Shaker Zainal, Emirates Development Bank's Chief mSME Officer, speaks at the Sharjah Entrepreneurial Festival. Image Credit: Supplied

Experts at the Sharjah Entrepreneurial Festival (SEF) 2022 highlighted the importance of small and medium-scale enterprises, on Sunday.

“In any economy across the globe, SMEs contribute to almost 90 per cent of the GDP. Why? Because 60 per cent of the workforce comes from these SMEs. Imagine how huge is the impact of that on the economy and for employment. This is why we believe that SME is the critical sector of any economy,” Shaker Zainal, Emirates Development Bank's Chief mSME Officer, said at the sixth edition of the annual event.

During the ‘How Start-Ups and SMEs Can Become More Bankable’ session, Zainal added that for SMEs to be considered marketable, they need to have all of their documents in order, including a forecast and visibility study. “If you meet all the requirements and have good cash flow, projection and management, that is what we define as a successful entrepreneur or SME.” According to latest reports, the Abu Dhabi-based lender has given more than Dh700 million to SMEs and large caps within the country since January 2021.

For startups and entrepreneurs to attract the attention of venture capitalists (VC), they must put in the time to thoroughly research and understand which VC is a better fit for their business, expert panelists informed audiences at a session titled ‘How can entrepreneurs attract the attention of Venture capitalists.’ “If you don’t, you end up firing a lot of blanks and you can ruin your own reputation in the market,” said Sherif El Badawi, CEO, Dubai Future District Fund.

According to him, it is imperative that entrepreneurs are aware of what a venture-backable business is. “When a pitch comes in, and this happens more than any other mistake, we often see, they are pitching their business to the wrong investor. A venture-backable start-up has to have some attributes – either technology is in the product or in the distribution channel. Typically, that is the case, whether it is in education, agrotech or any other sector,” he added.

“What we look for,” added Faris Mesmar, CEO and Managing Partner, Hatch&Boot, “is a mix of things, the skillset of an early stage founder has to be a fearless approach, because building confidence in front of an investor whether it is at seed or at a subsequent price stage, is extremely important.”

With the aim to cater to a wide community of startups and business leaders with different needs, the other sessions dealt with taking a closer look at the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry, how EdTech growth depends on imagination and curiosity as well as how to future proof ventures by digitally empowering SMEs.

“We talk a lot about entrepreneurship as in building stuff and how amazing things grow and get you to places. The reality is it takes a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears, but people don’t hear those stories, they only hear about the success. The biggest issue in the startup world is how am I going to figure out the next solutions, because that’s what we end up being — problem solvers,” said Elie Habib, Co-Founder and CTO, Anghami, at the ‘Retaining the Entrepreneurial Spirit’ discussion.

Striking a note with the audience, Nader Amiri, Founder & COO, El Grocer cited his personal experience during the pandemic. “There was chaos due to Covid-19 and the lesson was -- we are not going to celebrate unless the money hits the bank.”

“Ultimately Covid was the push for us, because as women we had to be at the front of house care, child care, running our businesses and trying to stay afloat in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Jumana Darwish, Co-Founder, Made For You Global, at the informative session on ‘Getting things Right for Women Founders.’

SEF 2022 concluded on Sunday after holding more than 50 discussion sessions and 30 engaging workshops with over 150+ industry experts sharing their experiences and motivations with young entrepreneurs and aspiring attendees during the two-day festival.