Starting a business in the UAE can be mired in red tape and conflicting information. But a new website, SMEinfo.ae, aims to take the headache out of launching a start-up or growing a fledgling business through a range of interactive platforms that include free-zone comparisons, step-by-step procedures, access to mentors and, most important, the costs involved. Edward Poultney, the editor of the website, which was launched three weeks ago, says that although 90 per cent of registered businesses in the Emirates are small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), little has been done to equip them with the tools to succeed.
What's been the reaction so far?
The reaction has been very good. Obviously, we did a lot of competitor analysis and looked at what else was in the market. And what we found was that if you are running an SME or you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business in the UAE, it is very difficult to find objective, trustworthy information - and the sources that have that information. So what we are trying to offer people is a direct point to get that information; providing the first steps for them. And what we are trying to do with the mentor-video section of the website is to give people access to entrepreneurs who have started their businesses here.
How did you choose the mentors for the videos?
What we wanted to do was look for a company in each sector in which their leaders were recognised, who readers of the website would have an affinity to. We've got 12 up there at the moment and we are planning to build that. We don't know everybody in the field, so a lot of what we are trying to do through building the community is getting people to suggest who they see as having good success stories.
What are your future plans for the site?
In the next few months, we are going to be rolling out further parts of the site. We want it to be very interactive and the type of place where we can answer questions. We want to build in a lot of user-generated content and let guys who have actually done it answer questions for people who are looking to do it. In terms of offline events, we've got the SMEinfo Awards, which are coming up at the end of the year. It is just trying to tie everything together. Offline is definitely an important part of it because we want to build the networking aspect. As good as networking online is, obviously, the face-to-face, personal touch is very important as well.
Is the website UAE-wide or is it Dubai-focused?
It is UAE-wide. The thing is, obviously, a lot of the free zones tend to be in Dubai, but we actually have free zones across the UAE. We've covered all the principal free zones, but we're very open to people getting in touch and saying: "Look, you haven't covered this, or I want this, or the information you've got here is wrong." We want the community to help us.
What are the biggest challenges a start-up faces in the UAE?
There are a number of topics coming up again and again. One is legislation, so people say they are often a little unclear as to what the processes or procedures are and how they go about dealing with that. The other is costs and financing; access to financing.
How important are SMEs to the UAE economy?
It is something that is increasingly important in terms of building the economy from the ground up to remove the reliance on large companies. And they're a major part of, obviously, a more mature economy.