Entrepreneur Middle East December 2022 | Influence For Impact

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THE YEAR THAT WAS/ Entrepreneurs and executives reflect on 2022 P.34 December 2022 ACHIEVING WOMEN/ Strategies for women in business P.54 OFF THE BEATEN PATH/ Kinoya founder Neha Mishra P.19
IMPACT Using the power of celebrity to bring people together P.26 Co-founders, MELT Middle East Steve Harvey Oweis Zahran
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Influence for Impact

Steve Harvey and Oweis Zahran, the co-founders of MELT Middle East aim to use the power of celebrity to bring people together.


The Year That Was

Entrepreneurs and executives from the MENA region share their highlights from 2022, as well as the lessons they learned through the course of it.

Achieving Women 2022

Success, motivation, and exceptional enterprise conduct strategies for women in business.

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Contents /
IMAGE COURTESY STYLED HABITAT ← RABAH SAEID, Founder and Creative Director, Styled Habitat
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GROUP SALES DIRECTOR – B2B GROUP Joaquim D’Costa jo@bncpublishing.net COLUMNIST Tamara Clarke

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CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Sharifah Alhinai Fida Chaaban Niousha Ehsan Eugene Willemsen SUBSCRIBE Contact subscriptions@bncpublishing.net to receive Entrepreneur Middle East every issue COMMERCIAL ENQUIRIES sales@bncpublishing.net ENTREPRENEUR.COM Access fresh content daily on our website All Rights Reserved 2022. Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors. Entrepreneur Middle East and all subsidiary publications in the MENA region are officially licensed exclusively to BNC Publishing in the MENA region by Entrepreneur Media Inc. No part of this magazine may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher. Images used in Entrepreneur Middle East are credited when necessary. Attributed use of copyrighted images with permission. All images not credited otherwise Shutterstock. Printed by United Printing and Publishing. PO BOX 502511 DUBAI, UAE P +971 4 4200 506 Contents December 2022 79 Support Systems UAE-based tech startup Alfii launches with a private beta program aimed at solving HR issues for small businesses. 82 First-Mover Advantage Behind the scenes of Kuwait-based KLC Virtual Restaurants’ successful entry into Qatar. 86 Advocates for Access Qatar-based Bonocle has built a braille-based education and entertainment platform for the visually impaired. STARTUP SPOTLIGHT BUSINESS UNUSUAL EntMagazineME Entrepreneur-me 19 Off the Beaten Path
where she
today- and
98 Agents of Change
→ Chef Izu Ani
the Ly-La
Dubai, UAE
Neha Mishra, the founder of the renowned Dubaibased Japanese restaurant Kinoya
how she
where she is headed next.
is supporting Arab youth in reshaping the narrative around climate change.
lounge at Alaya in


By now, all of you must have heard about ChatGPT, a new online chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that is being made out to be a gamechanger in terms of how its conversational model allows it to support users with everything from writing essays and scripts, to validating code and equations.

Having given ChatGPT a try myself, I found myself agreeing with the general sentiment that it is mind-blowing technology, and it was certainly able to make doing at least a few of my tasks -say, putting together tweets, to, well, perhaps even penning such an editor’s note- a lot easier than “the creative process” that I cite to typically get them done.

But wait- hasn’t it been drilled into us from time immemorial that “nothing worth having comes easy,” and if so, what is to be inferred about us when we take an obviously unchallenging route to get what we want? Now, of course, an argument can be made here that there is no real victory to be gained by doing the mundane- let’s move past the tasks that we can optimize or outsource, and instead focus our energies on more important, more meaningful uses of our time on a day-to-day basis. However, isn’t there something to be said about the joy of getting a task done from A to Z- and can we just skip the not fun rites of passage that is the process?

My point is that if it isn’t hard, or rather, if it’s too easy, with the pieces of the puzzle simply handed to us, well, will the outcome even matter once the job is done? Might it even -dare I say it- become a reason for us to not care about the task that we have on our hands? After all, when we look back at our most meaningful accomplishments, aren’t they often the ones that had the most challenges, and aren’t those achievements memorable especially because of the fact that we managed to get past all of the hurdles in our way -from the banal to the bizarre- to get to our end goals?

