Dubai, UAE, 7 March 2016: While entrepreneurship is still emerging in the Middle East, the quantity and quality of entrepreneurs is expanding rapidly compared to other regions, according to members of Young Presidents’ Organization, the premier network of global business leaders and chief executives holding their annual flagship conference, the EDGE, this month in Dubai.
"It's important to keep in mind that the region isn’t homogenous – each country and city has its unique histories, cultures, approaches to problem solving. But at the same time there is great history and language that binds the region as a large market – greater than India in GDP,” said YPO member, internet executive and venture investor Christopher Schroeder. “And the real story is the rise of the UAE as a magnet for great talent because of sophisticated infrastructure, opening rule of law, its position as a conduit of trade across the region, and hyper focus on innovation and technology. Things are happening there but well connected to what is happening in major cities across the region. Smart investors in region and from Silicon Valley are taking note."
Schroeder is also the author of the first book on tech-enabled entrepreneurship and innovation in the region, “Start-up Rising, The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East”, and has studied the expansion of entrepreneurship across growth markets over the five years. His research shows that startup gatherings at scale are happening across the region. Last December alone, nearly 5,000 entrepreneurs gathered in Cairo, and a day before another 5,000 in Beirut.
Hosting the summit in what is considered the largest shared workspace in the Arab world, The GrEEK Campus of the old American University of Cairo (AUC), was another YPO member, Ahmed Alfi, who spent 18 years as an investor in the U.S. before he returned to Cairo to create accelerator programs around the region, including Abu Dhabi and Beirut.
Alfi is a firm believer that the region holds a tremendous pool of talent, especially in the IT sector. “Egypt, and the region as a whole, lacks an older generation of entrepreneurs to guide and mentor start-ups. Our work is meant to build that support and culture. Entrepreneurship and startups are a major component of the solution to many problems we have in the region, and our role is to give young people the support they need to succeed.”
Citing “The Economist”, Shroeder highlights that the region is home to tens of thousands of tech-enabled startups, 25 percent of which are run by women. For Neveen El Tahri, one of Egypt’s leading women entrepreneurs and chairperson at Delta Shield and Delta Inspire, the key challenge was overcoming perceptions of gender: “I think the very first – maybe only real – challenge was being taken as seriously as my male competitors. I really had to work twice as hard to win a bid or a client. But once won, the service was equal and often exceeded expectations. A good track record and word of mouth flies high in the world of business.” El Tahri emphasizes the importance of mentorship and women role models. “Winning the respect of many women who look up to me as the ‘mother of the industry’ and come to me for advice is personal achievement.”
The spirit of entrepreneurialism and mentorship is not restricted to the IT sector. Peer mentoring among YPO MENA entrepreneurs is growing exponentially, with engaged business leaders sharing failures and learning from peers without hesitation. For Basel Bin Jabr, CEO of an investment office in Saudi Arabia who has pursued his passion for fragrance, the entrepreneurial journey has not been without its challenges. As founder and artistic director of Thameen perfume, Bin Jabr openly talks about the difficulties of retailing his luxury brand in Europe. “Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t always an easy journey. Most entrepreneurs only mention the good side of the story. Not many have the courage to bring up the challenges they faced while establishing a business from scratch.”
The London-based company, inspired by Bin Jabr’s father’s love of traditional rose oils, is now sold in selected high-end outlets in London with plans to expand to other European capitals. “The key to success is to pursue a passion, spend ample amount of time to conduct research and once that is in place, the innovation and creativity follows.”
YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Lifelong Learning and Idea Exchange™. Founded in 1950, YPO today provides 23,000 peers and their families in 130 countries with access to unique experiences, extraordinary educational resources, access to alliances with leading institutions, and participation in specialized networks to support their business, community and personal leadership. Altogether, YPO member-run companies employ more than 15 million people around the world and generate US$6 trillion in annual revenues. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.