Entrepreneurs pitch for place at Dubai Expo 2020

The heads of more than 200 small and medium business groups gathered in Dubai on Wednesday for the first ‘Meet the Buyer’ event to help them reach out to the Expo 2020 procurement team and contractors.

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses queue to meet Expo 2020 officials at the Meet the Buyers event. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // Propping up tablets and smartphones to display ­Arabic and English presentations, business owners and entrepreneurs from the UAE and overseas are vying to be part of the region’s first Expo.

The heads of more than 200 small and medium-sized business groups gathered in Dubai on Wednesday for the first Meet the Buyer event to help them in approaching the Expo 2020 procurement team and contractors.

“The world will be in one place so this is exciting. As part of the GCC we should all be part of this event,” said Hessa Al Mannai, founder of Al Hoss Design, who was visiting from Bahrain accompanied by her sister, Lulwa.

“As a small business, it is our ­vision to introduce our art, fabrics and tradition to the world, because through the Expo we can connect with buyers.”

From construction, technology, facilities-management companies, tourism ventures, catering units, design houses and green initiatives to accounting and uniform agencies, people crowded into the hall at Jumeirah Emirates Towers hotel.

More than 15 tables were set up with the different sections handled by companies ranging from DP World, Transguard, Tristar Engineering, Emirates and UPS.

Each small business was given five minutes to talk about its strengths at one table, and then had to queue again before the next group.

As a big screen marked the time, an announcer declared, “Sixty seconds left to make it count”.

Mohammed Al Harthy, chief executive of akkasa production, came from Oman hoping to generate interest in adventure tourism.

“If we can attract even a small percentage of Expo visitors to my country, these are opportunities I’m looking for. Oman is a short flight away,” he said. “Because of oil prices, it is a challenge so everyone is trying to find something else, to find other potential in the GCC.

“Dubai is a hub for business and tourism and we can get the benefit as a GCC country.”

Yaser Al Battashi, chief executive of Efreez, an Omani construction and interior design company, scrolled through his presentation while waiting in line. It was his first attempt at ­securing business in the UAE.

“We are here to search for a chance for my company. I want to also understand what big companies need for projects and tenders. This is power for small businesses to know about projects coming up,” he said.

A major draw for participants was that 20 per cent of the Expo budget is committed to the small and medium-sized business ­sector.

Emirati owner of Uniform Express, Huda Al Hashimi, flicked through the designs her manufacturing unit created for schools, hospitals and security companies.

“This supports local companies because we have been told we would be paid 50 per cent in advance. Usually we need bank loans and we get paid after 60 to 90 days. So support from a big project is super for us,” she said.

The first World Fair in the Middle East and North Africa region will run for six months from October 2020, anticipating millions of visitors, with 70 per cent from overseas and 200 countries and organisations participating.

About 10,000 small and medium-sized businesses have registered, said Najeeb Al Ali, executive director for Expo 2020.

“The ultimate idea is that within the Expo, you have an opportunity to meet the entire world, to work with international contractors and partners. You have an opportunity to take your small company to a different level,” Mr Al Ali said.

“Our decision from early on was to focus on SMEs not only because they can be good suppliers but they also add an interesting value to the overall Expo project. And today is testimony to that when we see so many companies joining us.”