If you probe deep into the psyche of any successful entrepreneur, you probably won’t unravel any magic formula to success, but what you will find are some common character traits — courage, conviction, optimism and perseverance — without which no entrepreneur can run their business. GN Focus speaks to entrepreneurs in the UAE, many of whom quit their corporate jobs to embrace this brave new world. Here’s what they told us about their entrepreneurial journey.
Rabea Nawaz, Pakistani-American, and Ayeshah Wakkas, Pakistani-Canadian, Co-founders, The Happiness Fitt
For both of us, our individual core foundation is all about happiness and harmony
Ayeshah Wakkas is a holistic wellness and lifestyle coach, with a passion for dancing, while Rabea Nawaz is a transformational coach and a strategist. They started The Happiness Fitt, a happiness-based consulting firm, in 2015.
“For both of us, our individual core foundation is all about happiness and harmony,” says Nawaz, who moved to Dubai to focus on her true calling after pursuing a successful 17-year corporate career in the US. “I aim to inspire people to fully understand, embrace and capitalise on their strengths in life,” she tells GN Focus.
“Starting The Happiness Fitt has been an empowering journey full of learnings and growth for both of us.”
Wakkas says, “We have seen remarkable shifts amongst our clientele, who believed and embarked on their journey of changing perspectives and widening horizons with us. For us, our venture has been a truly fulfilling experience.”
Heba Rumhein, Syrian, Founder and CEO, Siraj restaurant and H Concepts and Events
Dubai teaches you that in order to be number one in your field, you need to act like a number one
Heba Rumhein was born and raised in Syria, where she watched her parents running their own hospitality business. “I became familiar with the warm hospitality of Arabian culture from my childhood and I quickly developed a passion for the F&B industry,” Rumhein says.
Before launching her restaurant Siraj at Souq Al Bahr, she held various positions in the hospitality industry in the UAE. “I once visited a fine-dining restaurant that I really liked and asked myself why I cannot do something special with Emirati and Syrian cuisines. I decided to look for a place in Dubai and soon opened Siraj in 2016.” She also started another venture, The H Concepts and Events, last year that specialises in luxury weddings.
“The key thing that I learned while starting my ventures was how to legally protect [myself]. When I started the restaurant, I set a budget that ended up increasing tremendously due to delays from suppliers and contractors. I needed to be on top of things and involved with every detail to make it succeed. Dubai teaches you that in order to be number one in your field, you need to act like a number one, meaning you need to lead by example, be a role model, work with your team as one of them, while inspiring and motivating your team members.”
Abhishek Sharma, Indian, CEO, Foundation Holdings
I believe it is essential to have the right people around you who can support you, complement your skill set and have goals that are aligned with yours
Launched in 2016, Foundation Holdings is a global strategic investment firm with interests in healthcare and education in the GCC and India. “I have had the experience and privilege of leading IPOs on the New York Stock Exchange, London Stock Exchange and Dubai Financial Markets,” says Abhishek Sharma.
“I saw the unique opportunity of helping healthcare and education companies to a position where the level of quality, growth and brand enables them to be IPO-ready or finding them a home on the FTSE 100.
“The name Foundation is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s quote, ‘With a strong foundation, one can build or rebuild anything’. The GCC and the UAE offer excellent opportunities for those with an entrepreneurial spirit and our journey of two years has been fantastic. I believe it is essential to have the right people around you who can support you, complement your skill set and have goals that are aligned with yours.”
Nada Soliman, Egyptian, Founder, Nüd the Label
Being your own boss is fun but you can easily get distracted if you don’t put yourself in check
UAE-based designer Nada Soliman launched Nüd the Label, a brand dedicated exclusively to creating contemporary evening wear for women, earlier this year. “Growing up I have always loved fashion and had an eye for it. Contemporary evening wear has always grabbed my attention, especially shorts, which I consider one of my weaknesses,” says Soliman, an American University in Cairo graduate. “I noticed a gap in the market for them. This drove me to create Nüd the Label.
“Running a business is an ongoing journey with many bumps [along] the way, learning something new every day. You need to stay on top of things and set your schedule to optimise your work day. Being your own boss is fun but you can easily get distracted if you don’t put yourself in check.”
Gary Blowers, British, Co-founder and CEO, SwitchDXB
Having a clear path of where you intend to be is critical in guiding all decisions. Without it, you either make no decisions or bad ones
“When I first moved to Dubai in 2015, I wanted to try as many new activities as possible with the goal to lead an active lifestyle” Gary Blowers tells GN Focus.
“Finding those activities and then booking them was an instant brick wall. So, after a year of trying to find a way that would work for users, businesses and us, we finally came up with a business model and Switch DXB was born.” This is a health, fitness and wellness mobile app designed to educate, inform and inspire people to make a healthy change to their lifestyle.
“When I started my first business with my co-founder, we did not have a plan — we just knew that working for ourselves seemed like a much better option than working for someone else.
“To this day, that remains true, however, we now have a greater understanding of how to plan, execute and analyse, creating effective and efficient cycles that drive us forward. Having a clear path of where you intend to be is critical in guiding all decisions. Without it, you either make no decisions or bad ones.”
Michele Grosso, Italian, Co-founder and CEO, Democrance
It’s also critical to surround yourself with people who are smarter and better than you in their areas of expertise
Democrance is an insurance technology start-up, enabling partnerships that make insurance accessible and affordable for those who need it most. “While working with leading global insurers in both, mature and emerging markets, I realised that those who need insurance most often do not have access to it,” says Michele Grosso, who founded the company in 2015.
“I wanted to change this, so I launched Democrance. This is focused on the core purpose of insurance: to provide mutual aid for those in need. We have built a fully digital, mobile-first insurance technology platform, which gives people access to insurance products through their mobile phones.”
“For entrepreneurs, passion and purpose are what matter most.” Grosso asks aspiring entrepreneurs to venture into something they love and are ready to sacrifice many aspects of their personal lives for. “It’s also critical to surround yourself with people who are smarter and better than you in their areas of expertise.”
The land of opportunity
The UAE is a paradise for entrepreneurs. I have witnessed the growth trajectory of Dubai over the past three decades and find the people who come here are provided all possible help to set up their business and grow. The expats who have come to the UAE have been able to realise their dreams because there is level playing ground for them. With nearly 85 per cent of the population being expats, this is very important for the growth of the economy.
From the time predating the Emirates this land has always welcomed people with ideas and innovation. Since its unification in 1971, the UAE has imbibed this intrinsic quality and has continued to be a land that not only welcomes entrepreneurship but also encourages it. This can be seen today in many ways, from the dedicated city concepts to the recently announced long-term visas, the country seeks to be the hub for innovation and entrepreneurial excellence.