Growing up, most of us believe in the Arab dream — that by getting an international-degree education and building up our résumés with internships and relevant professional skills, we’ll be able to graduate and walk into a high-paying or, at least, stable career. But with nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates working jobs that don’t require a degree, a college degree is no longer a golden ticket.
This harsh reality, paired with the celebration of entrepreneurship, turns everyone into an aspiring entrepreneur. But the road to successful entrepreneurship is by no means easier than the traditional Arab dream. In most cases, it’s harder — and it takes a lot of time, effort, energy and, more often than not, money too.
I often get asked what qualities it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and the key one is how to deal with and learn from failure.
There’s a thin line between success and failure, but the key thing for any new company is survival. Seven out of ten companies do not survive the first 18 months when they are starting out, and if this happens you should not feel completely downhearted. You should learn from it and try again.
You also need the right people. Surround yourself with brilliant people, create a fun environment and culture, and treat them well.
Recognising failure as a learning opportunity must be part of the entrepreneurship journey.
The system in the region is still not designed for you to be an entrepreneur. It is designed for you to work for someone else. Once you understand that, you can begin to look at your situation through a different lens and realise that this will be one of the hardest things you will ever do, and one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences in your life.
Being an entrepreneur is about doing things you never thought you could do and having great perseverance while doing it. You need to have great confidence in your ideas and what you have set out to accomplish. Be prepared to work the system to make it work for you. It may not happen overnight but stick with it.
Interfacing digital skills and entrepreneurship presents a critical opportunity for the next generation. Ways should be sought to capitalise on the digital readiness of today’s young people to encourage more technological start-ups. Young people need the training, confidence and support to enable them to exploit new technologies.
In addition, a rethink of the teaching and learning processes from an early age, especially schools, is necessary to equip young people with the skills to manage failure and success, which are particular challenges for today’s entrepreneur.
A primary stumbling block for young entrepreneurs is the lack of business experience. Mentoring can address this through one-to-one professional support to build entrepreneurial confidence and know-how. Mentoring requires planning, financial investment, monitoring and evaluation. To ensure its effectiveness in differing cultural contexts, a number of queries need to be addressed:
- Is mentoring best when it is informal?
- What incentives are needed for mentors?
- What background, preparation or training do mentors need, specifically to support young entrepreneurs?
- Could virtual mentoring arrangements overcome geographical distances and/or social and cultural sensitivities (for example, in communities where access for young women to mentoring and support is restricted)?
- Development in youth entrepreneurship mentoring will require quality assurance and should include business ethics.
Entrepreneurship has such a positive impact on society and can create jobs, contribute to the economy and innovate out-of-date systems. It can also help us solve some of the world’s most pressing problems such as climate change, developing new markets and giving people meaningful work.
Now it’s over to you, the next generation of entrepreneurs.
- The writer is Chairman of digital services provider, Ixtel and founder member of the Emirati Entrepreneurs Association