It is often said that people are a company’s most important asset. They are the fuel it runs on and without them, it would most likely not exist.
One significant factor that hinders the growth of many businesses is failing to realise how important it is to encourage innovation among their employees. A culture of innovation spurs entrepreneurship, but it shouldn’t be restricted to people willing to take a risk and start their own businesses.
Now more than ever, companies are starting to realise the importance of investing in their people, a practice that continues to spur an increase in “micropreneurs”. The term, which has been gaining popularity recently, refers to a person who operates a business on a very small scale, with less than five employees.
Many successful companies are increasingly adopting this highly functional and efficient entrepreneurial approach to drive business value, especially tech start-ups.
Shopify, the Canadian e-commerce company valued at $5 billion, encourages its employees to create a side business connected through its platform.
Infusionsoft, a CRM and email marketing company dedicated to helping small businesses, gives its employees a free licence to its software to use for a personal business venture.
Multinational giants also have their own way of fostering an entrepreneurial mindset among their staff. LinkedIn’s InCubator programme encourages employees to develop their own project ideas and pitch them to a panel of judges, including co-founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner.
If approved, the employee gets to spend up to three months developing that project.
Apple’s Blue Sky programme lets selective staff work on projects unrelated to their job responsibilities for two weeks. The goal is to give employees the opportunity to work on something that interests them, in hopes of inspiring innovation.
Microsoft’s Garage provides a hub for employees to create their own products using Microsoft resources. The idea is to foster innovation inside a larger corporation, giving employees a way to experiment with new ideas and an opportunity to achieve more.
All these companies seem to have one belief in common — that giving employees the opportunity to be a micropreneur, however different the means, not only benefits the employee but also the company and the community.
When it comes to the broader Middle East — including North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey — the breakdown of economic institutions caused some serious challenges for entrepreneurs and companies seeking growth. Security concerns and political disputes are a huge deterrent for investors.
Additionally, the legal system remains unpredictable and can be difficult to navigate. Micropreneurship offers people significant flexibility in earning income and the opportunity to achieve more in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
However, in order for micropreneurs to exist in the region, we need companies with enough investments to allow them to be innovative.
According to the Middle East 2016 Wealth Report by Research and Markets, about 480,000 individuals in the Middle East hold a combined wealth of $2.5 trillion. There is around $165 billion of that tied up in venture capital funds and foundations, but the majority of it is non-regional.
There have been several start-ups from the region, such as Souq, that raised funding from international investors, but there haven’t been too many regional investors.
However, the attention this brings to the region could potentially help encourage more local investments. If approached correctly, the challenges of the market can be a driving force. Careem, a leading ride-hailing app from the Middle East, uses its “from the region, for the region” approach, aiming to turn these challenges into opportunities through investment in its resources and people, i.e. “captains” (drivers) and colleagues.
In the UAE alone, Careem employs more than 3,500 captains, and 30 per cent of them are micropreneurs as they own more than one car which they operate within the company. They create their own micro-businesses by getting their friends or family members to be Careem captains with them and sharing the profits.
In Pakistan, the app collaborates with banks as part of the Youth Business Loan Scheme to allow captains to get a subsidised loan to buy a car, from which they then start their small-sized businesses.
“Having their own micro-business is not only financially beneficial, but also gives captains a sense of pride and reaffirms their success,” says Mudassir Shaikha, co-founder of Careem. Shaikha explains that being a micropreneur, be it within an organisation or independently, encourages colleagues to act as owners who have a meaningful impact in the workplace.
The more micropreneurs there are in an organisation, the more it could potentially contribute to the economy. With unemployment rates quite high in many parts of this region, creating more employment opportunities is crucial. In Pakistan, the transport, storage and telecommunications sectors combined contributed only 13.27 per cent to the country’s GDP.
Egypt, another big market, has 3.5 million people who remain unemployed as of this year.
However, there are encouraging changes taking place. Recently, Careem invested in Egyptian bus transportation start-up Swvl in an effort to promote entrepreneurship locally and contribute to improving the transportation infrastructure.
There many other regional start-ups that have caught the attention of investors, such as Pakistan’s online property portal Zameen, now valued at $83 million, and UAE’s delivery service Fetchr, which secured $41 million of funding in a series B round. These investments encourage entrepreneurship in the region.
If companies in the region start adopting a similar model and support entrepreneurship from within, they’ll no doubt find that their employees tune in more with their customers as well as work more productively, which in turn helps the business succeed. At the same time, they will be making a positive impact on the communities they’re in.
Companies that embrace micropreneurs and innovation will stand out from their competitors and thrive. Without micropreneurship, we would have missed out on Facebook’s Like button, Sony’s PlayStation and 3M’s Post-it Notes.
While the way to go about it is different for every company, the important thing is to engage employees and to apply that vision in a way that aligns with the company culture.
The writer is Vice-President of Captain Experience at Careem.