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Going The Distance: A Celebration Of Sheraa's Journey "We are a small, dedicated team on a mission to build high-impact startups, conquering each hill as it comes, no matter how long it takes."

By Najla Al-Midfa

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The Sheraa team.

A question that has been consistently asked of accelerators across the region is: where are the investible, high-impact startups?

With the launch of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa)'s three-year impact report, now feels like the perfect time to address this question, and mark how we have evolved in pursuit of the answer.

Today, Sheraa offers a full-stack entrepreneurship experience, from ideation through to growth, with over 160 ideas validated and 72 startups graduated from our programs since launching in 2016. These ventures have raised over US$37 million in investment, generated over $24 million in cumulative revenue, and created over 500 jobs.

Looking back to when Sheraa first launched, however, we had initially misjudged how easy it would be to develop successful startups. We optimistically believed that we would build an accelerator program, have entrepreneurs come in with their ideas, and in three months, they would graduate with startups that would go on to raise and impact millions. We quickly learned that this was a very simplistic -almost naive– way of looking at entrepreneurship and the ecosystem as a whole.

The fact is, the ecosystem in the UAE is still developing, and accelerators are not a panacea for this. It is not enough to create another program or build another co-working space, and expect startups to be produced automatically through cookie-cutter curriculums. Nor is it enough to provide business incentives such as subsidized licensing and pools of capital to attract successful ventures. We must also focus on cultivating a culture that embraces entrepreneurship, providing local talent with individualized support, and building an encouraging community of entrepreneurs.

That is what makes Sheraa different. At the heart of Sheraa's mission to develop Sharjah's entrepreneurship ecosystem are our founders.

In the three years between 2016 and 2018, Sheraa has dedicated over 2000 hours of mentorship to our entrepreneurs. We have conducted over 200 workshops, that focus not only on core business skills such as fundraising, growth hacking, and corporate governance, but also on personal skills for the founders themselves, with topics such as people management, leadership, and self-care.

Related: The MENA Startup Ecosystem Comes Together In Sharjah

But above everything else, the core of what we provide is the one of the most founder-friendly communities in the region. Our startups know that they will always have a home in Sheraa, and that no matter what, they will always be family.

This sense of camaraderie and continuous support, cultivated over the years, is what keeps our founders coming back, and what attracts new startups to Sheraa. Even the founders of the 20 Sheraa startups that are no longer active have each told us that they have either launched a new venture, or intend to return to entrepreneurship in the future.

There is no doubt that we have been on a tremendous growth trajectory. However, as the quote goes, "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

Take, for example, the 20 inactive startups. Through these founders' stories, we have learned how important access to early-stage capital can be. Indeed, it is the main reason for younger entrepreneurs ceasing their ventures as they often do not have the security, or the savings, provided by a full-time job.

Additionally, Sheraa's experience with our more advanced startups has showcased the need for greater access to the Sharjah market, as well as increased collaboration with corporate and government entities. Such partnerships, both local and global, will be essential to our growth and the continued success of our startups.

These learnings inform Sheraa's strategy for the future, with plans for additional offerings –be it investor education, or supplier matchmaking platforms– that will ensure a more founder-friendly ecosystem for our entrepreneurs.

We have yet to scratch the surface of our full potential, and we know that in order to succeed, we must be willing to play the long game. As is Sharjah's legacy with all other initiatives that the Emirate has committed to –whether it is in the arts, literature, or education– we strive for excellence.

Which is why Sheraa has always been more than just a PR exercise. We are a small, dedicated team on a mission to build high-impact startups, conquering each hill as it comes, no matter how long it takes.

Related: Boosting Potential: Sheraa Sharjah's Participants On What An Accelerator Experience Means For Your Startup

Najla Al-Midfa

Chief Executive Officer of Sheraa - Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center

 Najla Al-Midfa is the Chief Executive Officer of Sheraa -Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center, a government entity that aims to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and provide them with a launchpad for success.

She is also the founder of khayarat, a platform that enables young Emiratis to make informed career choices. In additon, Al Midfa is a member of the Board of Directors, and Risk Committee; Chairman of the Audit Committee at United Arab Bank; Vice-Chairman at Young Arab Leaders; a founding board member of Education for Employment UAE, and Women Corporate Directors GCC. 

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