Abu Dhabi: If you’ve been to the Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2012, you’ll see that the Arab World is home to a good number of entrepreneurs in the region where nascent ideas have been turned into successful businesses. However, entrepreneurship still has a long way to go in this part of the world.
One of the main challenges facing entrepreneurs in the Arab world today is having access to capital.
“There is some, but it needs to be massive because for entrepreneurs to build their businesses they need people who are going to bet on the idea,” said Fadi Ghandour, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aramex.
Ghandour called on investing in youth early on, where by the time they graduate they have the entrepreneurial skills they need to start their own business. “It’s an emergency because it is about jobs and there is 27 to 28 per cent unemployment in our youth in the Arab word... without creating proper employment opportunities for your youth you will have problems.”
The obstacles that faced Habib Haddad, CEO of Wamda, came into the digestion of what Wamda is today, a tool that empowers entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa. The company has an early stage fund that invests in startups.
“We invest in startups, around half a million dollars in each startup. We’ve done about 10 investments this year in companies across the Arab world and we’re very much hands on,” he said.
However, according to Haddad, investment alone is not enough. “It’s investment and mentorship.”
The company, which is supported by Abraaj Capital, currently runs a number of programs and products which help startups set up, run, and grow a company.
According to Ghandour, for entrepreneurship to really kick off policy makers need to make sure the markets are unified, where there’s free movement of entrepreneurs and where free trade in the region is allowed. “It’s very difficult now in many of the Arab countries for an entrepreneur to get a visa,” he said. “There also needs to be bankruptcy laws… If you won’t give them [entrepreneurs] protection, they won’t start their business.”
There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of hype around entrepreneurship in the Middle East, yet those who are venturing into it say there’s a lot more action needed.
“We’re at the point of barely being aware of it. Everyone talks about it, but there are no steps on the ground.”