Selina Bieber, Senior Regional Director for Turkey, MENA and South Africa at GoDaddy, agrees: “In the MENA region, 64 percent of working individuals stated they would like to start their own business, with 36 percent afraid of failing, which often prevents them from taking the leap.”
But why is now a good time to launch a company? Zawya spoke to entrepreneurs and other business professionals in the region for their insights.
LESSONS FROM THE PAST 6 MONTHS
Industry leaders say that these times of uncertainty have created a new space for budding entrepreneurs. “As insensitive as it may sound, there is always opportunity to come from a crisis or recession economically,” says Kellie Whitehead, founder of the Female Fusion Network. “And with a clear market fit with a product or service, new businesses can see themselves create momentum over the coming months, armed with the knowledge gained over the first half of the year, and [they can] fill gaps left by others.”
With the ongoing change in the way we work and socialise comes an opportunity to solve a new problem, says Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jackys Group and President Elect of TiE Dubai.
“The status quo [is] being challenged, and with it has come the opportunity to address these challenges head on,” he says. “The key to starting a new business at this time is to clearly identify a problem that you are solving. If you aren’t solving something, then you aren’t likely to succeed. If you have a solution that solves a real problem, you are on the way to garnering the interest of investors, customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders.”
IT SPEAKS VOLUMES TO INVESTORS
Going it alone always takes courage; it’s even braver to do so during a crisis. And that can grab an investor’s attention.
“Real entrepreneurs [can] use this opportunity to find their niche,” Mita Srinivasan, Director of Market Buzz, explains. “It shows potential investors that these are resilient and adventurous entrepreneurs, not afraid to take a risk and with a strong belief in their idea.”
Muhammed Mekki, a founding partner of AstroLabs, echoes this sentiment. “Remember that some of the most impressive startups were established in the most challenging [of] economic conditions. Think Slack and Airbnb, to name two that had their origins in the wake of the 2008 crash. A business that thrives in difficult times will experience exploding growth when times are good again.”
MENA’S GOING MORE DIGITAL
The past few months have seen the eradication of the in-office meeting. Now, we all seem to collaborate via Zoom, Hangouts, and Teams. This can make it easier to set up a business.
“We’ve seen a surge of new applicants to our retail accelerator programme [due to] the simple fact that people are buying and doing more things online than ever before, which creates more opportunities for small and startup businesses,” Shahzad Bhatti, founder of incubator The Co-Dubai, tells us. “Customers are now more tech savvy and looking for a new digitised experience in nearly every single industry, from buying products to signing contracts online.”
Agnieszka Kurzawa, founder of marketing strategy firm Agaia, believes that “digital-first” businesses have more potential than ever: “The shift towards digital is a massive opportunity and opens doors for businesses that found it previously difficult to set up a digital-first product here.”
IT COULD BE CHEAPER TO LAUNCH RIGHT NOW
Many entrepreneurial hubs and free zones have begun offering incentives for new business owners since the pandemic began. Examples include AstroLabs’ offer of AED 240,000 in grants to help former MENA tech employees launch startups in Dubai and Riyadh. The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority’s DTEC hub has also discounted license and registration fees for new businesses.
“[There have been] discounts or incentives from almost all free-zone authorities in the UAE, such as discounted license rates and rental agreements and application fee waivers,” says Scott Cairns, founder of Creation Business Consultants, noting that he has also witnessed “increased assistance from some government authorities to obtain approvals, remove red tape, [and] reduce time frames for approvals.”
THERE’S MORE TALENT THAN EVER
Mekki notes that “as big brands are forced to let go of top talent, you can build your early team with really great people who are typically unavailable.”
Maen Samara, CEO of Trans Skills, concurs: “I strongly recommend to not only set up your business now but also to hire talent. A lot of businesses have not managed to accommodate the needs of the rapidly changing market, and a lot of talent is now available for immediate placement. So, whether you are a business looking for talent or an entrepreneur looking for cofounders, the market is filled with specialists looking for work.”
IT’S TIME TO GET CREATIVE
There’s room to become more creative than ever, says Mike Hoff, CEO of MHC Consulting and Regional Group Manager of The Alpha Group. “This crisis has caused a massive unfreezing of our learned business behaviours and practices and created an amazing fluid state of creativity as we all figure out the best way to emerge from survival mode and pivot to thriving once more.”
In conclusion, we are “in the midst of an entrepreneurial revolution,” as Sebastian Bates, co-founder of Shield and founder of The Warrior Academy, says. “The lockdown has made millions of people re-evaluate their lives, their work, and their purpose. For many, that means radically pivoting and choosing to throw themselves into what they are passionate about. There has never been an opportunity like this.”
(Writing by Rachel McArthur; editing by Seban Scaria email@example.com)
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© ZAWYA 2020