Less red tape and more support for small businesses, Minister promises

Bureaucracy, 'suppression' of student skills and resistance to women as entrepreneurs make it tough for Emirati firms, Sheikh Nahyan says.

DUBAI // Gender barriers and red tape are among the factors preventing Emiratis from setting up their own much-needed businesses, a forum on entrepreneurship heard yesterday. The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) Global Entrepreneurship 2010 Conference, which ends today, delivered the message that encouraging small businesses is necessary not only to address rising unemployment, but to promote Emiratisation in the private sector and limit the fallout from the financial crisis.

In a speech to the conference which was delivered by HCT officials yesterday, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, repeated the Government's commitment to developing small business. "As a matter of public policy, we are urging our citizens to both own and manage their companies," Sheikh Nahyan said. "We are also encouraging our college and university students and graduates to start their own businesses.

"There is a deep understanding that creative approaches to business and development are crucial to our continued economic growth and success." Better policies are needed to remove the bureaucratic hurdles involved in setting up new businesses and provide more access to financial support for younger people, those with limited financial means and women, he said. The education system also plays a role, as it often does not promote entrepreneurial thinking and leads to "suppression" of student skills, Sheikh Nahyan said.

"Too often our educational systems do not encourage students to think outside the box, to take risks, and to reward those who do, even if the idea is unsuccessful," he said. According to the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, an organisation that supports small businesses, only two per cent of business leadership positions are held by women. It is challenging for women to become entrepreneurs, said Fatma bin Saifan, a final-year Emirati business management student at Dubai Women's College.

"Some parents don't let them. They need to encourage them to move to the business world. A lot of talented women can enter the entrepreneurial field," she said. "They think it's more of a man thing than a woman thing." More students are looking to start up new businesses, she said. "Having a job makes them limited while being an entrepreneur opens their field and shows off more of their talents."

Entrepreneurship could also be harnessed to address major problems facing the UAE such as the country's high carbon footprint by encouraging students to start up businesses that solve these problems, said Nao Valentino, the manager of HCT's entrepreneurship centre. However out of the 208,000 small businesses in Dubai, 70 per cent are in the trade and retail industries, she said, and very few patents have been filed from the region over the past year. "We've come a long way in 38 years but we've got a long way to go," she said.