Entrepreneurship, while not new to the Middle East, has only in the recent past begun to receive its fair share of attention and interest from the rapidly growing regional economies. With diversification of economies high on the agenda of most oil producing nations in the region, the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector has immensely benefited. Interestingly, the SME sector accounts for a majority of businesses in most, if not all Middle Eastern economies. And with the youth accounting for nearly two-thirds of the population in Middle East, it is essential and almost necessary to encourage this section of society; instill and harness the entrepreneurial spirit, to ensure sustained economic growth.
Having realized this need, Western Union and Al Ansari Exchange, two leading financial services players in the UAE, jointly launched an inter-University initiative, the “Business for Better” Competition, to engage with the next generation of business leaders, encourage thought-leadership, enhance skills, and build knowledge capacities.
The two organizations recently concluded the second edition of the Competition, with seven Universities from the UAE participating. 13 teams comprising of 37 students were shortlisted, based on their business concepts, for the final round of presentations which were adjudicated by an elite panel of jury members. Sobia Rahman, Western Union’s Regional Vice President for the Gulf, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Rashed Al Ansari, General Manager of Al Ansari Exchange, Imad Ghandour, Founder & Managing Director of CedarBridge and Nima Abu Wardeh, Founder & CEO of cashy.me & CampusCashy.com and Presenter of Middle East Business Report on BBC World, comprised the judging panel.
Pleasantly surprised with the quality of the presentations, the skills and innovative thinking behind each of the business ideas, the judges reviewed and rated each of the presentations based on four key factors – Originality, Concept and Business Description, Implementation and Methodology, and Financial Planning and Budgets. Students were required to submit business ideas that would have a positive social, economical and environmental impact; a key deciding factor behind the selection of the top three winning teams.
While an all-girls team took top honors at last year’s competition, this year an all-boys team from Manipal University in Dubai, Clinton Thomas and Yadu Krishnan were awarded the first place and a scholarship of AED 45,000 each for their next academic year. Their winning business idea was based on bringing down the cost of lubricating oil in the UAE by 33% by manufacturing additives, which comprise 24.5% of the composition of lubricant oil but account for 75% of its cost, in the UAE. With 60,000 metric tonnes of additives being the currently requirement in the UAE, all of which is imported, setting up a local additive manufacturing company could definitely be a good solution.
The second-placed team was from Abu Dhabi University represented by Fatima Kader, Sidra Hafeez and Khoola Haroon, who presented a plan to introduce “E-Bills” with the aim of not only reducing the environmental impact of physical bills, but also as a means of providing customers with a convenient means of maintaining and tracking their retail purchases and expenditures. Each student was presented with a scholarship of AED 30,000.
Fatma Sajwani and Kawthar Al Nasr, students of the American University of Sharjah secured third place for their plan titled “Express Green”, an eco-friendly and sustainable online grocery delivery service which will deliver supermarket products to customers at their doorsteps in refillable, biodegradable containers made from corn starch. The environmental, economic and social impact of this business idea gained the attention and interest of the judges, and won the team scholarships of AED 20,000 each.
All 37 shortlisted students were presented with certificates of participation, while the winners received additional certificates for winning the competition at an award ceremony which was attended by senior members of Western Union and Al Ansari Exchange, and participating University students, faculty members and family members.
A panel discussion was also held during which the judges provided valuable feedback and advice to the students related to techniques of business presentations, turning ideas into successful businesses, importance of fact-finding and the need to constantly innovate and learn. Strong impetus was laid on the need for accurate financial planning and risk management in order to launch, sustain and grow a viable business venture. While commenting on the fact that the teams had good sales capabilities and defended their ideas, the judges also advised the students to take feedback constructively and learn from the industry exposure and experience of the current business leaders; offering to engage with and advise students going forward.
The judges were collectively impressed with the caliber of the students, the innovation and enthusiasm that they exhibited and the quality of the business ideas with positive and tangible social impact, few of which, in their opinion, had the potential of being converted into successful business ventures.
Seven Universities from the UAE - Abu Dhabi University (ADU), American University of Sharjah (AUS), University of Dubai, Manipal University, Szabist University, American University in the Emirates and University of Sharjah participated in this competition.