Meet Dubai's first 'Entrepreneur'

The Life: Nabbesh, the winner of The Entrepreneur competition, aims to ease regional unemployment.

Loulou Khazen Baz, who started Nabbesh last year, was the inaugural winner of the reality TV show The Entrepreneur. Sarah Dea / The National
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The bubbly environs of Dubai start-ups proved infectious for Loulou Khazen Baz.

When she quit her job at ActiveM, a venture capital company, in March 2011, she wanted to set up an enterprise that would have a social impact and be an exciting challenge.

"I did some research and found myself asking: how accessible is talent," she says. "It was not."

Her strains of thought finally led to a company she started a year ago in Beirut: Nabbesh, a skills marketplace, that aims to create jobs in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

Entrepreneurs like Ms Baz bank on skills in the available market that can range from graphic designing to plumbing in the fight to drive down unemployment. The idea was so attractive to some businesspeople that Ms Baz in November won the first edition of the reality TV show The Entrepreneur, which is sponsored by du.

"It tackles a serious problem in the Mena region and provides a solution," says Muna Al Gurg. "Moreover all technology enterprises are scalable as anyone can access the site from anywhere in the world."

Ms Al Gurg, the director of retail for Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, was a judge at the competition.

In the Arab countries, the average unemployment rate is 12 per cent, according to the United Nations Development Programme's Arab Knowledge Report for 2012.

Nabbesh "has to be a nonstop place where people thinking of cost-effective way of hiring talent would feel it is an ideal place for them," Ms Al Gurg says. Nabbesh, which means 'search' in Arabic, was started with Dh250,000 (US$68,062) that Ms Baz had saved for 10 years, she says, and now employs three full-time staff, including herself and the co-founder Rima Al Sheikh, 28, and eight freelancers who work on Web design and development from Dubai, Lebanon and Germany.

While support from family and friends is welcome in an enterprise's initial stages, Ms Baz, 31, says too much of it can be counterproductive. "You have to be careful about feedback," she says. "Do not open it up to everybody because then it can become very unmanageable and negative."

The support system and mentors need to be honest with start-up entrepreneurs but "you have to see they will not demotivate you".

One of the challenges of Nabbesh is that it is competing with online jobs portals, such as Dubizzle and Laimoon, that are thriving in the UAE. And Ms Baz knows she has to distinguish her portal from them.

Nabbesh has started with individuals looking to market their skills, but expects to be open to companies in future.

It has 5,000 registered users, with 90 per cent of them marketing their skills and the rest hiring. Almost 70 per cent of the users are based in the UAE, followed by Lebanon and Egypt. Each of the skills listed come with a location pin, to identify the distance between recruiter and the job seeker.

The website would also allow people marketing their skills to get recommendation-based ratings.

The site is free to use and is not yet generating money, but it expects to earn through advertisements and online transaction fees, which it will introduce by the second quarter of this year.

"When a job is done, we will manage the transaction and take a transaction fee," she says. But that is only when payment is made online. If the transacting parties meet face to face and pay physically, Nabbesh will lose out on the fees. Ms Baz knows that is a loophole.

"But we will incentivise online payment, especially for long-distance transactions," she says. "Also, it is less risky."

Another reason: it would help Nabbesh to become a regional website.

"Rima is from Syria, I am from Lebanon, and we have both faced lack of opportunities, poverty and women's issues in our countries," Ms Baz says. "We want to create opportunities for skilled people in Mena."