Supporting Innovators: The UAE Chapter Of Entrepreneurs' Organization

We take a look into how the UAE Chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization supports its members and the country's enterprising youth.

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Bilal Shabandi, a student of Amity University, will be the UAE representative at the global finals of the Entrepreneurs' Organization's Global Student Entrepreneurs Awards (GSEA) in Cape Town, South Africa, in April this year.


Shabandi is the winner of the UAE national qualifying round for the GSEA which was recently hosted by Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s UAE chapter (EO UAE) at in5 in Dubai. Together with his co-founder Kevin Martin, Shabandri developed Arcab, an app which offers a mobility service that is focused on daily commute towards work or university, under the guidance of the team at the Amity's Incubation Centre.

The GSEA was founded at the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University in 1998, while Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) took on the leadership of the competition in 2006 to offer student entrepreneurs access to a global network of mentors and resources. Sima Haroun, GSEA chapter chair in the UAE, said that participants in the GSEA competition have traditionally been enterprising college or university students who are primarily responsible for a business that has been operational for at least six consecutive months. Last year, over 55 students from 55 countries participated in the final GSEA competition.

The UAE national qualifying round for the GSEA which was recently hosted by Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s UAE chapter (EO UAE) at In5. Source: EO UAE

This year, the UAE qualifying round saw the participation of six students from six colleges and universities while the judging panel consisted of the representatives of Entrepreneur Middle East, British Airways, Beehive, RAK Bank, and Subway. One of the judges, Gavin Basma-Kwas, Investment Director, Beehive, said, “When I was at university 18 years ago, we did not really talk about becoming an entrepreneur, but instead students were more focused on working for a company [upon graduation]. I wish I had had this opportunity back then. If you add into the mix that being an entrepreneur is almost looked down on in some cultures, and that parents want you to work for a big corporate, it is an even bigger step that these six young people have made. My advice would be to keep networking as it is critical, to keep applying for different awards and events, and to keep asking people for insight.”

Related: Putting The Middle East Back In The Middle (As The World Order Shifts East)

Regardless of the outcome in April, EO UAE will certainly prove as a fertile ground for Shabandri and Martin to learn and grow. It is a global, peer-to-peer network of more than 14,000 business owners with 193 chapters in 60 countries. Last November, the Entrepreneur Middle East team had a chance to attend UNMASK UAE, an event organized by the UAE Chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization hosting its members from around the world for two days of learning and networking in Dubai.

On the sidelines of the UNMASK UAE event, Carrie Santos, CEO, EO, told us that over the last 10 years, the organization has shifted from an association of North American entrepreneurs to a truly global network. Namely, EO functions as an organization of local chapters which enable members to make strong personal connections and, on that basis, substantially improve their businesses. Now, her goal is to expand that local connection to a global network.

This sentiment was echoed by Roy Raymond Nouhra, founder and CEO of Asis Boats, and co-CEO of Solico Group UAE, as well as the President of EO UAE chapter. “The major lesson I have learned from EO is that you are not alone, and that asking for advice can make your decisions much easier and efficient,” he said about the benefits of relying on a supportive EO network. “Basically, learning from mistakes and successes of others makes your life journey easier. Moreover, I have learned that you constantly have to evolve and adapt and that you need to stay up to date in order to grow in today’s markets.”

In order to keep this close-knit relationship among members, Santos explains, EO provides more customized membership options as opposed to a usual ‘one size fits all’ approach. “In my time leading EO, I have seen on multiple occasions that it is a strength and not a weakness to be authentic and vulnerable,” she said. “When I am speaking to EO members, whether one-on-one or in front of a large group, the main requirement is that I truly be myself, not a stuffy senior executive or a polished salesperson. I feel extremely lucky to work in an organization where authenticity is valued so highly.”

Looking to the future, Jason Sze, Group CEO for the A. J. Mason Group, and global chairman of the board for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, shared with us that EO has been looking very heavily into global and local trends in order to be able to meet its members’ future needs. “We feel that personalization and customization will be key areas in the future, and EO plans to continue delivering that to its members,” he said. “Also, as the world progresses forward with its engagement on social media, we believe that trust will be the new currency. Trust goes to the very core of our organization. It has been like that since we first started in 1987. The question with that is, when you have all these opportunities in the world, with so many choices, how can you trust one particular organization? So, we wanted to focus on that particular element for our organization moving forward, and therefore, we are in the process of developing some trust protocols to enable our members to continue having EO as their safe heaven and trusted platform. Therefore, EO will continue providing real, genuine human connection and that will continue being our main differentiator moving forward.”

With this being said, young entrepreneurs Shabandri and Martin seem to be in good hands.

Related: Business As A Catalyst For Change: Sir Bob Geldof, KBE

Tamara Pupic

Written By

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.