The Entrepreneur Journey, the ultimate guide to navigating Abu Dhabi’s entrepreneurial landscape, was finally launched to much acclaim during Abu Dhabi Finance Week 2023. On this occasion, Victor Kiriakos, Founder and CEO of Dunes Ventures, moderated a panel discussion about entrepreneurship with fellow contributors Noor Shawwa, Managing Director of Endeavor UAE, and Ronaldo Mouchawar, Vice President of Amazon MENA, alongside sponsors Mouza Obaid Al Nasri, Executive Director SMEs Sector at ADDED, and Mohammed Wassim Khayata, CEO of Al Maryah Community Bank.
A Book by the Community for the Community
Since the addition of the SME sector to ADDED, Mouza Obaid Al Nasri has been at the forefront of the government’s support to the capital’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Aiming to make Abu Dhabi a hub for entrepreneurship, her unit focuses on ensuring financing and access to markets for SMEs, increasing their resilience by developing their capabilities, improving their business environment, advancing innovation, and creating entrepreneurship-centric policies. Talking about the guide’s genesis, she recalled, “We met [American publisher] Tim Dempsey who had released books about the entrepreneurship journey, from concept to IPO, in the US and the UK. Those books were uniquely localised, with contributors from the ecosystem. So, since one of our pillars is capability building and knowledge sharing, we decided to create one for Abu Dhabi […] We want to really capitalise on this knowledge and spread it as much as we can.”
It’s also to support the entrepreneurial community, among others, that Al Maryah Community Bank was launched in July 2021, and it’s why the bank supported the creation of The Entrepreneur Journey. As Mohammed Wassim Khayata explained, “As a community bank, it’s important for us to give guidance to anyone who wants to start a business in Abu Dhabi. I’m sure many people have ideas, but most of them don’t know how to start a business. This book sets the stage in two ways: how to set up your business and how to get debt. It has a lot of value because it ties up what we need, the ecosystem itself, the support of governmental institutions, and the support of banks like us.”
Time to Focus on Scaleups
Entrepreneurship has been thriving in the UAE in recent years, as Noor Shawwa explained. “Endeavor effectively takes the top 1% of entrepreneurs around the world; so, how do entrepreneurs in the UAE compare to other entrepreneurs elsewhere? They’re as good if not better than many others. We have Souq acquired by Amazon, Careem acquired by Uber, and a lot of other great success stories,” he said. However, Endeavor focuses specifically on high-impact entrepreneurs – founders who scale a business up significantly to achieve success. “What’s interesting about [high-impact] entrepreneurs, other than creating jobs, wealth, and success stories, is that once they achieved that success, [many of them] go on mentoring and investing in the next generation; and some of them start second businesses after an exit, or people that work with them start businesses,” he explained, adding that “If we really help these entrepreneurs succeed, we can make a fundamental impact on ecosystem.”
Ronaldo Mouchawar, who co-founded Souq.com, acquired by Amazon for $580 million in 2017, is in complete agreement but believes there’s a lot still to be done before this particular segment can fully blossom in the UAE. “That’s where I think the opportunity is today,” he said. “For the early-phase startups, the region is fertile and there’s a lot of support; but for high-impact entrepreneurs, we still have a long way to go in terms of growth capital […] All of us have to make sure that the capital is accessible to scale these companies.”
Learnings from Experts
Meanwhile, the multiplier effect has entered in action, said Shawwa who explained that “The whole concept behind Endeavor is having this multiple generation of entrepreneurs that can support each other […] Many entrepreneurs make the same mistakes over and over. A lot of that friction is removed by being able to access someone like Ronaldo [Mouchawar] who has been through it before. That is starting to happen in the region, which is very important.”
Mouchawar actually shared with the audience precious insights into one of the keys to his company’s success: having identified early on customer centricity as a core pillar. “We have a customer backwards philosophy. Whenever we’re launching an idea, we start by simply defining the customer experience, what the product does, what makes it meaningfully better than what is already out there. Then, we work backwards to build that product or create the service that is compelling enough for customers to take action and buy. That’s how many innovations across Amazon’s businesses have been created.”
Discussing his chapter in The Entrepreneur Journey about hiring and firing, Shawwa explained how important it is for entrepreneurs to deal with this delicate but strategic issue. “Access to talent is the number one obstacle for entrepreneurs scaling their business. The most successful entrepreneurs give talent the priority, making sure that they have the right people with the right responsibilities firing on all cylinders, the proper process as the business grows, and taking quick action when they have the wrong person in the role,” he said.
Closing the panel discussion, Mouza Obaid Al Nasri extended entrepreneurs a warm invitation to move to Abu Dhabi, reiterating that “We’re really committed to making Abu Dhabi a home for SMEs, to support their growth, and to be a supportive and dynamic ecosystem.”
Download The Entrepreneur's Journey here.