Starting your own business brings with it a lot of challenges starting with coming up with a marketable idea to raise capital and ending with making a profit. Getting support and help, however, makes the entrepreneurs' work a bit easier.

Students and graduates from the Ras Al Khaimah Women's College (RAKWC), Higher Colleges of Technology, admitted during the annual college exhibition, Enjazat, that they face a number of hurdles as they each, individually and collectively, worked on their business ideas and established their own companies.

However, what made it less complicated is the support they were given from the college and the government of Ras Al Khaimah.

Showcase of ideas

Notes visited Enjazat at the Ras Al Khaimah Expo Center where more than 120 business ideas and enterprises were on display.

Booths were set up in the exhibition hall, each decorated to reflect the nature of the business the students were conducting.

"Enjazat allows the students the opportunity to showcase their abilities to execute business ideas. Many of the students here have either graduated and started their own companies or are still students just starting out," said Julie Wasilewski, marketing and publicity officer at the RAKWC.

"Many of the students chose to sell products they made themselves, others preferred to buy and re-sell merchandise. Also many of the students are in the services business."

Shaikha Hana Bint Juma' Al Majid, wife of Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, inaugurated the four-day exhibition. She toured the hall and talked to students and graduates about their work.
Notes brings you a sample of some of the work showcased at the event.

  • Name of project: Tour Around RAK
  • Project manager: Shaikha Al Shehi
  • Major: information technology graduate, 2007

"We started the touring company in October. We are four graduates in the company and we have students who come over to help. During our college years we worked on a project for one of the activity events which Shaikha Hana liked a lot. After graduation we got a call from the college saying that Shaikh Saud and Shaikha Hana will be supporting us for any business idea we choose. They did not give us the money; they only gave us the office. It was up to us to make the idea work out," she said.

  • In business

    The students, already in business, offer city and traditional tours.

    "We already took two Malaysian tourists around. We have the city tour where we drove around Ras Al Khaimah, and the traditional tour where we visited Khat, Hamra Village, and the horse stables in the mountains," said Shaikha.

    Tourism in Ras Al Khaimah, said Shaikha, is lacking. "There are many businesses in the emirate, but tourism is needed so we decided to go ahead and open an office. We also offer colleges and schools tourism packages around Ras Al Khaimah," she said. Shaikha said company brochures were printed and she is working on organising road shows at schools and universities.

Name of Project: Butterfly

Project members: Aisha Al Mehairi, Fatima Al Mutawa, Shaima Al Hebsi, Mariam Al Hebsi, Nada Al Mansouri, Mouza Al Hebsi and Mariam Al Tayari

  • Major: information technology and business sophomore, higher diploma

Everywhere you look in the booth set up by the seven students; it is hard to miss out the butterflies.
Butterflies on mugs, butterflies on chocolate, butterflies on baskets, and butterfly designs of Henna and face paintings.
"This is a new idea and we thought we would be the first shop in Ras Al Khaimah to offer packaging services using nothing but hand-made butterflies," said Aisha.
The project, which has been launched three weeks ago in the college, was based on research and surveys to measure people's opinions of their service.

Hard work and time management

"We wanted to see how far people would like our ideas. So far we have a booth in the college from which we run our business. However, if we find that there is a lot of interest and we manage to create a strong client base we might think of opening a shop," she said.
Relying on word of mouth and distributing brochures, the students are hoping to bring more attention to their work.
The students listed a number of factors that helped them with their work:

  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Research
  • Dedication

Name of Project: My Secret

Project Manager: Shaikha Al Naimi
Major: graphic design graduate, 2005
Business Manager: Aisha Al Naimi
Major: information technology and business sophomore,

  • Higher diploma

Under the tutelage of the artist Eyad Al Samara'e, Shaikha honed her painting skills. Abstract paintings are her specialty. Her debut as an artist was at Enjazat this year.

"I worked for awhile with the artists Al Samarae' who is well known in Art Institute in Sharjah and he helped me realise my potential and what I can do. It took me three weeks to work on my paintings, "she said.

