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Young Emirati Entrepreneurs Develop Business Ideas For A Better Tomorrow At INJAZ UAE's 'National Company Program Competition' The top winners of this year's INJAZ UAE's 'National Company Program Competition' have impressed judges with compelling business ideas for a better tomorrow.

By Megha Merani

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The top winners of this year's INJAZ UAE's "National Company Program Competition' have impressed judges with compelling business ideas for a better tomorrow.

The 11th edition of the program saw 100 ambitious Emirati students from across the country come together virtually to compete for prestigious awards, including the most coveted "Company of the Year' title.

The winning pitches for "Company of the Year" included Sharara –a design management studio that matches large companies to up-and-coming product designers to create innovative, tailor-made solutions– developed by a team from the American University of Sharjah (AUS), and AYDI, a rewards-based platform connecting youth to volunteer opportunities, created by students from the Dubai National School.

"We are currently working on launching Sharara in the very near future," CEO Noor Eldegwy said in an interview after the competition. "We find an opportunity to launch despite the economic disruption COVID-19 has caused. We believe that innovative solutions are always relevant in benefiting the society and the economy."

Noor Eldegwy

The 22-year-old AUS student said that with governments and companies trying to fulfil their innovation requirements, the potential to receive innovative solutions has "not been met yet". Shararah, which is for students by students, will also provide an approachable platform that makes it possible for students to customize their entrepreneurship journey.

Meanwhile, AYDI's CEO Zied Mamoun Masarweh, 16, said that the idea was created when the team was brainstorming and realized that they have had difficulty finding volunteering opportunities and activities to participate in.

"AYDI's goal is to improve and develop the mindset regarding volunteering in the Middle East," the Dubai National School (Al Barsha) student said. "[Through this competition] we learned that business can have a positive social impact while also making a profit."

AYDI's points rewards system is designed to help to acquire, retain, and motivate users, he added.

Developed in 2009, the INJAZ Company Program aims to ignite the ambitions of the country's future aspiring business leaders. Designed with students at the core, the program provides students with the opportunity to showcase their creativity and innovation by learning how to startup their very own entrepreneurial companies. Classrooms are transformed to startups for 15 weeks and bespoke mentorship is offered to students from key experts within the business community. Students enrich their business skills by learning about the complexities of running a business, financial literacy and what it takes to be part of a team workforce.

Positive Impact

"We were lucky enough to be part of the INJAZ's Company Program, where we were able to learn and develop new and essential skill sets," Sharara's Eldegwy said. "The three most important things we learned are resilience, teamwork and leadership skills. Resilience helped us adopt a mindset that sustains the ability to test and reflect upon the different ways to create a seamless user experience for our service. As the CEO of Sharara, the Company Program has [also] introduced me to various ways of becoming a better leader. I was able to develop ways of delegating tasks with empathy, ease and efficiency."

In addition, she said, the team's mentor Ramzi Halaby –Middle East and North Africa representative of SVVI (Silicon Valley Venture & Innovation) and the co-founder of The Online Project– helped the team with other essential elements of starting a business incorporating essential such as finance, marketing and design.

Learning the importance of teamwork, Eldegwy added, helped her set a priority of "maintaining a healthy environment, where the team can adapt to any and all difficult circumstances such as COVID-19".

Echoing Eldegwy's appreciation for mentors, AYDI's Masarweh said he believes "mentors are essential for any developing entrepreneur" because they help look at many different perspectives.

Zied Mamoun Masarweh

"We were very lucky to have two outstanding volunteers from SAP, Ms. Diana Rutschmann and Mr. Mohammed Douglas," he said. "Without their mentorship, none of this would've been possible. I would say that the best piece of advice we got was that we need to be confident in our idea and in my opinion, I think that was what separated us from the field to win."

Masarweh added that he believes the competition has made a "huge positive impact" on the lives of students and proved the saying "no idea is too small". As CEO, he added, his biggest lesson was in how to connect with different personalities and be as efficient as a team can be.

"Success can never be easy, to win this competition, we had to put in double the amount of effort of any other team," he said.

