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Interning At A Corporate Or A Startup: Making The Most Of Contrasting Experiences Dubai-based entrepreneur Ahamed Jameel believes it's important to get out there and work not just at the big names, but also at startups.

By Megha Merani

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

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Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and the late Steve Jobs– just a few of the many incredibly successful people who started out their careers as interns, and turned their respective enterprises into some of the most valuable brands on the planet.

As if that isn't inspiration enough to sign up as an intern immediately, when dreaming of your own future business, Dubai-based entrepreneur Ahamed Jameel believes it's important to get out there and work not just at the big names, but also at startups. After all, working in a startup is as close as it gets to learning how to actually found and run one.

That's exactly what the 26-year-old technology enthusiast did before co-founding startup Uninand Technologies, which deals with "customer journey management solutions' using various technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain. Uninand is a registered startup with Dubai Startup Hub, and is in the process of applying to its Market Access program.

From working in sales and logistics at global giant Bosch's Dubai office, to conducting market research and generating leads for Singapore-based tech startup CusJo, Jameel insists the contrasting internship experiences played a major role in helping him found Uninand.

Dubai-based entrepreneur and Uninand co-founder Ahamed Jameel

"Every task I had worked on during my internships are quite valuable for my work today, including the technical skills, the network and the maturity required to understand people, processes and the environment," Jameel says. "Although I was given both amazing tasks as well as work that was not really of interest to me, I now realize the value of every task as I'm able to apply them to my work."

Big name corporate or newbie startup?

In the startup world, Jameel recalls: "I was required to be on my toes at every minute of the day. There was no fixed way of doing things, and I was expected to plan, present and execute my ideas in minimal time. The expectations from an intern were quite high and I had to independently handle important initiatives that required me to wear multiple hats."

But in a corporate setting, he says, "there was sufficient breathing space" due to the limited scope of work. "I had to mostly focus on a narrow area and I did not have much option to apply ideas as quickly as in a startup."

The key takeaways from the corporate world were the processes and systems in place, which are not necessarily established in startups, Jameel explains.

"My strategy has been to learn from the corporates and apply the same in a startup culture," he says, adding that as a co-founder he now works across various functions including business development, marketing, process improvement and recruitment.

Although the experience in both settings were invaluable, Jameel says he would "most definitely" opt for interning at a startup over a corporate because it allowed him to experience diverse aspects of a business in a relatively short span of time.

He explains: "As a young person I was able to evaluate my strengths, weaknesses and areas of interests due to the abundant access to information and people. This has presented me with great clarity over what I wanted to focus on in my career. The pace of change is quite tremendous in startups and I have inadvertently become very versatile as a person."

Internships in the UAE

Practically speaking, Jameel says, students should try their hand at working at a startup during their interning years because with minimal life responsibilities and nothing to lose, it's likely the least risky time in their careers. Moreover, the booming startup scene in Dubai and the wider Middle East region makes it the perfect time for students and graduates to become a part of the growing community.

"It is clearly a win-win situation as students and graduates need experience, while startups need good talent within their limited resources," he says.

However, Jameel believes companies in the region need to do more to market their internship opportunities.

"There are many of companies in UAE who have the provision to take interns, but the opportunities are not marketed well," he says. Calling the local intern hiring process "opaque and fragmented", he adds that more employers need to "step in the shoes of the student and provide a comforting environment" to make an internship work.

"My primary observation is the lack of information and awareness among both students and employers," he says. "Students are not aware of what is out in the market in terms of opportunities, companies and how to reach them. (And) Companies need to be educated about the academic system in the UAE including the academic calendar, the course of study and also the tremendous potential of grooming young talent."

While there are a handful of job matching services that cater to internships, Jameel does not believe they're sufficient to handle the volume of students and graduates, and the wide spectrum of companies. "Most of the internships I have undertaken have been self-initiated," he adds.

However, the human resources mindset is changing across companies, Jameel says. That, along with the growing presence of startups and easing government policies has given a boost to the landscape for interns.

He adds: "Singapore is an amazing example where the education system, government, corporates and startup circles work hand in hand to create a network effect and tremendous value for the entire workforce. I have personally benefited from this system and I believe Dubai is reaching to be on-par with Singapore. Ensuring a buzzing internship ecosystem would automatically attract more foreign students to local universities thereby augmenting the quality of locally available talent."

Intern's perspective

Intern Faraz Sarwar Chishti

21-year-old Faraz Sarwar Chishti, an intern at Uninand, is excited to be interning at a startup. The marketing graduate from the Canadian University Dubai says he believes this internship gives him an

"opportunity to gain valuable experience with a steep learning curve".

"The most valuable benefit has been the soft skills and getting out of my comfort zone in a fast paced environment," he adds.

Chishti says finding an internship as a fresh graduate in Dubai has been "quite challenging overall".

"While I was still a student, it was comparatively easy to find internships, but as a graduate there are other factors involved including experience and a bridge towards a long-term engagement with the company," he explains.

Intern Subheshree Jeevanandham

Also an intern with Uninand, Subheshree Jeevanandham, 21, a computer science and engineering graduate from Amity University in Dubai, says finding an internship in the UAE has been quite challenging over the past few years especially in a specialized area like software engineering.

It's why she's looking forward to hand-on experience in a versatile startup environment.

"Being an engineering student, I am well versed with theoretical concepts but not necessarily possess the skills needed to apply them in practice," she says. "Technology is developing at a rapid pace and bringing about positive changes in different industries. Through this internship, I hope to gain insight into the workflow, challenges and overall functioning of how a tech company works."

Having been an intern himself, Jameel says he is looking forward to both giving his interns the best possible learning opportunity, while also allocating them high-value work that generates business results.

"I am mindful about an intern's capabilities and ensure that they gain from the overall internship experience," he says. "I ensure to spend sufficient time giving them my feedback and having conversations with them about their work and their future goals to help them plan their career."

Meanwhile, Uninand is actively looking for more interns to work across its marketing, operations and software development roles. For those looking to apply, visit uninand.com to learn more or email hello@uninand.com.

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: What Do Interns and Entrepreneurs Have In Common?

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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