3M goes on acquisition trail in bid to expand across region

The conglomerate 3M, maker of Post-it Notes and Scotch Tape, is eyeing companies in the Middle East as potential takeover targets.

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3M, the US conglomerate that makes Post-it Notes, Scotch Tape and thousands of other products, is in acquisition mode as it plans to develop its Middle East operations.

The company has been seeking recommendations from investment banks for potential acquisition targets including small companies, said Manohar Raghavan, its regional head of strategic business planning, mergers and acquisitions and marketing.

"We've got a big list in the hopper," he said. Potential candidates are being examined by 3M's global operations unit to ensure they pass muster in all markets where the company operates.

"External growth is really critical for 3M, whether it's in the Middle East, whether it's globally," he said.

"We're continuously pursuing opportunities within our core areas," he added. These include adhesives materials and nanotechnology.

The multinational conglomerate seeking potential acquisitions of small businesses in the UAE comes hot on the heels of new laws intended to clarify what constitutes small and medium enterprises.

The hope is to target private sector investment more effectively in this sector, considered the engine of job creation.

But banks have warned entrepreneurs have been held back in their efforts to attract financing by failing to devote attention to aspects of their business beyond their main focus.

Startups were likely to ignore this aspect because of the small sizes of their firms and an entrepreneur's tendency to focus on his core business, said Hameed Noor Mohamed, the head of small and medium enterprises at Mashreq.

"He's busy producing the best widget in town, and he's not thinking about his accounts," he said.

"If the core business is not there, we don't look further than that. But the most important thing is to get organised as a business, when it comes to financial information and transparency."

Lenders have attempted to target this market aggressively as other lines of business become saturated, although some entrepreneurs have complained that access to finance remains difficult.

Last month, Dubai's Government issued a set of corporate governance guidelines for small businesses to help firms gain a greater access to finance.

As the local market for startups matures, Mr Raghavan said he hoped to see increasing numbers of patents granted to inventors of technologies made in the UAE.

3M established a Dubai "innovation centre" in January, a laboratory where it tests inventions such as reflective street signs, bombproof windscreens and fluorinated water into which a motherboard can be dunked without it short-circuiting.

The company is seeking to develop the centre as its Middle Eastern hub.

"The products developed in the US or Europe might not fit into the harsh environment of the Middle East," Mr Raghavan said.

3M conducts research and development in the Gulf, but hopes its innovation centre - full of examples of technology developed by the company, which it displays to potential clients - will eventually open to the public to spark an interest among would-be inventors in the UAE.