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Leading UAE-based founders praised the nation’s startup ecosystem, and the ease of access and support it provides to dreamers with big ideas of change during a panel session ‘Charting a new course: Entrepreneurs as Changemakers’ on the opening day (Monday) of the 5th edition of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF 2021), organised by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa).

The panel’s speakers, Hayat Al Hassan, founder of peer-to-peer car rental app Sweech; Ihsan Al-Hayek, Mena regional manager of banking API Dapi; and Maria Sohb, Cofounder of sustainable solutions company, The Concept, led the conversation about the UAE’s world-class entrepreneurial landscape and its vision for the future in the context of the Golden Jubilee year.

The discussion was moderated by Manar Al Hinai, journalist and co-founder of Sekka magazine, who noted: “In business, as in life, the home is the biggest support system and for all of us entrepreneurs here, Sheraa has been our home; our lifeline guiding us through our entrepreneurial journeys”.

The panelists pointed out that the UAE invests in the country’s youth, making their dreams come true in the ‘here and now’ instead of 10 – 15 years in future. They credited their successes to the Sheraa’s structured support system, the introductions provided to investors and corporations, being offered a real sense of encouragement during nascent stages, and the UAE’s forward-looking attitude in all sectors.

“With Sweech, I wanted to give every user the joyfulness of discovering the UAE on their own terms. I hope to be able to compete globally. This requires an innovative tech and product ecosystem, and the development of technical talents to build scaleable and reliable solutions, all of which the nation offers,” said Al Hassan.

Al-Hayek pointed out that the UAE can easily be the fintech hub of the world. “Dapi is a homegrown application that filled a market gap integrating with multiple banks across different regions via a single connection, and enabling them to build a bridge between their applications and their users’ bank accounts to initiate secure payments. This is proof that we can navigate emerging challenges in the tech landscape and build solutions that can be applied locally and globally,” he said.

“Sustainability is always at the heart of the UAE’s policies,” noted Sobh. “With incubators like Sheraa, you see that nurturing is taken to the very core of venture building. Even students with business ideas are given the space and mentoring to do what they want to do, like I was. All this incredible support has been made so easily accessible for us in the UAE with the right entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

Creator of Calm talks about “changing the world with an app”

In another session, Calm meditation and sleep app co-founder Michael Acton Smith had a chat with UAE-based VentureSouq’s founding partner Sonia Weymuller on changing the world with an app and promoting the movement towards making mental health mainstream.

“When the idea came to us 10 years ago, we felt we could potentially build a Nike of the mind. There was so much scepticism about mental health being as important as physical fitness back then, and we struggled to raise money from anywhere – VCs to Silicon Valley – but what kept us going is our belief that we were going to change the world,” said Acton Smith.

The app grew from strength to strength, not losing its user base when subscription fee was raised to $40 a year, and winning Apple’s App of the Year in 2017 before finally reaching its current $2 billion valuation.

Acton Smith has three key lessons for entrepreneurs seeking to take the plunge. First, is the importance of timing, that is, not leaving a business idea for too late or even launching it ahead of its time; second, leaving the world happier or healthier through the product or service; and finally, having fun on the journey of entrepreneurship and learning from both its ups and downs.

Source: National Network Communications – NNC