Sisters in business

Her sister Aisha, on the other hand, is taking part of the money. "I am working on marketing the paintings, help her sell her work and manage future events," she said.

Shaikha now is preparing to take a new job at the Cultural Centre in Ras Al Khaimah; however, she said she will continue to paint. "In fact I am hoping to open up my own art gallery in two years time," she said.

Shaikha added that whoever finds in him or herself the skills or ability to do something to never hesitate and work hard on honing their talents.

Notes exclusive

What Shaikha Hana Bint Juma' Al Majid, wife of Shaikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, told Notes:

"It is our duty to encourage and support UAE national women. A lot of parents complain that there are no vacancies in the government, but do not do much to encourage their daughters and sons to go out and start their businesses. Ras Al Khaimah is a growing city where both expatriates and UAE nationals can succeed. UAE nationals are sure to do well with our support and these graduating students are simply our daughters.

Our students have the advantage of starting their business on the college level. So instead of hiring experts who would cost them money, the students will rely on their professors as their advisers. Also, students can use some of the booths set up in the college to run their businesses. They do not have to worry about office supplies and internet, phone and fax bills. All is taking care of. In January the government of Ras Al Khaimah will be launching an initiative to support the youth and their projects. We provide the support for the students and they have to prove themselves.

I have been visiting the Enjazat exhibition annually and I remember how it started with four to six projects and now it has more than 120 projects on display. This fills my heart with joy."

  • Name of Project: Miss Elegant
  • Project Manager: Mouza Al Za'abi
  • Major: Information technology graduate, 2003

"I have always loved fashion design, which is why I decided to go into the business. My company is three years old," she said.

Mouza started her fashion business by designing abayas for family and friends. "Whenever I went to the shops here I found the same old designs and merchandise, so I decided to go into the field. At the beginning I used to work on the designs then get the abayas stitched. I would work from the house. When I started to develop a bigger customer base I found it a good idea then to set up a shop," she said.

Inspired by latest fashions

The latest fashion and haute couture are what inspire Mouza's designs. "I have travelled to Paris and London to look at what is in," she said.

Partnering with Mouza are her sister and cousins who helped her with the capital.

Working hard on marketing her clothes, Mouza said that she has participated in a number of fashion shows and exhibitions.
"I have taken part in the Awafi Festival in Ras Al Khaimah, I have catalogues of my work distributed around in salons and I have my clients' recommendations and word of mouth," she said.

Advice for those starting out?

"Go into a business that you like, do your homework and prepare business plans and do research, see what the market needs and don't give up," said Mouza.

Businesswomen speak

Rahma Naser Al Ameri, business and IT student and chairperson of the organisational team, spoke to us about the experience.

"The students worked hard and we got excellent feedback from our teachers, the students and families that attended and the vendors," she said.

What are the challenges you encountered? How did you deal with them?

"The work was not easy, especially under the time constraints. I held regular team meetings to ensure that any issues could be discussed and solved and did not hesitate to turn to my teachers for help."

Now that you have had a practical glimpse into a the business, how do you feel about your degree choice?

"I'm glad I have chosen to do business. This experience in practice has definitely lived up to my expectations."

Do you think students should have exercises like this earlier on in their degree?

"No, not really. Having more exercises like this would mean we were better prepared to enter the workforce when we graduate, but maybe I can achieve that by pursuing a degree at a higher level."

More from the organisers

"This event has been a valuable experience; I now know how to solve problems myself, my decision making skills have been sharpened and I feel that I am now capable to organise events of this scale in the future," said Latifa Al Ameri, an organiser, part of the 'vendor's group'. Her thoughts were echoed by Hind Khalifa, an organiser part of the finance group, "I feel that it really taught me something about communicating with external parties," she said.

Some of those who helped organise the education souq and felt that it helped their public speaking and presentation skills, "It gave me courage to speak to the public in English and showed me the need that exists for businesses to communicate with the public," said Khadija Al Ameri, organiser and business information technology student.