SMEConnect portal offers UAE business owners a chance to network

A new online portal aims to help entrepreneurs build business connections.

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DUBAI // When Mohammed Thani started his abaya design company, he never thought he would encounter so many obstacles.

"Learning how to market and sell your product, finding cheaper yet good quality material for my abayas - all this can be hard to get here," said the owner of Abaya Signature.

Mr Thani, an Emirati, was one of dozens of entrepreneurs who attended the launch this week of SMEConnect, an online networking platform for entrepreneurs.

And while starting up a business is particularly challenging for expatriates, who need a local sponsor, it is not plain sailing for Emiratis either.

"Not everything is easier for us," Mr Thani said. "Even if we are Emiratis, there is no guarantee whatsoever we will succeed."

For one thing, rent is high - at Dh165,000 a year for a unit in Jumeirah, Mr Thani describes the prevailing rental rates as "definitely over any entrepreneur's budget".

Neither is hiring cheap. "Money needs to be spent for their medical and their visa," he said. "But it's still too expensive."

His next obstacle was finding out how to advertise and sell his products. "There's not enough knowledge on how to go about it and that can kill your business."

He hopes the new network will help him to obtain the information he needs, making it quicker and easier to develop his business.

"Expats and Emiratis, we're all in the same boat," he said. "The Government needs to help entrepreneurs to grow more."

Hussain Lary, also an Emirati, set up his business consultancy three years ago to help other start-ups. "It's all about communication," he said, "it's what we need for the backbone of a company."

He said a knowledge-based network was sorely needed in the UAE, as many entrepreneurs end up working with false information.

"You need to be put in touch with experienced people because business is communication," he said. "It would have helped me so much if it had been available when I set up my company."

The governmental procedures required to start a business are long and complicated - especially for expatriates, according to Mr Lary.

"But after that, Emiratis and expats need the same support from the government because it's equally difficult," he said.