Founder of Creativity For All
Pushing against your self-doubt might weigh you down, but when you have firm faith in yourself and trust your skillset, it is worth it. This is the belief of Dubai-based Canadian expat, Iba Ali, 16, who sells handmade cloth bags made from recycled t-shirts.
Her love for the arts and passion for sustainable living led her to repurpose an old t-shirt into a durable cloth bag, an idea that soon became a venture called Creativity For All. Her products are sold on her website (cfadubai.com) and various school sales like Spring and Christmas fairs. She sends the proceeds from these sales towards purchasing art supplies for students with a restricted budget and has supported children in schools located in Kabul and Africa.
A grade 11 student at the American School of Dubai, Iba recalls how she started her business: ‘It was a Friday morning when my mother was cleaning out some clothes, and I asked her if I could have an old t-shirt that she would give to charity bins.’
Keen to explore an opportunity in everything, ‘even a neglected grey t-shirt’, she started working on it without any particular aim, cutting pieces out and tying other bits together, creating a cloth bag from the t-shirt. ‘When I tested its strength and usability, I realised it was durable; that’s when I started to foresee a future with this product.’
Iba’s father saw the potential in her product and idea and supported her throughout the process. ‘He has been one of my mentors. My vision through this venture is to see every child have the opportunity to express their creativity without having the challenge of accessing supplies.’
Iba had a few challenges in developing the concept, including recognising the platform to sell the product, managing single-handed production, deciding the art concepts for each bag, packaging details, etc. Staying planned and organised was crucial at every stage, she says.
‘It is tempting to view age as a setback but to succeed, you must commit to dedicated work while going through each process yourself.’
Since starting this business in 2019, she says she has been able to sell over 150 bags. ‘I am contacting some schools in India and Pakistan that may benefit from this initiative.’
She wants to expand on this initiative, increasing the production of bags to send more proceeds towards providing materials to more children worldwide. I plan on creating art tutorial videos to send the children for inspiration,’ she says.
Advait Ravindra Thakur
Founder of Apex Infosys India
Advait Ravindra Thakur is one of those few people who is convinced that profits and purpose can go hand in hand. Barely 19, this young entrepreneur and computer programmer believes “you can make more profits if you have a purpose.
“You generate more profits when you work at the intersection of profits and impact. I have believed this since the beginning of my journey, from helping NGOs to launching IoT products at reasonable rates.”
Thakur was just 12 when he founded Apex Infosys India, a tech company, in 2015 to provide a smart home experience that is entirely Made In India, For The World.
Before starting up his business, he spent time reading case studies of companies with similar business models in the US that performed significantly better than the market had anticipated. He realised the potential as it was an untested territory in India back then.
‘The only bet we had to make was on the technology we had developed, as every other Indian company entering the smart home space relied on Original Equipment Manufacturers from Chinese companies.’
Advait says his main challenge was that initially no one believed in his idea. His advice to others who may be in a similar quandary and facing self-doubt due to naysayers is to ‘have complete faith in your actions.’ This will help you overcome hurdles, he says.
‘Generational values can affect how the community perceives you as a young entrepreneur. Older people might instinctively judge you as lazy or irresponsible, refusing to give you a chance to earn their trust. Other entrepreneurs might doubt your ability to persist with your business over time. It is something about running your own business that brings out the naysayers,’ he says. But staying steafast and trusting your instincts and having full belief in your idea will see you through.
He reveals his secret is to view the list of his goals and tasks to do when he feels discouraged. “I like to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to criticism. Older counterparts can have a lot of great lessons to teach, but learn to put aside unhelpful comments and self-aggrandising advice. Realise how the tasks you have assigned for today directly result in achieving your goals in the future.”
Advait’s ultimate goal as a tech startup is to scale up and grow bigger. His company is currently generating healthy profits with a positive cash flow and zero burn rate.
‘I dream of helping people by giving back to the community and contributing to our country’s economic growth by generating more employment. It may come across that I am over-emphasising on purpose and giving something of immense value to society, but that’s the ultimate goal. I always say this, before you begin to gather thoughts on an idea, you must know what objective your thinking would serve. With a well-defined purpose, you can easily steer your thoughts in the direction you decide.’
