Running a small business from home is perhaps an ideal way for women in this part of the world to contribute to the national economy. However, it is sometimes said that they tend to start companies that are difficult to scale up. How can women be encouraged to have more ambition for the companies they start – rather than always remain a micro enterprise? SG, Abu Dhabi
Over the past two years I have had the privilege of being a judge at the Gulf Capital SMEinfo awards. While performing this role and during my business life in the UAE, I have come across many successful small businesses that were started and run by ambitious women.
One inspiring business I encountered at the SMEinfo Gulf Capital awards was started by a single woman whose first year was spent cleaning residential windows in the Jumeirah district of Dubai. Today, her business employs hundreds of people and is regarded as a leader in its sector, providing award-winning service to both local government and residential customers.
I believe that the UAE, relative to the region, offers a positive environment for women to enter into and grow their business.
Without doubt getting a start-up off the ground from home would be both cost-efficient and easier for women with family commitments. However, this might not be the best way for an expatriate to get going in the UAE because local law requires a business to have a commercial lease which then generates the trade licence and the employment visas. This precludes operating a business from home.
Nevertheless, there are cost effective ways for an expat to get a small business off the ground. There are many different types of free zones across the UAE and depending on the commercial activity free zones can register a business that is 100 per cent foreign owned.
Within these zones the business can rent an office and obtain visas, which are linked to the size of that office. As the business scales up and thus acquires more commercial space, the number of visas that can be issued increase. It is also generally easier to process licences and visas within a free zone.
Over the years I have worked with a number of successful companies that were the brainchild of UAE-based female entrepreneurs.
Human resources, public relations, food and beverage, and financial services are just few of the business segments I have come across where I have had first-hand experience of expat and Emirati women growing a successful businesses from scratch.
There are a number of government-sponsored programmes available to Emirati women who run micro enterprises. The Intilaq scheme is one such programme run by the Dubai Government and is open to the Emirati SME network including women.
This programme removes the need for micro enterprises to have a commercial lease thereby allowing these businesses to operate from home. I believe a few hundred Emirati women entrepreneurs have registered through this programme and Intilaq is being actively marketed in colleges and higher training centres to encourage the small and medium enterprises sector to grow.
The Department of Economic Development in Dubai further encourages small enterprises to scale up by providing a number of business counselling and training courses.
In the capital, the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council seeks to empower Emirati women in business by providing support services that assist, nurture and train aspiring entrepreneurs to get their business off the ground.
The Mubdi’ah Programme, also under the auspices of the council, supports and licenses Emirati women who wish to practice small-scale commercial activities that are suitable to run from home.
Nearly all the women entrepreneurs I have encountered have one common thread – an encouraging family that supports her business to get off the ground and continue to do so as it becomes successful.
This, arguably, is the most important factor in encouraging women to be more ambitious with their micro enterprise.
Yunib Siddiqui started his first business in London at the age of 22. He is the chief executive and owner of Jones the Grocer in the UAE. He can be contacted at SMEbizCorner@gmail.com