Now, all of my musings here should not take away from the positive impact that I believe ChatGPT and other technologies like it will have on our daily lives- that said, I also think it’s worth being mindful about the kind of work we’re trying to pawn off to them. And before anyone says that I feel this way because I think AI is coming for my job, let me state for the record that I’d love to see it try, but I think the more important thing to contemplate is whether you, dear reader, would find it worth your while to engage with AI-generated content in the first place? Well, think about that the next time you interact with a chatbot.

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Off the Beaten Path


The founder of the renowned Dubai-based Japanese restaurant Kinoya shares how she got to where she is today- and where she is headed next by ABY SAM THOMAS

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What’s Next?

If you open up the March 2019 issue of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and then turn to its pages where the magazine lists its contributors for the edition, you should be able to spot a small column headlined with the name “Neha Mishra.” Now, if you’ve been following the UAE’s F&B scene over the last few years, you’ll recognize that name to be that of the woman at the helm of Kinoya, the Japanese izakaya and ramen restaurant that Mishra launched in Dubai in 2021, and then went on to win the “One to Watch” award at the 2022 edition of the MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants, as well as a “Bib Gourmand” title on the Michelin Guide Dubai the same year. But go back to the Harper’s Bazaar Arabia issue I was telling you about, and take a look at the writeup under Mishra’s name- the

black-and-white photo in that column will confirm that she’s the same chefcum-entrepreneur who’s now behind Kinoya, but in 2019, that was not who she was. At the time, Mishra was the co-founder of a content production company called Caravan Creatives, and her presence in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia was thanks to a short Q&A done with her in light of her role as the producer of the photo shoot for the cover of that particular edition of the magazine. What I find interesting about this interview is that though Kinoya was practically nowhere in Mishra’s realm of possibility then, one of her answers can be seen as a sign of her essentially willing her enterprise into existence. You see, in response to a question about her “hopes for the future,” Mishra replied that it was “to become a fulltime ramen chef”- and that is indeed what she is today, although the

argument can be made that she is also so much more than just that. But back then, Mishra thought that this ambition of hers was nothing more than a far-fetched dream, and yet, looking at Kinoya now and what she does with it on day-to-day basis, she also says that she cannot imagine her life today being any other way either. “I don’t remember a time that it wasn’t this,” Mishra says, smiling.

Mishra’s story is characteristic of the popular aphorism that “it always seems impossible until it’s done,” and while it is certainly emblematic of her journey with Kinoya, it’s been a recurring theme in her life and career so far as well. Born to Indian parents who were musicians, Mishra spent her childhood in India and the UAE, and following what she called a volatile upbringing, she left home at 16 with the aim to be,

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as she put it, “super-independent.” “The people I grew up with, they were thinking about university, they were thinking about buying time,” Mishra recalls. “I just wanted to get out there and just start, and I couldn’t wait to start.” This fervor led Mishra to her first job in the nineties, which was to sell Palestinian artisanal jewelry and trinkets at a kiosk in one of Dubai’s malls, and she followed that up with a variety of other employments that saw her do pretty much everything and anything that allowed her to make a living. “I knew I just loved working from a very early age,” Mishra says. “I didn’t want to be idle. And this is why I have always been a better practitioner than an observer. Because, for me, if I want to do something, I just want to experience it and start doing it, rather than thinking about it.” Such a sentiment is what got Mishra to start dabbling in photography, and she found herself working in a Dubai-based image library soon after; however, the job didn’t pan out the way she wanted, and when that happened, she was, once again, eager for an out. “At the time, advertising was huge,” Mishra recalls. “If you wanted a job in something cool, you went into advertising.” And that’s precisely what Mishra set out to do- even though she didn’t really have anything -think a formal education in the field, or even just influential connections- backing her entry into this lucrative sector. But what Mishra had was pluck, and lots of it at that- and that’s what led her to her next job at the Dubai office of global advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi.