Jasleen Vinod Bhatia
Founder of Jasleen’s Mandalas
Mandala drawing started as a stress-busting activity for Sharjah-based resident Jasleen Vinod Bhatia, a skill she had self-learned since she was 12.
Her hobby, five years later, turned into Jasleen’s Mandalas, a small business she started in UAE in July 2021, printing her hand-drawn mandala designs on sustainable and daily-use items.
‘The mandala design can be printed on mugs, bottles, tote bags, jute bags and much more. I even customise and personalise them for gifting purposes according to my customer’s preferences,’ says the 12th-grade student of Delhi Private School, Sharjah.
Jasleen speaks about how the journey started last year during her summer vacation, ‘I wanted to develop something new and started photoshopping my designs on various products. I felt exhilarated by the results, which led me to start my business of printing mandalas.’
She participated in an exhibition just three days after starting Jasleen’s Mandalas. ‘My first exhibition was a success as my products were very new and unique in the market. Seeing the customer demand, I realised that people would be ready to buy my products because they were distinct.’
Realising that it was a new comcept in the market, Jasleen initially began selling to her customers through word-by-mouth publicity, online through social media and at exhibitions. ‘My customers loved the idea that they could also customise and personalise their orders without additional costs. This way, my concept developed into a workable business model.’
As a teenager, she did not know how to start a business or how it would go. ‘I learned along the way, but I believed in my ideas and loved to experiment, which helped me gain so much experience in my journey, and slowly, everything just started falling into place on its own.’
She understood the course of business is not an easy path; good results come through patience and hard work. Her determination kept her moving and her attitude that even with hardships, you need to face them with a smile, which makes things easier.
‘I started the business right in the middle of my 12th grade CBSE board examinations. But I learned to balance my studies and orders, scoring 90.2 per cent in my board exams.’
She credits her mother with being a her staunch support system, guiding her through the hardships of starting a business. ‘My siblings, friends, teachers and relatives, helped me grow it successfully. I have also always felt the support of my father, Vinodkumar Ashok Bhatia, who passed in 2020, guiding me spiritually.’
Jasleen’s mandalas have completed the first year and she has already notched up over 200 customers, having sold thousands of customised items. “I have participated in 8 exhibitions, and I have won 2 awards, one in the category Young Achiever (under 19) from Indian Women in Dubai and the other in the category Exceptionally Talented from Womens’ Conclave. I have also conducted my workshop for children between 7-14 at the Mishbros Education fair.’
Her dream: ‘To work harder to take Jasleen’s Mandalas to become a bigger platform, aiming at big corporate orders in the future and establishing my website soon.’
Founder of F5 Global
Being an entrepreneur is hugely rewarding, especially when it’s a purpose-driven business, says Sarisha Ved, 17, who is naturally skilled with business acumen. Her parents, Nilesh and Sima Ved are pioneers in building brands in the GCC and co-founders of Apparel Group, a leading omnichannel retail business.
A teen entrepreneur who started a sustainable athleisure and streetwear brand F5 Global at age 14, Sarishasays she launched F5 as a solution to the change she wanted to see in the fashion market.
As an entrepreneur, she says she is constantly learning and experimenting with everything she has wanted to so far for F5 Global. ‘Athleisure is for everyone who loves comfort and wants to be fashionable simultaneously. It’s a personal choice of style too. Making it conscious was purely based on everything I wanted my business to stand for sustainability.’
Her source of inspiration for business was a trip to Nathdwara in India in 2018 with her family, when they went to do charity work. ‘I learned from the organiser that children in that area had to walk four hours from their village and wait for three hours in line to get school stationery, a pair of shoes, a blanket, and food. It made me realise that things we take for granted are something people can only dream of.’
Keen to make a diference in the world, Sarisha, who was born and raised in Dubai, decided to develop an initiative that would impact lives of needy children in some way.
‘At the time, I only had this one sentence in mind. One hundred per cent of the proceeds go towards children’s education. Then I asked myself if I wanted to do this long-term or do it as a school project and finish it off. I thought, why not if I had an idea and the support?’
