The Entrepreneur is Emirates' own Apprentice

The Life: Move over The Apprentice and Dragon's Den - a new business reality TV show, The Entrepreneur, is set to start filming and airing in the UAE.

For years, fans of reality TV shows with business themes have been tuning in to programmes such as The Apprentice, Dragons' Den and Project Runway.

But a new local series aims to inspire aspiring business owners through The Entrepreneur, which is expected to start airing in the Emirates this year.

"The objective of this project is finding groundbreaking entrepreneurs in the UAE," says Marwan Kaiss, the show's executive producer from Sony Pictures Television Arabia.

"It doesn't matter whether they are young, old, females, nationals," he says.

"We want someone coming with a brand-new idea that has not been done, ideally, in the whole world - and, realistically, in the UAE or Middle East region."

The top contestant stands to win a lucrative prize that not only includes exposure to a broad audience through TV, but also Dh1 million (US$272,000) of cash as well as Dh1m worth of perks consisting of office space, advertising services and consultation time with public relations professionals and business mentors.

"There are a lot of talented individuals that are residing in the UAE - locals and non-locals," says Hala Badri, the executive vice president of brand and communications at du, the telecommunications company that is supplying the show's winnings and involved in its production.

"We thought this would bring their ideas forward … and give them an opportunity to present, compete neck to neck for those who have a similar idea and [reward] the winning idea," Ms Badri says.

So who helps determine which of the 10 contestants - who are still being selected for the show - will ultimately walk away with the expertise and funds needed to launch a small or medium enterprise (SME)? Judges, who will act as critics and mentors, include business heavyweights such as Abdul Baset Al Janahi, the chief executive of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development, as well as Nisreen Shocair, the president of Virgin Megastore Middle East.

Some judges see this competition as a step towards providing much-needed funding for homegrown, entrepreneurial ideas.

But obtaining the winnings will not be easy, as judges will be scrutinising contestants as they complete different tests or challenges in topics such as communication, finance and marketing - and try to prove that they hold the necessary management skills to handle enterprises of their own.

"I'll definitely get into the business mode of things and be the bad cop sometimes," says Muna Easa Al Gurg, another one of The Entrepreneur's judges and the director of retail for the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group.

Ms Al Gurg adds, however: "I'm not going to be entirely bad."

Yogesh Mehta, the final judge on the show and the managing partner of Petrochem Middle East, represents the manufacturing and industrial sector with what he says is extensive experience of troubleshooting in businesses during hard times.

He is looking for someone who can nurture the seed of an idea into a large, successful venture.

"I would not want a wannabe or a second-best; this award must go to only the best person," he says. "You've got to be an SME first to become a tycoon or to become global. You've got to start somewhere."

Those interested in participating in the competition have until Saturday to apply, although the deadline might be extended, Mr Kaiss says.

Only those who live in the UAE are eligible, and more details about the contest can be found online at TheEntrepreneur.ae.

Many applicants so far have pitched eco-friendly ideas for infrastructure projects in the Emirates that have proved "interesting" to the selection committee, Mr Kaiss says.

Concepts with connections to the local region, such as chocolate bars that are made from camel's milk and sold in nearby airports, include an attractive cultural aspect.

"We're looking for such ideas," says Mr Kaiss.

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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