Mishra was only in her early twenties then, and after doing a fair bit of research on Saatchi & Saatchi and its key personnel in Dubai, she found out that there was a restaurant-cumlounge in the vicinity of the agency’s office that its employees used to visit on a regular basis. Mishra then made her way to the F&B establishment, and soon enough, she found herself face-to-face with one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s top executives in Dubai, to whom she spinned a yarn about having a full-blown career as a producer for an agency, aka an art buyer. Mishra ended up getting asked to send her CV to the company, and she did- although it was almost completely fabricated; she even lied about her age in it. That said, six months or so later, Mishra was called to Saatchi & Saatchi for an interview, and once again, she lied about her capabilities and experiencesand yet, at the end of it all, she had a job offer in hand. Mishra’s first project at Saatchi & Saatchi saw her be put in charge of the production of a global campaign for Qatar Airways, and when asked about how she actually went about doing the job, she replies that she was just figuring it out as she went. (“I think I used to go on there, and just pretend I knew a lot more than I did,” Mishra recalls.) And while Mishra admits to having used very questionable tactics to both get

and do her job at Saatchi & Saatchi, she highlights that she proved to be quite good at it in the long run- in fact, she went on to spend five years at the company, during which she did a lot of commendable work for a number of leading companies around the world, and, in the process, built a rather strong career profile for herself. “Till the day I left, my best friends there did not know that I was five years younger than I actually was,” Mishra adds, laughing. “I even forged my date of birth in my passport to get this job!”

Mishra followed up her time at Saatchi & Saatchi with another five-year stint at Linktia, one of the largest content production houses in the Middle East at the time, and by the end of her tenure there, she was essaying the role of the Head of Photography and Production at the company’s Magnet Photo Production arm. “This was a career purely built on completely blagging it,” Mishra says. “But it just went from strength to strength, and I loved it. And then, by the end of those five years, I was, like, I’m done working for somebody else, because I was seeing how much money I was making for other people.” Her entrepreneurial drive thus ignited, Mishra joined hands with her Linktia colleague Mike McKelvie -who was also her romantic partner at the time; he’s now her husband- to launch their own production company, the aforementioned Caravan Creatives, in 2015. The Dubai-based business did pretty well for itself, doing work for everyone from Emirates to Burberry; however, given her managerial role at the company, Mishra recalls feeling disenchanted with what she was doing after a while. “I didn’t know what it was about production that just didn’t work for me, because we were making a hell of a lot of money,” Mishra says. “And in production, it’s like, when you work, you work constantly, and then you just don’t work for a little while- so, the lifestyle wasn’t bad either. But there was this nagging feeling in me; I felt like I was more creative than a lot of the people that I was working for or catering to. I was also asking myself about what is my calling in all of this, because I knew I wanted to do something creative- I was basically a project manager at that point in my job, and I thought I can do more than that.” This was when Mishra started to search for an outlet to express this creativity that she felt was trapped inside of her- and that led her to dive deeper into one of her personal passions: food, or rather, the cooking of it.

While Mishra says that she was always into food and cooking, she remembers this point in her life -2016, to be more exact- as having been when she started to take a more dedicated interest in the art and science of it. In 2017, Mishra created her now-famous Instagram account, @astoryoffood, with the aim that it would be a showcase of her explorations

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What’s Next?

in the food domain, and its first post in May was centered on a photo of a plate of pasta with meatballs that Mishra had made. At the time, Mishra kept details of herself away from the @astoryoffood account- anonymity suited her as she did her experiments with food then. “@astoryoffood was really built from a point of view of it being like my alter ego, because everybody looked at me a certain way with what I was doing in production- I mean, I was producing global campaigns for Emirates at the time,” Mishra explains. “So, this was not only an escape; I could be whoever I wanted to be, because nobody knew me in this world. So, if people made fun of me, it wouldn’t matter. This was a place where it did not matter how I was perceived.” The early posts on @ astoryoffood are thus just an indication of Mishra’s foodcentric exploits at the time, with her creations then including everything from crab curry to boeuf bourguinon. But an image of the dish that Mishra is perhaps most famous for now -ramen- doesn’t appear to have been shared on @astoryoffood until September that same year. However, its caption reveals the efforts she had been putting into it all the samean excerpt: “To say I’m really into ramen right now is a bit of a downplay. I think what I love about it the most is the process; it’s adding something new that you feel was missing the last time. I’ve been building layers every time I try and make it. Today was a good day.”