Having an ethical stance is extremely important, she believes. ‘As a brand, we’ve been striving for perfection and ensuring that we use 100 per cent sustainable materials; it took me more than six months to find the right factory to work with. So from the fabrics to the zippers to the design prints, it’s all consciously produced and ethically designed. That has been our biggest challenge, too, because we must work with the right manufacturers who practice fair trade and are certified. Many brands claim sustainability but being certified the way we are – with our GOTS and SEDEX – makes a huge impact.’
Although time management for a teen entrepreneur can be a problem, Sarisha soon learned a way to infuse her passion with business acumen whilst balancing her academic commitments.
She says, “Within the first year of the business, we donated Dh30,000 for children’s education in association with Emirates Red Crescent. We supported children from underprivileged communities by providing them with necessary teaching equipment and learning aids, such as computers and tablets. That’s when I honestly figured that my business model was workable.’
She is excited about their first-ever international pop-up in London, taking her first step toward expanding the brand globally. “We are also going stronger with our presence in the Middle East and have plans for the brand to open its store in Dubai in the coming months. Our flagship store will open in the Dubai Hills Mall.”
Product is the very core of your business, she adds. “It would be best if you were genuinely interested in entrepreneurship and committed to making positive business decisions for most. If you choose between making more money for yourself or developing a new and impactful product, I believe you should focus on the latter.’
Director, Meena Jewellers
With the vision to bring innovation and growth, Sahil Jethwani, 26, joined his family business in the jewellery sector. His journey in this business started around three years ago.
Sahil says, “I had a strong passion for business which encouraged me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the field at the University of Bath. I then furthered my understanding of what drives businesses by completing a master’s degree in business and finance at Imperial College London. Shortly after my master’s, I started working in this industry.”
After gaining a holistic understanding of the jewellery business, Sahil was convinced that his family’s business needed a stronger digital footprint. “Global retail e-commerce sales in the past few years has increased by 65 per cent. This clearly means that brands of any industry are missing out massively if they don’t have a digital presence,” says Sahil.
The effects of the pandemic, Sahil adds, confirmed the need for innovation and ‘compelled us to evolve our brand’ by coming up with a multiple pronged strategy that not only focused on growing the brand’s digital presence but expanding its range of services as well.
Sahil has a strong passion for understanding what drives businesses. He adds that being original, constantly adapting to your business and economic environment and breaking new ground is crucial to ensure you build a brand that resonates with people.
His goal is to evolve their current business model into one that is innovative and allows them to interact seamlessly with the stakeholders and the customers.
“With this strategy we took a more scientific approach of testing ideas and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. We tested different ideas, analyzed the data, and adapted our ideas accordingly. We then fine-tuned our idea and optimized it to suit our customers and scaled up from there on,’’ he explains.
“Then, finding the best way to reach new customers required a lot of experimentation with different strategies. After this testing phase, we could establish an overall strategy that worked and could scale up.
“We are still in the early stages of fully realising our growth strategy. As a brand we have done a lot to add a significant amount of value. Going forward, we have big plans for the development of our brand.”
Jaclyn Nicole Yost
Founder of ecomadic.com, a sustainable travel business
“Starting your own business is rewarding and fulfilling but requires you to be scrappy/think on your feet, begin your idea and commit never to give up,” says Dubai-based US expat Jaclyn Nicole Yost, 28. She is a young entrepreneur who started ecomadic - sustainable travel business, turning the blog into a business about two years ago.
She was inspired to start this business as a blog while living in Southeast Asia in 2017 at age 22. “I began to recognise the negative impacts of mass tourism and wanted to get the word out.”
“Later, ecomadic was transformed into a curated marketplace for local and sustainable travel, offering accommodations, experiences, shops, and eateries. The focus is on authentic, sustainable tourism and supporting local and small businesses, empowering travellers to make the most conscious decisions with their tourism dollars.”
ecomadic helps to minimise consumer research in finding genuinely authentic and sustainable places. It provides a platform for businesses to build community with other like-minded tourism-related companies who are all working to create a positive impact through their operations, especially with the number of green claims (or “greenwashing”) that is out there right now.
Jaclyn has had many mentors over her journey into entrepreneurship.
She says, in Singapore, it was/is Steph Dickson with Green is the New Black who encouraged her to get started.
