First Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival Opens a World of Exciting Opportunities

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The inaugural edition of the two-day Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) organised by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa) has kicked off to a great start. The festival was conducted in order to fuel local entrepreneurs’ efforts to establish successful businesses. The event is being conducted at the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club. The first day of the event saw the presence of Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), and Chairperson of Sheraa.

More than 1,500 people were in attendance, of which was a gathering of over 100 of the brightest minds from the region and beyond. They all came together to inspire the youth, engage start-ups, and recharge the entrepreneurial spirit of young minds at the festival.

The opening remarks were presented by Sheraa’s General Manager, Najla Al-Midfa, who refused to set the scene with depressing statistics, saying: “We all know the situation in our region, and our challenges. Today, we are all here to view them through the lens of opportunities. We must ensure that the lives of our future generations are better than the lives we lead today. As we usher in the fourth industrial revolution, we need to cultivate a new generation that has the ability to become innovative job creators, and who will build new businesses that will become the engines of economic growth and prosperity. To do this, we have to provide these entrepreneurs with an enabling environment that supports them.”

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“It is easy to see why Sharjah is in such a unique position to help the UAE achieve its vision to become a thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem. Sheraa’s mantra is simple; if we are not improving the lives and experiences of entrepreneurs then we are merely wasting our time,” she added. She mentioned the Arab Supply Chain Initiative recently launched by Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, highlighting that she chose to advocate for the cause of entrepreneurship, which is so dear to her.

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Al-Midfa left the audience with a quote by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, saying: “You are the hope of this nation and all Arab nations for a better life and brighter future.” The first panel discussion of the event, titled ‘What will you do to recharge the entrepreneurial spirit’, brought together the region’s business and investment heavyweights – the likes of Arif Naqvi, Chief Executive of The Abraaj Group; Fadi Ghandour, Chairman of Wamda Capital; and Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises – who took to answering the question from an investment standpoint.

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Badr Jafar said: “Corporate venture capital has had quite an exciting journey, especially in the last five years, and makes up for 40 percent of all of US’s and 50 percent of Asia’s investments. The average lifespan of a company today is probably 12 years, and estimates are that over 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies are going to go extinct within the next decade. That is a super scary notion. This makes it even more important for big businesses to invest in start-ups. Our legacy is in oil and gas, but over the years we have turned more and more towards venture capital, because it makes a strong business case to diversify and support talent. In the last six months, we have invested in a business every month.”

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Speaking about how private equity is being disrupted every day and how the Abraaj Group stays agile, Naqvi remarked: “If every business, however big or small, doesn’t stop and think about disruption, value creation and more innovative use of technology, they will all get disrupted and become extinct. It is this thinking that enables Abraaj to be part of over 200 successful start-ups around the world. Today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster – I request all established as well as aspiring entrepreneurs to remember that.”

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The panel was followed by the SEF Awards, a completely transparent people’s choice awards, where a host of professional experts in the field of entrepreneurship assessed a collection of SME projects. These included Entrepreneur of the Year, won by Mohammad Fattal; the Sheraa Rising Star of the Year, won by BrightMind Product Design Co. The Tech Start-up of the Year award was divided into seven sub-categories as follows: FinTech, which went to PAYFORT; Food and Beverage won by KEZA; Creative Economy, which went to Cog Talk; Social Enterprise bagged by Little Thinking Minds; CleanTech won by Smart IOT; Logistics & Transportation, which went to ekar; and Travel & Tourism won by Meet the Locals.

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During the opening of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival opening, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi honoured the strategic partners Emaar Properties and Sharjah Media City (Shams). Throughout the two days at the festival, numerous panel discussions and workshops will be shedding light on an array of topics, including innovation in entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, creative economy, the future of technology and financial technology (FinTech).

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Themed ‘Recharge Your Entrepreneurial Spirit’, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival is the largest entrepreneurship event in the UAE. The festival will bring together more than 1,500 attendees, including experts from around the world, entrepreneurs, government partners, potential investors and industry veterans from the global business community who will showcase their visions and exchange their experience through workshops and specialised panels. The event aims to enable young entrepreneurs to transform their business ideas into reality and launch their start-ups, helping to build a better and brighter future for the UAE and the business sector.

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