“I always say I stumbled upon ramen,” Mishra tells me now. “It wasn’t like, oh, this is the dish I want to do.” Having said that, when Mishra did venture into the world of ramen, she went in deep- Mishra had found a dish that was repeatedly described to her as being complex and extremely complicated to make, and that was impetus enough for her to figure out how to make it right. “I think there always was this DNA in me of wanting to do things that are outside of my comfort zone, and so, this resonated, because this was something I didn’t know anything about,” she explains. “But everybody was talking about how difficult it was, and I was like, I’ll give it a go. And then I did it, and I was really bad at it. And I was like, well, this is really interesting now, because how can I understand this more?” Mishra thus kept at it, trying out different recipes, techniques, and ingredients to make her ramen right, and much like her time at Saatchi & Saatchi, she was figuring it out as she went along. One can practically see Mishra’s fascination (and skillset) with ramen grow as you review what she shared on @astoryoffood at the time- the sheer increase in the number of posts about the dish cannot be missed. A trip or two to Japan soon followed, which was an exercise for Mishra to get a first-hand understanding of the dish that had so captivated her. And when Mishra finally felt that she had made a bowl of ramen that she was proud about -at least at the time- she invited a few of her friends to

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her home for dinner to try it out. Looking back on that night now, Mishra remembers her guests as being extremely gracious about what she had cooked up. “They were [either] very kind, or maybe none of us knew any better, because if I look back on that ramen, it was not that great,” Mishra says. “But I’m so glad they believed in it at the time, because if they were like, this is really bad, I probably would’ve given up, and that would’ve been the end of that journey.”

Thankfully, that’s not what happenedon the contrary, that particular night heralded the start of Mishra’s supper club, which, besides allowing her to refine her ramen (as well as other dishes from Japanese cuisine), would famously go on to serve more than 7,000 guests over the course of just about three years. What started as ramen shared amongst friends ended up turning into an eight- or nine-course dining experience, for which people paid up to AED300 over the years to partake in it. Word-of-mouth is what initially caused her supper club’s fame to spread and grow, and it only got boosted when Mishra started using @ astoryoffood to elicit bookings for it. And while she had initially planned on staging her supper club once a week, demand ended up becoming so high that Mishra was doing it multiple times a week- and that also led her to leave her role at Caravan Creatives. “I had always said to myself that if this is actually going somewhere, then the day I can match what I’m earning [at my supper club with what I earned] at my production job, I will jump ship,” Mishra says. “And that’s exactly what happened.” That said, Mishra admits to having always been fearful that each supper club she staged would be her last- however, it also fueled her drive to excel at her craft. “For me, it came out of a necessity, because once I completely closed the door on my job, I needed this to work on some level,” she says. “And by getting paid for it, it was the only way I could facilitate my passion. If I didn’t get paid for it, then I’d have to stop this and get a real job, which


would mean that I would have no time to focus on this. So, the motivation was that I have to keep this working, because if I don’t, I’ll have to stop what I love already so much. And that continued for forever.”

But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 brought Mishra’s supper club operations to an abrupt halt- and that was when she saw every fear she had about what she did become real. But Mishra’s survival instinct

kicked in- it was the same disposition she had when she left her home at 16, or when she took on a job that she had no idea how to do. So, when Mishra realized she couldn’t have people come over to her home for her food, she decided to send her food to their homes instead- and this became a new operation that she ran under the name So Good Noodles. “Because those deliveries had to be out by 1pm, I was waking up at 6am in the morning to do that,” Mishra says.

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“Then the lockdowns lifted, and people could slowly start coming for my dinners… But, at that point, I was so worried about money, that I was doing deliveries in the morning, and I was doing supper clubs in the evening, and so, I was probably going to bed at 2am, and waking up at 5:30am or something like that to start. It was absolutely insane!” But then (“out of absolutely nowhere,” Mishra says), one of her former guests got in touch with her to see if she’d be keen on taking her expertise with food to run a restaurant that he’d invest in. “I’m a very instinctive person,” Mishra says. “It’s like, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. And bear in mind that I had met probably 10 investors at this point who were pitching the same thing, just before the pandemic. Although all of them were great, there was just something about them that felt like we’re not a meeting of minds. But when I met my current partnerinvestor, I got in the car after the end of the lunch we had together, and before I even started driving again, I messaged him going, ‘I want to do this.’ And that was it. Two weeks later, we were working on Kinoya.”

