Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2018: Sharifa Al Barami, MD, Wadi Accelerator
As an active advocate for Oman’s tech entrepreneurship and small business ecosystem, it’s quite clear that Sharifa Al Barami, a businesswoman, mentor and consultant with an experience of over 16 years in public and private sectors, believes that the GCC nation has come a long way in the past two decades. “[In the past], entrepreneurship was an unknown term, and [Oman has come a long way] from the days of starting an Oman’s Entrepreneurs Network back in 2010 by a group of us using social media to meet up in coffee shops,” she remembers.
Recognizing the need to institutionalize the development of an entrepreneurship culture in the Sultanate, Al Barami is currently the Managing Director of Oman Technology Fund’s Wadi Accelerator, a US$15 million seed fund and accelerator program aimed at investing in Oman’s technology startups at the seed stage. She is also the co-founder and Non-Executive Partner of AlJazeera Global Services & Investments (AGSI), which offers consultancy services for small businesses and startups, among other offerings. And across her business journey, there’s one strategy that Al Barami has always held strong- that of never underestimating the power of technology. “I believe that having a constant pulse on latest technological advancements, coupled with an inquisitive approach to keep testing and experimenting with value proposition offerings, keeps any enterprise innovative,” she declares. “Customers and markets are a fluid space that also change, and hence SMEs and startups need to realize that these targets are moving targets.”
Her firm belief in keeping up with the times is what led to her involvement with Wadi Accelerator and its associated Oman Technology Fund, an investment vehicle created by Oman Investment Fund (Oman’s sovereign fund) to invest in startups and technology companies around the region. The fund’s mission, says Al Barami, is in line with her own objective of attracting technology companies to Oman and help build the country as a tech hub. “Governments and corporates are responding well to this entrepreneurial mindset within their own operations and as a way of survival; albeit slow, but in the right direction.”
As for a business hack that she personally lives by, Al Barami says her mantra is “done is better than perfect,” and, well, to have fun. “If we strive to be innovative, we must be able to roll out even before perfect readiness- at the heart of it there must be a thesis that accepts failure and mistakes as an important part of the learning and growth process,” she says. “Making sure that [you and your] people are having fun in the process is also integral to creativity; if you’re not having fun, you will not think out of the box, and you will not continue to innovate.”
Ask Al Barami her biggest learning in her career of 16 years, and she replies, “The most difficult lesson has to be the one that put my ego in check, the one that made me realize and accept that even in my own business, I am not the most informed, nor the one with the right answers. Humility is an undervalued entrepreneurial skill and asset, but a crucial one.”
Sharifa Al Barami on how MENA entrepreneurs can make it big
1. Focus on the customer and their needs- not on your assumptions of what they need “Too many entrepreneurs fall in love with their solution rather than the actual problem, and whether it even exists in a big enough market to justify a business.”
2. Fail fast, fail often “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail. Iterating is a growth skill, learn to accept it, and use it.”
3. Don’t get hung up on valuations “It really does not matter until you get to Series C+; before that, you are still growing, and your focus must be on the execution of growth. Growth executed well will attract its right valuation and more.
4. Foster relationships “Don’t ever underestimate the power of the network, and humility.”
5. Finally: have fun “Do enjoy the journey, and keep it alive by the fun aspect.”
Sindhu Hariharan is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is a financial consultant turned business journalist with a FOMO when it comes to everything technology.