UAE social enterprise start-ups have chance to win Dh100,000

Dubai+Acumen is organising a competition that offers social enterprise start-ups in the UAE the chance to compete against each other for cash prizes to grow their businesses.

From left: Sameeha Khan, Christine Azavedo, Jean Pierre Aramouni, Leigh-Ann Lanier and Natasha D’Souza, volunteers for Dubai+Acumen, are looking for social enterprise start-ups they can help to grow. Jaime Puebla / The National
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For the second year running, social enterprise start-ups in the UAE have the chance to compete against each other for cash prizes to grow their businesses.

Sameeha Khan volunteers for Dubai+Acumen, the group organising the competition.

Here she explains how the competition works and why social enterprises are a crucial part of the UAE business ecosystem.

Can you tell us about Dubai+Acumen?

Acumen is a non-profit organisation based in New York that raises charitable donations to invest social enterprises and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty. Dubai+Acumen is a volunteer-led group that supports Acumen’s mission. The chapter was formed in 2009.

Who else is organising this event? And if you are volunteers, does that mean you all have day jobs?

Yes, we do all have other jobs. There are five of us: I am a consultant for start-ups and small and medium enterprises; Natasha D'Souza is in investor relations at an entity belonging to Dubai Holding; Jean Pierre Aramouni is a consultant for the World Bank; Christine Azavedo is a teacher and founder of a Dubai-based education start-up; and Leigh-Ann Lanier is business communications manager at Dow Chemical. We are the chapter leaders for this year; helping social enterprises was an idea that intrigued all of us.

What is meant by a “social enterprise” and why is it important that these types of businesses are part of the start-up ecosystem?

Entrepreneurship is all about maximising profit and return. We wanted to add a social aspect to the business model, which includes adding social value with respect to current social problems. Social entrepreneurs also assess the profitability of the business by assessing how much social value they have added, yet ensuring the business is run on a sustainable model.

The Business Plan Competition is one way you support social enterprises. How does it work?

We asked prospective participants to send us an outline of their ideas. The deadline for this was October 23. Tomorrow candidates will attend a workshop at DIFC to refine their business plans. This is also open to the general public and it’s free. Ten finalists will be chosen at the start of November and they will receive one-to-one mentorship. The grande finale is on November 23 and two winners will be chosen.

What criteria will be used to choose the winner? And what are the prizes?

We will look at whether the idea is original and relevant; whether it has effect and scalability; whether the business model is self-sustaining. The competition is open to anyone based in the UAE over the age of 21. The grand prize, being put up by Venture 7 Capital, is Dh100,000. The second award is the Dow prize for sustainability worth Dh50,000.

You said the workshop tomorrow is open to all. What’s being discussed?

We’ve got a number of professionals and trailblazers lined up. “Social Enterprise 101” and “Social Impact Measurement” – two talks providing insight into the nature of social enterprises – will be given by C3 Consult and Coach for a Cause. Management consultancy firm Oliver Wyman will speak on the topic of Business Plan Basics; design agency Xische will speak about branding; and private equity firm Venture 7 Capital will talk about raising funds.

The competition also ran last year. Who won and how are they doing?

Back to Basics was one of the two companies that won last year. It’s a training company with a social effect. It offers training on paediatric first aid and child injury prevention. It’s done really, really well since last year. They were awarded a contract by the Abu Dhabi Health Authority to develop and develop and train 100 hospital practitioners. The other company was Buksha, a sustainable cultural and tourism venture and helps the poor in a dignified manner by giving them their own business to run which we hope are going to be sustainable and profitable. They are still [start-up] mode. Tracy Fountain of Back to Basics will be on of the judges at the grande finale on November 23.