For someone who was a home cook, Mishra may have well had the odds stacked against her when she decided to start a business in the F&B domain- but anyone who knew her past would know that such landscapes are where she almost always excels and thrives in. “It was a lot, but there was no time to be overwhelmed,” Mishra says. “It was like, there’s a timeline, someone’s giving you the money you wanted, that you’ve moaned and cried about- well, here it is. So, put your big girl pants on, and get on with it… So much of it was just lack of choice than it was courage.” Kinoya thus went on to open its doors in April 2021, and it

has since had its fair share of bouquets and brickbats thrown at it, but Mishra -who now has a team backing her uphas powered through them all. From an operational front, as someone who essayed the role of cook, cleaner, admin, server, and pretty much any other role that was needed during her supper club days, Mishra just knows how to run the show at Kinoya. “I may not have culinary training, but I have training in every single aspect of what I do in cooking- and I taught myself that discipline,” she points out. “No one in my kitchen can tell me, ‘Chef, you have no idea how hard this job is,’ because I’m like, ‘Well, I’ve done it.’” Meanwhile, the cultish following Mishra had on @astoryoffood has certainly helped Kinoya garner a loving and loyal customer base, and the industry accolades that it has gone on to receive have helped cement its presence on the UAE’s F&B scene. And perhaps the best showcase of the success Kinoya has had lies in the fact that the investment that Mishra’s silent partner made in it was fully paid back to him in less than a year. Plus, in August this year, Kinoya announced that it was getting into a partnership with the UK-based Harrod’s, the iconic luxury department store located in London, which will see the restaurant open its second branch within that retail establishment in mid-2023.

Mishra is clearly excited about opening Kinoya in London, but there is also -rather predictably- a lot of fear in her about what’s next as well. After all, when opening in the UK, Mishra won’t be having the following she had when she launched Kinoya in the UAE, and so, the brand (and her) will have to stand solely on the strength of what they offer to the populace there- but that’s a challenge that she is willing to take. “I think London is very

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What’s Next?

important for my own personal growth, because if I make it work, then I’d be very proud of myself,” Mishra explains. “And if I don’t make it work, then I’d have learned something about myself. Either way, it works.” This might seem like a curious mindset for Mishra to adopt as she goes into a whole new undertaking, but I get a better understanding of her thought process when she shares with me a conversation that she had with McKelvie a long time ago, which she continues to remember to this very day. “I was at the peak of my production career then, and I was kind of feeling pretty chuffed about myself, and I said to Mike, ‘I feel like I’m like top dog of my surroundings,’” Mishra recalls. “And he was like, ‘Maybe you need to question your surroundings if this is what you think is your peak.’ And I swear, that never left me- my partner recognizing something so crucial in me. I was like, ‘Yeah, if I think that’s the best place I can be, then what’s that saying about me?’ So, yeah, I feel like I’ve always wanted more out of myself.” Having said that, there can be no denying of what Mishra has already accomplished with Kinoya- and it’s something that she gets to acknowledge every now and then, and usually when she is in the middle of the chaos that’s characteristic of a busy restaurant.

“I think it happens a couple of times, maybe every few weeks, when I look around in the ramen room, and the energy is crazy, the camaraderie is crazy,” Mishra says. “I’m looking across at my team, and we’re completely insane, and I look at the guests and there’s just chatter; it’s like bees buzzing in the room. I walk through the kitchen, and everybody is shouting and screaming, and orders are being fired, and tickets are flying out of everywhere. And that’s when, you know, I think to myself, ‘I can’t believe this place exists because of just an idea, a dream.’” And while it has taken a long and arduous road to get to where she is today, Mishra believes that it couldn’t have happened any other way either. “I feel like at the age of 40, I’m exactly where I’ve always wanted to be, doing exactly what I was meant to do, but it did take me 25 years to get here,” she says. “And I had to do it that way, because being a producer is the reason why I was able to build a restaurant, because that is project management. Working with numbers is why I understand the cost that I deal with now. So, yeah, it all had to [happen to] lead to this.” That, in essence, would also be the message Mishra would give anyone who might wish to follow her lead. “For me, it’s the only way- you have to go with a difficult route,” Mishra says. “There will be the path with least resistance, but you have to go the other way. I just think better things are on that side, always, every single time. It’s just more rewarding to get to the other side of things that you didn’t think were possible for yourself.”

