Moving pictures for a living

The Life: Good business ideas often come in a flash for entrepreneurs, but turning a promising indea into profits is usually a much longer slog.

Good business ideas often come in a flash for entrepreneurs, but turning a promising idea into profits is usually a much longer slog.

This is the sink-or-swim situation in which a pair of Dubai-based artists find themselves.

Shamma al Amri and Mona Fares, both 25, last year launched Nomads Box (NBX), a portable exhibition that displays local artists' work in a shipping container they move to hot spots around Dubai.

The entrepreneurs sell their own work and that of local artists, from which they take a 40 per cent cut.

They received a grant of Dh62,000 (US$16,880) from Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to start the project, but the cash has been spent and the business must generate enough revenue to keep running.

Experts say it is not uncommon for start-ups to focus primarily on raising seed capital and then struggle to capitalise on the product, partly because the two tasks require different skills.

The problem the two Dubai women face is that they are pioneering a new concept, making the market hard to quantify.

This means that building a business plan and predicting cash flows is harder than selling in an established market, especially when they also have to stay true to their artistic ideals.

"We will need to find a compromise between selling and upholding the true meaning of art," says Ms al Amri.

To ensure the business survives, Ms al Amri hopes another benefactor will provide a cash injection until sales pick up.

The good news is that according to Art Dubai, which held its fifth DIFC Gulf Art Fair this month, there are positive trends behind the business.

"We see more and more of these public projects that engage the person on the street," says Antonia Carver, the director of the art fair.

"But to have a thriving arts sector we need opportunities for artists to be successful in market terms - for example, their work sells through galleries and auctions."

Ms al Amri says there is a "paradox" artists face between trying sell their art and remaining creative.

"Many artists are put off if they have to create for a particular audience," she says. "The most important part about art is that it's genuine."

Having first spent three months at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), NBX is now on The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence.

The entrepreneurs came up with the concept for a moving arts container from the UAE's nomadic tradition. Shipping is a key symbol of Dubai's trading past and the project is also an environmental initiative to recycle the many containers left behind in the country.

The overheads and start-up costs have been vast. The moving and powering of the shipping container has eaten into the budget, while only a few paintings have been sold thus far.