It’s impossible to travel to somewhere unfamiliar such as Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, without conceiving various thoughts as to what to expect. If you’ve not been there yourself then stop, close your eyes and try and imagine the scene before reading on.
I was asked to speak at WeAreTheFuture’s first Middle East youth entrepreneurship summit which was held in partnership with Abu Dhabi University. The two day event was anchored by WeAreTheFuture regional ambassador Stuart Morris and comprised talks by local successful entrepreneurs and a pitching competition “The Idea Factory”, for 14 to 22 year olds. An audience of 250 attended with many arriving after a three hour drive.
Now let’s visit some of my misconceptions,
1. Most of the young entrepreneurs will be male
Of the 54 teams that entered the pitching competition over 65% were female. This apparently is the norm in the UAE. Possibly due to the fact that male candidates find it easier to secure employment opportunities and thus young women are more likely to look at self-employment as an option.
2. Language will be an issue
Not the slightest. All bar one of the 54 presentations were given in perfect English.
3. Technology will not be as prominent here as in Europe
Well I presented on stage in front of the largest screen I’ve ever used, with my voice clearly heard around the auditorium through a state of the art sound system and the whole event was videoed. The audience used smart phones and the winning prizes were all tech.
4. As many of the pitches were given by children of school age the ideas would be simplistic, eg. to create toys / games or perhaps study aids
This idea was firmly hit on the head when a young man of 16 years stood up in front of us and pitched the creation and introduction of a new Bitcoin exchange platform for the UAE. He then proceeded to cover such revenue generations streams as “Arbitrage”.
5. The attendees at the event would be quiet, modest and reserved
Not the slightest these future stars were going to make the most of their time with us. Speakers were questioned, ideas challenged and all done in a supportive and fun way. And this was truer for the girls than the boys.
6. Securing local speakers able to inspire and motivate the audience would be hard
Meet Farah Al Qaissieh, Founder and CEO of Discover Dhabi, Jaafar al Aydaroos Founder of Upscale Decor Peter Litvin of Fortress Partners and Fatima Shirawi Founder of the Gracious F. And let’s not forget Mohamed Hamdy of incubator Turn8 who was wonderful with the young would be entrepreneurs.
7. Incubators, Accelerators and Funding would be uncommon in the region
Incubators and Accelerators started to open here last year and I met with representatives of Turn8, TwoFour54 and Flat6Labs all of whom follow models very familiar to us in Europe/US. All the Incubators & Accelerators are interested to invest and would welcome European entrepreneurs.
8. University staff would be formal in the approach
I honestly thought that in a conservative country as the UAE this would be the case instead I had the pleasure of spending two days with a fabulous team at Abu Dhabi University where I laughed more than at any other event as we worked as a seamless team to deliver an extraordinary event. Dr. Jacob Chacko your team and all the volunteers were magnificent, especially Mohammed Parakandi who is an organisational genius.
9. Running the event would be a major drain on the thin finances at WeAreTheFuture as we would not be charging participants to attend the event
We used profits generated at our recent Edinburgh summit and local sponsorship which Stuart Morris was able to secure, but let’s look at costs
Flights: Our tickets were sponsored by Etihad Airlines who will soon be flying direct from Edinburgh to Abu Dhabi Hotel: Great find by Stuart and we stayed in luxury at the Aloft for £50 per head per night Expenses: Eating out was less expensive than at home and taxis are incredibly cheap If you’d like to join our list of global sponsors and partners for future events then drop me an email at email@example.com
10. Such an event would attract little press coverage in the region
I’ve never been more wrong. The event was covered in the top selling publications across the region including Gulf News and The National. This achievement was surely aided by WeAreTheFuture regional ambassador Stuart Morris who secured royal patronage for the event from Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development. Thanks also to the Herald for highlighting our achievement.
And in the end
So what did I learn from my few days in Abu Dhabi regarding the entrepreneurial landscape? Well for starters one exists J and the young people of the UAE are just as imaginative, driven and hard working as those in Europe and the US. Once again I witnessed first-hand the similarities between young people around the world and not the differences. The opportunities in the UAE are enormous and although there are challenges there are also opportunities, so I’m very optimistic.
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