Developing entrepreneurial mindsets and skills can help Gen Z build rewarding careers: Here are tales of two UAE-based young entrepreneurs. Image Credit: Shutterstock

In the rapidly evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, Generation Z (Gen Z), born roughly between 1997 and 2012, is making waves with its distinctive approach to business. Armed with digital fluency, a desire for innovation, and a strong inclination to create meaningful impact, Gen Z entrepreneurs face a unique set of resources and challenges as they embark on their entrepreneurial journeys in today's interconnected world.

One of the defining characteristics of Gen Z is its status as digital natives. Growing up in an era dominated by technology, smartphones, and social media, Gen Z entrepreneurs have an inherent advantage in leveraging digital platforms to launch and grow businesses. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube serve not only as marketing channels but also as launchpads for new products and services. The ability to reach global audiences with minimal overhead costs empowers young entrepreneurs to establish brands and gain traction swiftly.

The internet provides unprecedented access to knowledge and resources. Suhana Jethwani, the 16-year-old entrepreneur student from Dubai College who began selling her artwork on Artpreneur, a global art platform that celebrates artists and their work, was talking about the resources that Gen Z possesses nowadays that facilitate the establishment of businesses.

Another valuable resource for today’s entrepreneurs is the opportunity to study business management courses online

- Suhana Jethwani

She talked about how the internet is a powerful tool that provides young entrepreneurs with access to online courses, tutorials, and webinars. “Another valuable resource for today’s entrepreneurs is the opportunity to study business management courses online. Platforms offer courses on entrepreneurship that range from a few hours to several weeks per course. With these resources at our fingertips, us Gen Z entrepreneurs can navigate the ever-evolving business landscape in an informed manner,” Jethwani told Gulf News.

Ayaan Gandhi, a 17-year-old entrepreneur and student of Repton Dubai, is a luxury watch reseller in the UAE, Monaco and Belgium. With a focus on luxury watch brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, and others. Gandhi buys and sells luxury watches through Instagram and other references including a network of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) - people with a net worth of at least $30 million (Dh110 million).

Gandhi’s journey into finding his own path in the business world began with internships, as well as courses from Babson College and UCLA where he gained valuable experience and insights across these diverse industries. His passion for watches combined with his entrepreneurial drive, helped him develop his brand A.G. Timepieces. He mentioned the UAE market is saturated with luxury watch enthusiasts and so he utilised that to feed his business.

Gandhi sources his watches from private sellers and collectors, acquiring watches from individuals looking to sell their timepieces, trade-ins and consignments, offering trade-in programmes where customers can exchange their watches for new ones, or stock watches on consignment, wholesale suppliers, working with wholesalers who specialise in luxury watches.

Ayaan Gandhi

Gandhi presents a curated assemblage of pre-owned classic luxury watches and is currently in the process of developing an e-commerce platform and a website. He spoke about his sales frequency, “On a good week, I sell around five watches, which is a strong indicator of the rapidly growing market demand within the pre-owned luxury market. In a good month, sales can reach anywhere from 15 to 20 watches. These figures reflect both the quality and desirability of the brands we sell, as well as the strength of customer engagement and promotional efforts.”

Since November 2023, Gandhi has sold 80 watches resulting in a revenue of $5.4 million (Dh19.8 million). The demand for Swiss-made timepieces in the UAE has seen a 12 per cent increase on estimated spending year-on-year, with 2023 setting a record for the third year running with a value of estimated spending sitting over $1.3 billion (Dh4.7 billion)

On the other hand, Jethwani shared her sales frequency as well. “I have only just started selling my art a few months ago and have already sold five pieces. It is very exciting to display my artwork, and a rewarding feeling knowing people find inspiration in my work and want to buy it. I feel very inspired and motivated, and I am busy spending my time creating lots of new art pieces,” said Jethwani

Network, network, network

Gandhi spoke about the importance of networking when it comes to starting a business at a young age in this market. He shared some of his methods. “Networking is important as well for a business setup. Online forums and platforms such as LinkedIn have connected me with mentors, investors, and peers, offering me unique insights on growing the business,” Gandhi said.

This democratisation of education enables aspiring entrepreneurs to acquire expertise and insights previously reserved for established professionals, levelling the playing field for startups.

When navigating between university and the private business, the existence of an online communicating space is a high edge for young entrepreneurs.

E-commerce helps build small businesses

Jethwani spoke about a crucial factor that is now accessible to young aspiring individuals with CEO-like mind sets. To start a business and sell products a few years ago was limited to the existence of a physical store; the notion of an e-commerce platform remained unheard of. “A strong presence in the digital world is crucial for giving businesses global exposure. Additionally, online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon allow for global sales without the need for a physical store. For example, my Artpreneur page enables me to sell my artwork across the world reaching a dynamic audience,” added Jethwani.

With the existence of such platforms, any individual can use that online space to promote and sell products.

Adding on to the importance of the online space for Gen Z entrepreneurs, Gandhi raised an important point. When navigating between university and the private business, the existence of an online communicating space is a high edge for young entrepreneurs. “Remote work and collaborative tools such as Slack, Zoom, and Trello have enabled me to manage my team efficiently, giving me the flexibility to scale my business model,” said Gandhi.

