It’s not really hard to see why H.E. Sara Al Madani was conferred with the Ecosystem Influencer title at the 2016 Enterprise Agility Awards. After finding success as an entrepreneur with her fashion label, Rouge Couture, this enterprising woman was then selected by H.H. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassemi, Member of the UAE Federal Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to become a board member at Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In this role, Al Madani is not just inspiring and supporting other entrepreneurs in the UAE, but her mandate also sees her playing a key role in raising the profile of the Emirate of Sharjah, and thereby its economy as well.
This is essentially what is driving the recently launched shjSEEN initiative, which aims at strengthening “the culture of quality, organizational excellence and innovation in Sharjah.” While it is a fairly new branding exercise (it was launched only in February), Al Madani feels that shjSEEN has already made significant headway on its targets. “I believe shjSEEN is slowly changing the way people think of Sharjah- unfortunately, it has always been stereotyped for many different reasons,” she says. “People residing in this country are not aware of what this Emirate can offer, and this is exactly what we try to highlight– the hidden possessions and the true soul of Sharjah.”
With promoting business in Sharjah being a key element of the shjSEEN initiative, it should come as no surprise that encouraging new enterprises to set up in Sharjah is also one of the campaign’s major directives- and this has been realized with the launch of shjSEEN’s incubator program called The (W)hole. “We definitely want to focus on startups and young entrepreneurs by giving them the right ecosystem to start their business, and this is exactly why the incubation system has been put together,” Al Madani reveals.
“Prior to the launch of our incubator program, we travelled around the world for a year and two months, just studying different incubator systems. We took their success stories as well as their failures into consideration. All these case studies were analyzed, after which we put together the shjSeen incubator program called The (W)hole. This type of program has not been established regionally or internationally– the benefits we offer our participants have not been offered before. The (W)hole is an ongoing two-year program that prepares the incubated businesses and shows them how business is done in the real world. We also nurture, sustain and grow them to ensure they are heading in the right direction. Applicants are offered free offices, free licensing, free access to facilities in the Chamber, access to database, marketing, consultation, as well as the availability of accountants.”
The incubation program is just one aspect of shjSEEN though- Al Madani explains that as a brand identity, shjSEEN seeks to encompass three particular aspects of Sharjah: its economy, its lifestyle and its culture. “We want to show the existing lifestyle and culture of Sharjah, and how it has been preserved,” she says. “Our goal is to increase awareness on how this city is affordable, how easy it is to live here, and also promote the economy by showing that the Emirate is a very healthy place to start a business, or to have an existing business move or expand there. This is basically the objective of shjSEEN.”
IN FOCUS shjSEEN
There are three pillars on which the shjSEEN campaign is based on: Incubate, Activate, and Award.
Organizes bespoke inbound and outbound roadshow excursions to promote Sharjah’s business, cultural, and lifestyle opportunities. Inbound trips visit important commercial and cultural sites in Sharjah while outbound trips take Sharjah initiatives and achievements to the rest of the United Arab Emirates.
The incubate program (known as The (W)hole) provides ongoing assistance to startups throughout their first and second year of operation. Every year, the shjSEEN Incubate team selects startups from a MENA incubation program. ShjSEEN will help establish each startup’s operations in Sharjah by providing work spaces for founders. The incubation program runs for a 24-month cycle and covers operational costs such as office rent and licensing fees.
The annual shjSEEN Award, which recognizes outstanding business achievement, is the most exclusive business awards program in the Emirate of Sharjah. The five awards that will be presented are Sharjah Top 10 Businesses Award, Sharjah UAE Startup Award, Sharjah Entrepreneurs Award, Sharjah Green Award and Sharjah Social Responsibility.