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Working with Melltoo Marketplace, a Dubai-based mobile app for buying and selling used items in the UAE, I’ve started to learn a lot about entrepreneurship and the startup scene. Over the past couple of months, I’ve met a lot of young entrepreneurs with all kinds of startups and I’ve come to one very simple conclusion: true success cannot be achieved in isolation. Nowadays, more and more young Arab entrepreneurs are getting mentorship and financial support from the private and public sector.
That being said, these entities shouldn’t be the only ones that are supporting and promoting young Arab entrepreneurship. We all have a responsibility as a community to support Arab innovation by encouraging our home grown innovators. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a global village to raise an entrepreneur. What can we do as a community to support the young Arab entrepreneurs in our lives, who are trying to make it in the Dubai startup scene? Here are three things you can start doing today:
1. Be the first investor.
Unfortunately, most young innovators in the Arab world suffer a great lack of moral support from their communities in general. Having grown up in this part of the world, I am very familiar with the region’s response to new ideas. When it comes to unconventional business ideas or models, most young Arab entrepreneurs are faced with three possible reactions: either one of great suspicion or one of great skepticism, or sometimes even a combination of both.
Understandably, many families in the Arab world still have a hard time grasping how the Internet has revolutionized business, so they discourage young people from pursuing ‘unconventional’ career paths. What these families don’t realize is that ‘conventional’ doesn’t really pay the bills anymore. Consequently, many young Arab entrepreneurs have taken it upon themselves to dive into the ‘unconventional’ worlds of e-commerce and m-commerce to make a living.
While it may be difficult for many Arab families to accept such a career path in the beginning, it is our responsibility as a community to stand by the young pioneers of Arab innovation. So, the next time your friend, brother, sister, daughter, son, niece or nephew talks about starting a new venture with their friends, try to be the person who cheers them on, not the person that tears them down. Be their first emotional investor, because it is a ‘cheap investment’ with a very high ROI for our budding generation of Arab entrepreneurs.
2. Help cover the little expenses.
Anyone who lives in Dubai knows how expensive it can be, especially if you are a young entrepreneur. While it’s not possible for everyone to invest the kind of money needed to maintain a startup, almost anyone can help a young entrepreneur pay the daily expenses that they inevitably incur.
Here’s an example: networking is essential when it comes to pitching or getting your ideas out there. However, even the free networking events in Dubai aren’t really free, because entrepreneurs still need to drive there, which means that constantly have to spend money on filling their gas tanks, topping up on SALIK or recharging their RTA parking app. Alternatively, they might have to take a taxi or refill a NOL card- either way, moving around in Dubai can be quite expensive. So, the next time you’re taking your aspiring entrepreneur out to lunch, show them your support for their startup by offering to help them pay their travel expenses.
Another huge expense for young Arab entrepreneurs who commute to Dubai for work and work-related events is lodging. Unfortunately, most networking events in the UAE are held in Dubai and they are hosted at night, which means that entrepreneurs who don’t live in Dubai have to deal with endless rush-hour traffic and drowsy drives home. So, the next time an entrepreneurial friend has a conference or a meeting in Dubai, offer them your couch to crash. It doesn’t cost you anything and it will help your friend grow their startup and protect their savings. Ultimately, by helping young Arab entrepreneurs pay their daily expenses, we can help them alleviate some of their financial responsibilities, so they can spend more time and money investing in their startup.
3. Be a mentor whenever you can.
The biggest thing that young entrepreneurs lack when they start out is contacts. Luckily, Dubai is notorious for continuously hosting free networking events, workshops and conferences for aspiring entrepreneurs. Having said that, it can be very intimidating to attend these events alone, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the startup scene and its lingo. So, the next time a young entrepreneur you know expresses interest in attending a networking event in Dubai, offer to go with them so you can give them moral support.
In addition to that, make sure to coach these young entrepreneurs on the basics of networking etiquette. These etiquettes can include anything from what to wear at a networking event, how to appropriately greet someone or how to offer your business card to a new contact. When you’re mentoring your young entrepreneur, make sure to share your best practices when it comes to conducting research on events and their attendees. By sharing your strategies, entrepreneurs can start to develop their own networking strategies, which will ultimately give them more confidence.
That being said, you don’t have to take a young entrepreneur to a networking event to help them network. Introducing your aspiring young entrepreneurs to a relevant contact over a meal or a cup of coffee is yet another simple way that you can help them make valuable contacts. At the end of the day, it’s not about the quantity of contacts; it’s about the quality of contacts. By helping our young Arab entrepreneurs develop proper networking skills, we can ultimately help them expand their business networks to include people who can help them take their startup to the next level.