She has been through numerous accelerator programs in US, where she has had advisors come on board officially through her involvement in Founder Institute.
“I was most recently selected to participate in Intelak – a travel and tourism startup hub in Dubai that is in partnership with Emirates, Dubai Tourism, Microsoft and Accenture. We have been introduced to individuals who work within their principal partners and have received mentorship through them, which brought me out here.”
When she started ecomadic as a blog, she was enrolled in an MSc in International Business, and had dedicated her research on ‘Greenwashing in the International Hospitality and Tourism Industry’.
“The subject was eco-labelling and unethical Online Travel Agency Platforms. I adapted ecomadic’s business model based on those results. Over time, it has been refined, adapted (particularly throughout the pandemic) based on what I learned businesses are looking for.”
Most recently, we have developed a destination partnership model to work with tourism boards and curate local and sustainable travel within the destination, launching a community hub and Green Guide to destinations to scale quicker.
Starting the business for Nicole Yost has been based on instinct. She had never held a corporate position and learned to construct the company on the go.
It motivated her to participate in 3 accelerator programs and undergo a Master’s program in International Business to understand the ins and outs of the business to construct a business model that can be executed.
“My advisors and mentors have helped me, giving feedback and working with their advice to see what sticks and makes sense as you grow/develop.”
Initially, her business was supposed to launch in March 2020, but due to the pandemic, it was not an ideal time to launch a travel startup.
Nicole Yost’s passion for her mission continued, building and expanding her network and meeting with local/small businesses, ensuring the industry will utilise the platform well.
“We are finally about to go live in late October/early November. We will have about 30 property partners worldwide, our first destination partnership for Dubai with 40-50 local and sustainable businesses, and a Green Guide.”
“Moving forward, we are currently working on expanding through a few other destination partnerships. The vision is to be a global company with a presence in every region/destination with tourism activity.”
Founder of Butter DXB Floral Concepts
“Find something that makes you happy, enjoy and start doing it,” says Aastha Parekh, 25, who believes one should not wait to create perfection. Instead, take the first few steps and fine-tune the concept as your brand establishes itself.
With this mindset, Parekh started an online flower company - Butter DXB Floral Concepts at age 24. A company specialises in flowers for gifting, events and hospitality décor, creating beautiful arrangements for customers with fresh flowers, silk flowers, dried foliage and forever roses.
She often created tablescapes for her family on birthdays with different setups each year. This way, she realised her passion and talent for creating beautiful and aesthetic moments, bringing joy to people’s life.
The business concept started during COVID times when she could spare extra time to transform her passion into a business model. I always knew I wanted to start a business. So, I made a list of everything that interested me and cross-checked it practically with a list of things I knew would do a sustainable business. I checked all my boxes with low start-up costs, high-profit margins, good scalability, and flowers.”
“Then, I created a business plan, found a quirky and memorable name, and developed the branding. From there on, there was no looking back. Start-ups, primarily e-commerce, have seen a lot of traction as people send gifts and deliveries to their loved ones, and that’s when I realised that all of us have started to value the little joys of life.”
She started her brand focusing on hospitality partners. That’s to provide fresh flowers for hotels, restaurants and their guests celebrating birthdays, but soon noticed the brand was gaining traction from an audience that was not the initial target.
“Millennials on Instagram loved our aesthetic and wanted to send flower boxes to their friends and loved ones. Our main challenge was moving away from what we had planned and listening to how the market responded.”
“So, we designed flower boxes and bouquets with our classic signature style, promoted them on social platforms, and joined Deliveroo as a flower partner to make it easier for customers to deliver their flowers to loved ones. I learned to be flexible as a brand, give our customers what they want, and continually learn about what works and doesn’t.”
The business is relatively young, in its second year. Parekh says, “We aim to hire more staff and set up a store to become a hybrid e-tailer. We also focus on doing more events for brands we resonate with and increasing hospitality partners, which has always been an area we want to expand.”
“I’m learning on the job. It takes a few years to trust your creative judgement and financial decisions. But I believe the key is in starting and tweaking it. Executing it is the easy part; sustaining and growing it is what takes time, and I’m enjoying this process thoroughly.”