Funnily enough, back in 2019, in that Harper’s Bazaar Arabia interview Mishra did, when asked what inspires her, her answer was: “People boldly choosing the more difficult path over an easier one.” I guess it’s thus safe to say that Mishra is proof of the success one can potentially achieve by going at life and work with that kind of a mindset- and, by the way, she may well be only just getting started. Stay tuned!

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December 2022


Steve Harvey Oweis Zahran

The co-founders of MELT Middle East aim to use the power of celebrity to bring people together by TAMARA PUPIC

27 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /

When you ask people about Steve Harvey, most of them will say that they know of him as a renowned American comedian, television host, and author. However, they might not know that he’s an avid golfer- and that sport is what has allowed for my conversation with Harvey to take place. “Golf is a pretty fair game, and that is why I love it,” he tells me, just a few days before the second edition of the Steve Harvey Golf Classic, a celebrity golf tournament at Yas Links in Abu Dhabi. It is organized by MELT Middle East, a joint venture of OWS Capital, an investment platform of Dubai-based entrepreneur Oweis Zahran, and Steve Harvey Global, an umbrella company of Harvey’s various business interests.

→ MELT MIDDLE EAS t is an IP festival and events company that focuses on bridging the gaps between Western and Eastern business cultures.

The Steve Harvey Golf Classic is one of a number of celebrity-driven events by MELT Middle East, all of which are built on a central ethos of correcting false perceptions about the MENA region in the West, and more generally, at contributing to building bridges between people. “One of the key mandates that Harvey, as the Chairman of MELT, instills in everything is the fact that we don’t want to be another point of segregation or separation between cultures, states, genders, and so on,” Zahran explains. “If you look at our Steve Harvey Golf Classic 2022, you can see female golfers, Asian golfers, black golfers, white golfers, Arab golfers, and so on, and having the right values instilled into MELT from the get-go was obviously a priority for us.” Since my meeting with Harvey and Zahran is happening two days before the tournament as well as a gala dinner at the Louvre Abu Dhabi where quite a few stars would walk the red carpet (including basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, comedian Martin Lawrence, singer Akon, and many more), we have enough time to sit down and fully reveal the story behind MELT Middle East. “MELT is actually an acronym, and M stands for the merging of cultures and ideas, E for the enlightenment, education, and entertainment of people,” Harvey explains. “L is for leadership, learning, and light, and T is for trade and technology.” From the outset, Harvey points out that at the core of MELT Middle East is his belief that sprinkling celebrity dust atop any endeavor will bring it more attention, and eventually lead to building more meaningful relationships that can help bridge the gap between East and West. “We have to introduce the right type of fame to this region, and we want celebrities to come here, and take back the message that

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“Having the right values instilled into MELT from the get-go was obviously a priority for us.”

Abu Dhabi is a great place,” Harvey says. “This is one of the coolest and safest places to come to on earth, and at the same time, it offers top quality service, great food, beautiful accommodation, lots of entertainment, and so on.”

Harvey has taken part in a few projects in the UAE, which included participations in the 2018 Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, the 2019 Sharjah International Book Fair, and other similar undertakings, but he admits that, before meeting Zahran five years ago at an F1 race in Abu Dhabi, he had been cautious about going into business with anyone here. “I’m really good at detecting people’s spirit, especially men,” Harvey says. “Because of where I’m from, the neighborhood I grew up in, I had to assess good and bad people very quickly. When I met him [Zahran], I knew instantly he was a good person. He turned out to be much better than I thought, though. This Christian and this Muslim got together and formed a pretty good friendship. We have the respectability of our faiths. His works, I’ve seen it work. Mine works, he’s seen it work. We respect each other.”

The two thus started playing golf together, and before long, they got an idea to launch MELT in the region. “When we first started talking about setting up MELT in the region, it was a lot more narrow than it is now, but because of Harvey’s strong ties with the leadership in Abu Dhabi, we’re now looking at various areas, including the

automotive sector, science, coding, research, student exchange programs,” Zahran explains. He also reveals here that MELT Middle East has teamed up with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to bring large creative festivals to the Emirate in 2023. “We can’t disclose more details about them yet unfortunately, but

we will have three or four major events next year, which will conclude with a golf tournament next year as well, and we will be doing the MELT Golf Classic for the next three years in Abu Dhabi,” Zahran says.

