1. Speak up
When you are done brainstorming, brainstorm some more. Good ideas develop spontaneously, but the best ideas are those that you think about constantly. Work out all the possible ways it can succeed and, more importantly, the number of ways it can fail. Develop a prototype and begin pitching your idea among family and friends to test the water. If favourable, get your idea out there via Twitter or Facebook — without giving away too much — and pay close attention to what critics have to say. You might think your start-up is the best thing since sliced bread, but if you do not find that small segment of people to serve as a faithful, profitable audience, you are on your own.
2. Seek help
If you choose to launch your start-up by yourself, make sure you have access to mentors who can guide you through the initial stages. If you feel your start-up needs funding that is not presently accessible, Dubai-based organisations such as SeedStartup and in5 Innovation Hub invite entrepreneurs to apply for their respective start-up accelerator programmes. And if you are lucky enough to be selected into a start-up accelerator and incubator, you will have access to mentors, industry specialists, product experts and other like-minded entrepreneurs. Additionally, Envestors, the only active Business Angel Network in the region, also invites potential start-ups to approach them for guidance.
“Our team at Envestors receives approximately 30 new approaches per month from potential entrepreneurs or SMEs seeking to grow their businesses,” explains David Moleshead, Chairman, Envestors Mena.
“We endeavour to meet in person as many of the applicants as possible so that we can assess the management capability of the promoters and listen to them articulating their plans. This is an important first step and on the majority of occasions we do not engage to move forward together at this stage. If it is our decision not to move forward, we try to make clear our reasons and give some future guidance. We would like to think that over the past few years we have prevented many entrepreneurs from committing their own and other investors’ funds in opportunities that either were not appropriate for the market or not yet ready for expansion,” adds Moleshead.
With SeedStartup, each of the selected start-ups receives an investment of up to $25,000 (about Dh92,000) in return for a flat 10 per cent equity stake. Participants then undergo an extensive three-month mentoring programme under the guidance of entrepreneurs, investors and product experts. By the end of the programme, entrepreneurs will be well positioned to raise their next round of funding from angel investors and venture capitalists.
3. Walk to the edge
Most young entrepreneurs are currently stuck at this step. Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks, and if you believe that your start-up is worth it, take the plunge.
At in5, selected members will work towards idea development, prototype accomplishment and business development. They will then present their ideas to a steering committee and investors to help develop funding opportunities. After three months, their progress will be evaluated to assess possible extension of the programme and provide advice on how to proceed. The programme is open to submission from all nationalities and start-ups at any stage of development, from an initial concept to an established one. Despite preferring start-ups focusing on information and communications technology (ICT), social media, web development, mobile applications, and digital media, projects unrelated to technology may be considered as well.
Envestors follows a similar procedure. Moleshead says, “If we engage with an SME/entrepreneur, we commence an investor readiness process where we help business owners market themselves to potential strategic partners in our network.”
4. Jump off!
Quitting your regular job and pursuing your dream is a daunting scenario. SeedStartup and in5 require a minimum time commitment of three to six months. However, by the end of the programme, you will be better positioned to attract funding from angel investors and venture capitalists.
In5 will grant selected entrepreneurs with five key benefits: set-up support (including licence, visas and office space), mentoring, training, networking opportunities and access to funding. Selected start-ups will be required to be based in Dubai and will be provided with the legal framework for company incorporation and visas. The hub is open to entrepreneurs of all nationalities wishing to set up business in ICT, mobile and digital media.
Moleshead explains Envestors’ process: “There are three elements to our charging structure. A nominal work fee relating to the partner readiness processes that we undertake, then a success fee that is correlated to the outcome of our combined efforts — and this is only payable in the event of success — and finally a small option that is exercisable in the event of certain favourable outcomes in the future.”
5. Make headlines
Elevision, for example, is a company that went through the Envestors process. Elevision is a digital media company that installs visual communication equipment to broadcast news, property information and advertising in building elevators throughout the UAE. Following investment from partners that were introduced by Envestors, it now has installations in more than 80 residential and commercial buildings in locations such as DIFC and JBR.
If you have reached this stage, either by yourself or with the help of incubators and angel investors, you are halfway there. The next stage is shameless promotion. If you can afford it, a good public relations executive or team will prove to be a worthy addition to your business. If not, do the research yourself and pitch your products or service to the media.
Regardless of what you choose to do, make sure you truly enjoy doing it, because you will be doing it for the foreseeable future.