Mouza Obaid Al Nasri, Acting CEO of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, speaks with us about everything SMEs, and how the Khalifa Fund continues to support these enterprises in the UAE.
When the Khalifa Fund set out to first support entrepreneurs in 2007, what was the SME landscape in Abu Dhabi like? Fast-forward to 2021, how would you describe this same landscape today?
Khalifa Fund was established in 2007 to fill a gap in the market, with a mandate to provide support services to the many ambitious entrepreneurs in the Abu Dhabi who needed assistance navigating the SME landscape. We’re proud to report that we have successfully filled that gap and now work alongside and support a diverse range of entrepreneurs, from micro to small and medium-sized businesses.
We’ve seen tremendous growth in both the number of small and medium enterprises as well as the industries they represent; this has resulted in a greater contribution to the national economy of the UAE through these innovative and hardworking entrepreneurs.
We’re honoured to play an active role in the growth and development of this landscape, and will continue to provide valuable means of support for entrepreneurs.
What gaps is the Khalifa Fund filling to support SME growth?
In brief, the Khalifa Fund provides a wide range of support services including capacity building and training, counselling and project funding. However, I would like to provide a recent example of how Khalifa Fund identified opportunities to support entrepreneurs from the offset for the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which dramatically altered the business landscape.
Khalifa Fund was determined from the beginning of the pandemic to equip entrepreneurs with the right tools to overcome new market challenges with minimal losses. This was achieved through programmes and initiatives that supported entrepreneurs in their digital transformation journeys.
For example, e-Empower was launched in partnership with Amazon in September 2020, an ongoing education and developmental initiative that has continued to grow and bring on-board other leading e-commerce partners including noon.com and Akshaak. This initiative offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to expand their e-commerce offering, and further develop their businesses in the digital sphere.
Have you identified any consistent business / entrepreneurial pain points or challenges among Emirati entrepreneurs over the years? How do you help them overcome those?
The innovative entrepreneurs we continually support are always interested in staying up-to-date on the latest industry trends and advances with the SME ecosystem. We’re able to support these entrepreneurs consistently through our capacity-building training programmes and one-on-one counselling sessions; both of which are frequently revised and updated according to international best practices. Additionally, Khalifa Fund has a very ambitious and proactive stakeholder engagement strategy which allows us to engage leading partners who provide additional support through the development and implementation of progressive programmes and initiatives for entrepreneurs and SMEs.
We have seen a notable increase in female entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi and the overall region. What, in your opinion, are the greatest obstacles for these individuals?
The exponential growth of female entrepreneurs is one of the greatest achievements of the Khalifa Fund. We’re honoured to have played a part in supporting the growth of participation in the private sector amongst females. We are forecasting additional growth among females, as we’ve seen increased awareness about opportunities for female entrepreneurs and SMEs. The barriers to entry have been lowered, enabling those that would not have previously considered starting their own business the ability to receive support from Khalifa Fund.
One such example I would like to draw your attention to is the ‘Empowering Female Entrepreneurs’ initiative which was launched on Emirati Women’s Day in August 2020. The initiative was developed in partnership with Al Bayt Mitwahid Association and the Social Care & Minors Affairs Foundation. Through the initiative, a group of upcoming female entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi received comprehensive mentorship and participated in training workshops over four months; with the winning entrepreneurs receiving a share of the AED 250,000 funding grant provided by Al Bayt Mitwahid Association.
In which industries/sectors have local SMEs exhibited the most promising growth, and in which are they struggling?
The dramatic shift in the business landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges for entrepreneurs and SMEs, but it also allowed for significant opportunities. It goes without saying, businesses that were primarily focused on tourism, nurseries, and hospitality services were most hard hit. However, we saw significant growth in the e-commerce sphere. This allowed for tech-focused business to grow as well as retail businesses that were able to adapt and implement a digital transformation strategy to take advantage of the increased use of e-commerce shopping amongst consumers.
Over the years, you have developed many tools. You recently unveiled the "AI Mentor" platform; and are now launching the "Abu Dhabi SME Hub" to support Emirati entrepreneurs. What kind of actionable change would you like to see coming from these initiatives?
One of the primary objectives of Khalifa Fund is to provide support services to entrepreneurs and SMEs that are current, relevant and strongly rooted in international best practices. Part of achieving this objective is to meet entrepreneurs and SMEs where they are and support them in their progressive growth.
‘AI Mentor’ achieves this by thoroughly explaining how artificial intelligence can be successfully implemented to help drive business growth. Additionally, we’re very proud of the ‘Abu Dhabi SME Hub’ as it functions as a central resource of critical information for entrepreneurs and SMEs; all within one innovative and locally relevant platform. Through new resources such as these, as well as our vast and varied support services, Khalifa Fund will continue to educate, empower and support the SME ecosystem in the UAE.