The competition was hosted with key collaborative partners such as Dubai Chamber, Citi and ExxonMobil. Other awards on the day were presented for "CEO of the Year' was awarded to Hessa Sulaiman of MAAWA team, "Product of the Year' to My Counselor team and "Best Social Impact' for MAAWA team. The winners were selected by expert panel of judges including Elissar Farah Antonios, Chief Executive Officer – UAE and Cluster Head for Levant & Iraq, Citibank; Essa Alzaabi, Head of Dubai Startup Hub; Christian Lenoble, President, ExxonMobil Abu Dhabi; Benjamin Ampen, Managing Director for Twitter MENA and Bashar AlKadhi, Chief Executive Officer, Middle East, Turkey, India and Africa, Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

Taking innovation to new levels

The competition's chief judge Christian Lenoble said that he was impressed by the dedication and hard work put in by the students despite the change in circumstances due to the pandemic.

"It was an absolute pleasure to be Chief Judge for the competition and to have the ability to talk to the students about their companies," Lenoble, who is Lead Country Manager at ExxonMobil UAE, President, Exxon Al Khalij and President, ExxonMobil Abu Dhabi Offshore, said.

Christian Lenoble, Lead Country Manager, ExxonMobil UAE, President, Exxon Al Khalij
President, ExxonMobil Abu Dhabi Offshore

"Each one of them has taken innovation to new levels that will allow them to actively contribute to the knowledge-based economy. Entrepreneurship is an essential building block of any local economy, and a job multiplier. As the UAE's entrepreneurs, the youth of the country possess such great potential for the future of its economic progress. Their ideas will help create jobs and drive innovation going forward in the post-pandemic world."

Lenoble added that ExxonMobil works with organizations such as INJAZ UAE to ensure the company's efforts are tailored to address community and business needs such as education initiatives and economic development.

"Entrepreneurs are a rare breed," he added. "Having a great idea and having the tools and skills to make that idea a reality is a powerful package. INJAZ UAE is laying the groundwork for future innovations, and for ExxonMobil, that is an effort we are proud to support."

A Virtual Triumph

Razan Bashiti, Chief Executive Officer of INJAZ UAE, said executing this year's competition was a special feat amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Razan Bashiti, Chief Executive Officer of INJAZ UAE

"At the beginning we were really worried when schools closed and shortly after home schooling, the government announced closure till year end," she recalled. "The Company Program has been delivered for the past 10 years as a mentor–student in-classroom experience. The shift imposed due to the pandemic did get us worried at the beginning. We were worried about the quality of student ideas and were even afraid to lose them as we shifted the model of program delivery into virtual. But we had an inner belief in our students, academic institutions and committed mentors that we will make a success out of this program and I believe the conclusion of the virtual competition came as a testament that the virtual delivery of the program came at the same quality of delivery inside the classrooms."

She added: "At INJAZ UAE we strive to fuel the entrepreneurial spirits of the next generation [and] we are proud to continue to support students and show them the power of their potential. Through great initiatives such as these, we acknowledge and celebrate their success, even if it means doing so virtually this year."

INJAZ UAE is a member of Junior Achievement (JA) Worldwide, the world's largest non-profit business education organisation. To discover more about INJAZ UAE's Company Program or to apply to take part in next year's program, click here.

This article was originally published on Dubai Startup Hub and has been reposted on Entrepreneur Middle East based on a mutual agreement between the websites.

Related: Dubai Startup Hub's Emirati Development Program: 'My Startup Went From Idea Stage To A Platform W

Megha Merani

Independent Journalist

Megha Merani is an independent journalist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Her stories have made headlines across a number of publications including Reuters, Associated Press, Entrepreneur Middle EastBloomberg Middle East, Arabian Gulf Business Insight, Arabian Business, and former local daily 7DAYS.

Megha also produces editorial for government platforms including the World Government Summit and World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils. She has been a grant winner of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Global Initiative Against Organized Crime funded by the government of Norway to report on the online trade in illegal wildlife.

Megha is also an Associate Fellow (AFHEA) at Murdoch University in Dubai and leads its Digital Newsroom course unit. In addition, Megha serves as a United Nations Women mentor to support equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and supports various other programs including TIE Women, 60 Day Startups, and the Watt Inc. Business Incubator.

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