UAE-based entrepreneurs step into the spotlight

Entrepreneurs and start-up supporters based in the UAE are playing an increasing role on the global stage.
The former US president Bill Clinton is set to host the annual Hult Prize. Mark Von HoldenAP Images for Hult Prize
The former US president Bill Clinton is set to host the annual Hult Prize. Mark Von HoldenAP Images for Hult Prize

Long outshone by start-up founders from places such as Silicon Valley, some entrepreneurs working in the UAE are now being recognised for their influence across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

Next Tuesday in New York City, the former US president Bill Clinton is set to host the annual Hult Prize, which awards US$1 million to launch a business conceived by social entrepreneurs that best attempts to solve a global problem.

But Mr Clinton will not be judging the finalists. That particular responsibility will be left up to a panel of just five judges, including Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who won a Nobel Peace prize for pioneering microfinance, Sanjay Gupta, an anchor for CNN, as well as Fadi Ghandour, the founder and vice chairman of the Jordan-based logistics company Aramex.

Earlier this year, Mr Ghandour announced that he would be launching an investment fund to seed start-ups from Mena. He now splits his time between Jordan and the UAE, where last year Mr Ghandour opened an office in Dubai to help entrepreneurs from the region who are just getting started or expanding their businesses abroad.

“Fadi is the type of person who is all about supporting Arab entrepreneurs and so long as you can catch him, he will always make time to listen to your elevator pitch,” says Ahmad Ashkar, who founded the Hult Prize, launching it in 2010 after he pitched the idea to Mr Ghandour.

Mr Ashkar adds: “Fadi is one of the most recognised names in the Arab world for entrepreneurship, and I could not think of a better advocate for the Hult Prize for the region or a judge for our global finals.”

Other individuals who work in the UAE are also being recognised this year in the Big Apple for their entrepreneurial efforts.

In November, Abraaj Group’s chief executive Arif Naqvi is to be given the high-impact entrepreneur of the year award. The honour comes from Endeavor, a global non-profit that supports entrepreneurs in emerging countries and has previously awarded the same prize to Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group.

Since founding his private equity investment firm in 2002, Mr Naqvi has grown the business to oversee about $7.5 billion in assets and employ some 300 workers across six regional offices around the world. He also created the Aman Foundation, a social enterprise in his homeland of Pakistan that supports sustainable development in sectors such as health care, nutrition and education.

“Having founded and built one of the largest private equity firms in growth markets from the ground up, Arif is a role model for entrepreneurs everywhere,” says Edgar Bronfman Jr, the chairman for Endeavor’s global board of directors.

“He believes strongly in the power of business and society to work together to drive social progress, and he generously supports numerous organisations who are advancing that vision, including Endeavor.”

Mr Naqvi and his team at Abraaj, which is based in Dubai, have given hundreds of hours of their time to mentor and advise Endeavor’s entrepreneurs. They have also helped build and launch new operations to support local entrepreneurs in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and, most recently, the UAE, where Endeavor opened an affiliate office last year.

Since being founded in 2007, Endeavor has accepted only about 850 entrepreneurs from around the world, including seven from the UAE, from a pool of more than 37,000 applicants. The latest individuals were chosen in August and include Shahriar and Shahin Khodjasteh, of Iranian origin, who co-founded the sporting goods distributor and retailer Dubai Desert Extreme in 2001.

Across Mena, Endeavor entrepreneurs supported by Mr Naqvi and his team now employ nearly 10,000 individuals and generate $500m in revenues for their local economies.

“Endeavor was launched to help support job growth and innovation in the places that need them the most — and Arif and Abraaj have been absolutely pivotal to that global effort,” says Mr Bronfman Jr.

Mr Ghandour is also a member on the global board of directors for Endeavor, where he previously helped to establish an office in Jordan to support local entrepreneurs. “He is the go-to person across the region for aspiring entrepreneurs as a cheerleader, trusted adviser and investor,” says Linda Rottenberg, the chief executive and co-founder of Endeavor.

She adds: “Fadi’s move to the UAE has made him an amazing connector for entrepreneurs in Mena and around the world to access vast opportunities in the Gulf.”

Entrepreneurs from the UAE are invited to attend Endeavor’s gala in New York, with proceeds set to directly support the organisation’s work and efforts to expand to 25 countries by 2015.

business@thenational.ae

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Published: September 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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