Obstacles the young face

Despite their digital expertise, Gen Z entrepreneurs encounter significant challenges on their entrepreneurial path. A primary hurdle is the lack of experience and established networks compared to older generations. Building relationships with mentors, advisors, and industry peers requires proactive engagement in online communities, industry events, and networking platforms such as LinkedIn. Overcoming this initial barrier is crucial for accessing guidance, expertise, and potential funding opportunities.

Financial constraints also pose intimidating challenges for many Gen Z individuals. Burdened by student loan debt and facing economic uncertainty, young entrepreneurs often struggle to secure startup capital from traditional sources. Alternative financing options such as crowdfunding platforms (e.g., Kickstarter, Indiegogo) and angel investors become vital lifelines, enabling innovative ideas to come to life despite financial limitations.

Ayaan shared his financial plan; how he initially funded his business and the financial strategies he implements. “Initially, I funded the business using a combination of personal savings and support from family. I began selling to my father's friends and his network of seasoned buyers and collectors, sourcing hard to find pieces that added to my initial capital. To manage finances effectively, I received guidance from my father who is also a successful businessman. I created a detailed business plan that includes projected expenses, revenue forecasts, and a timeline for reaching profitability. This plan helped me stay on track and make informed decisions about where to allocate resources. I kept a close eye on cash flow, ensuring that I always had enough runway money to cover some operational costs as well as allocate funds to my social media marketing and building my website.”

What is runway money?
'Cash runway' refers to how much time a business has before it exhausts its current sources of income and it must seek more funds. To determine your cash runway, you need to first find out the 'burn rate', which is simply how fast your business is burning cash, that is spending more than it takes in.

Be fast, be responsive

Moreover, Jethwani explained that the rapid pace of technological innovation necessitates agility and adaptability from Gen Z entrepreneurs. Staying updated on evolving consumer preferences, market trends, and technological advancements is essential for maintaining competitiveness. The ability to pivot business strategies quickly in response to changing dynamics is a hallmark of successful startups led by Gen Z entrepreneurs.

“As a Gen Z entrepreneur, we need to be highly adaptive in this fast-paced digital world, while dealing with crazy competition on a global scale. The world is always throwing new technologies at us, giving us both incredible opportunities alongside some intense challenges. We need to constantly up our game and stay relevant. While these challenges are significant, they also provide us with opportunities for growth and innovation,” said Jethwani.

A defining trait of Gen Z entrepreneurship is its strong emphasis on purpose-driven initiatives. Unlike previous generations focused solely on profitability, Gen Z prioritises social impact, sustainability, and ethical business practices. Issues such as environmental conservation, social justice, and mental health awareness resonate deeply with this generation, influencing their business decisions and consumer preferences, too.

“Balancing sustainability and profitability is a challenge. Consumers are increasingly conscious of environmental issues, and businesses are expected to operate responsibly. Meeting these expectations while maintaining profitability requires innovative solutions and careful planning. Despite these challenges, they also present opportunities for growth and innovation, pushing me to innovate and improve my business strategies,” said Gandhi.

Many Gen Z-founded startups integrate social responsibility into their core mission, aligning profit with positive societal outcomes. This value-driven approach not only attracts socially conscious consumers but also appeals to investors and stakeholders committed to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria.

Gen Z is redefining the definition of work, they are more likely to have a side business along with their day job. New research from ZenBusiness – an international company that provides an all-in-one platform and guidance for small business owners - shows that 93 per cent of Gen Z have taken a step towards exploring business ownership, according to Forbes.

In the GCC and the whole MENA region, when it comes to sustainability and entrepreneurship, the UAE ranks first globally, according to the global entrepreneurship monitor 2021/2022.

As Gen Z continues to forge its path in the entrepreneurial landscape, the future of business innovation appears promising and diverse. Advances in technology, shifts in consumer behaviour, and global economic trends will continue to shape the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Gen Z, with its digital fluency, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to social impact, is poised to drive these changes and redefine industries across various sectors.

Resilience, creativity, with a proactive approach

The entrepreneurial journey for Gen Z is characterised by resilience, creativity, and a proactive approach to overcoming challenges mentioned Jethwani when asked about how to mitigate such challenges. “Adapting means being resilient, getting creative, and never stopping to learn. Despite the increasing complexity, Gen Z is well equipped with more resources and support networks than ever before. We can face these challenges head on and not just survive but thrive in this ever-evolving scene,” said Jethwani.

Despite the initial barriers they face, including financial constraints and the need to build professional networks, Gen Z entrepreneurs demonstrate a determination to succeed and a willingness to learn from setbacks. Their ability to leverage digital tools, embrace purpose-driven strategies, and adapt to dynamic market conditions positions them as catalysts for innovation in a rapidly evolving global economy.

Gen Z entrepreneurs navigate a complex and dynamic landscape marked by unprecedented opportunities and significant challenges. Their entrepreneurial endeavours reflect not only their ambition and creativity but also their commitment to making a meaningful impact on society. As they continue to harness their skills, aspirations, and entrepreneurial drive, Gen Z entrepreneurs are poised to shape a more inclusive, sustainable, and innovative future for businesses worldwide.