were going to change the world,” said Acton Smith.
The app grew from strength to strength, not losing its user base when subscription fee was raised to $40 a year, and winning Apple’s App of the Year in 2017 before finally reaching its current $2 billion valuation.
Acton Smith has three key lessons for entrepreneurs seeking to take the plunge. First, is the importance of timing, that is, not leaving a business idea for too late or even launching it ahead of its time; second, leaving the world happier or healthier through the product or service; and finally, having fun on the journey of entrepreneurship and learning from both its ups and downs.
Entrepreneurs encouraged to aim for the stars
Egyptian adventurers and athletes Omar Samra and Omar Nour offered a lot of inspiration and food for thought to current and future entrepreneurs, as they drew fascinating parallels between their transformational, life-changing experience rowing across the Atlantic Ocean to the journey of entrepreneurship.
Omar Samra, the first Egyptian to climb the Mount Everest, noted the beauty of life, and in entrepreneurship, lies in the highs and lows, but that is where uncertainly, loss and failure also resides.
“Your failure can be extremely public, but the key thing is to just start your journey, regardless of results,” he said.
His companion, Omar Nour, a renowned triathlete, who risked his life along with Omar Samra, when they embarked on a 3,000 nautical mile journey in December 2017 to cross the Atlantic on just a 7.5 metre x 2 metre light boat, with no outside assistance, said the entrepreneurs should have a faith in their ideas.
“Just as in a risky adventure, you need to take that leap of faith in your business journey without often having the requisite experience. We had no previous rowing experience before the Atlantic expedition. But what we did have was plenty of heart and the wish to raise awareness on the plight of refugees who flee on sea,” he said.
The adventurers advised that while creating the ingredients for success is not in the hands of entrepreneurs, creating the right environment to usher in the factors leading to success is entirely within their capacity.
“Not all variables can be anticipated or tackled with either, but if you can practice what is within your reach, the process will flow automatically if not smoothly,” said the duo.
Pauline Nguyen, business leader and author of The Way of the Spiritual Entrepreneur later spoke about realising one’s full potential in her talk ‘Why you need to awaken the spiritual entrepreneur in you’.