The MELT Middle East co-founders expect that both their hosts in Abu Dhabi and celebrity guests that they aim to invite to the

region will benefit from the project: the celebrities will get an opportunity to increase their brand recognition and potentially launch new ventures in the UAE, while enterprising individuals in the UAE will get a chance to meet, network, and possibly conclude celebrity partnerships and endorsements that might take their




homegrown brands global. To anyone who might suggest that the latter is a far-fetched idea, Harvey has an answer ready for them. “If I could give a young entrepreneur one piece of advice, it is to listen to the song ‘Daydream’ from the show, America’s Got Talent,” Harvey says. “I played it 15 times in a row, and I almost started to cry.” At this point in our conversation, Harvey starts tapping on his phone, and plays for me the song of 27-year-old singer-songwriter Lily Meola, with which she auditioned on the 17th season of the acclaimed television show. The lyrics ran as follows: “When we were kids in the backyard, playing astronauts and rockstars, no one told us to stop it, called us unrealistic, then suddenly you’re 18, go to college for your plan B… We all got these big ideas, one day, they’re replaced with fears- how did we get here?”

Listening to the song, I cannot help but think that Harvey himself has followed Meola’s wise counsel to move ahead in life. While we all remember the moments of his glory, such as his shows with record-high ratings (including Showtime at the Apollo, The Steve Harvey Morning Show, Family Feud, and more), or even his best-selling books (Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment, and Jump: Take The Leap Of Faith To Achieve Your Life Of Abundance, to name but a few), Harvey reminds me that his road to success was a bumpy one, which, back in the 1980s, had him live out of his car while traveling across the USA for his performances. “I was miserable all the way, until I was 27 years old,” he remembers. “I was selling and installing carpets, I worked on the assembly line, I sold Amway, I sold insurance, I worked at General Electric, and at four motor

companies, but I was dying, man.”

But then, one day, Harvey -who was just another guy on the street back then- realized that he had a card up his sleeve that he hadn’t been actively making use of. “I had been writing jokes for other people,” Harvey says. “This guy used to come to me, and give me US$10 to write him a joke. I didn’t even know what he was doing with them. Then, this girl met me one day, and said, ‘You writing these jokes for him, but why don’t you do ‘em yourself?’ How? Where? I didn’t even know how.” But Harvey eventually found a way, and he ended up participating in his first-ever standup comedy competition on October 8th, 1985- and he won. “I won $50,” Harvey remembers. “I went to work the next day, October 9th, and I quit my job.” In the decades that followed, Harvey would look back at this moment as when fortune started to smile on him, but in truth, his career would not become smooth sailing until after a few more years.

“That was a $50 win, and let me tell you something, to quit your job with $50 isn’t a big win,” Harvey says. “But I knew, I knew that my dream would become true. It didn’t come true right away at all. From 27, I ended up becoming homeless at 30. I lived in my car. I lived in a car for three-and-a-half years, but I never gave up. When I turned 36, I got a TV show on Apollo, and then they gave me a sitcom when I was 38. I’ve been on TV ever since.” After retelling this chapter of his life story, it befits Harvey to remind me of the Daydream song he first mentioned when asked to advise prospective entrepreneurs, and he repeats a line from the song a few times: don’t quit your daydream. Harvey adds, “If you dream of becoming a writer, you have got to go be a writer. If your dream is to fly an airplane, you have got to go fly airplanes, man. Ain’t no need for you to be sweeping floors. If your job is to be a photographer, man, you’re not going to be happy being a bus driver. You just ain’t, man. You are gonna be miserable.”

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→ THE MELT MIDDLE EAST CO-FOUNDERS expect that both their hosts in Abu Dhabi and celebrity guests that they aim to invite to the region will benefit from the project.

Having said that, as someone who has relied on hard work, resilience, and faith to build his career, Harvey also shares with me his reservations about many of today’s so-called celebrities, and I’d say, rightly so. “It’s very easy to get famous now, but it’s harder to make money out of it,” Harvey explains. “It used to take a while to become really entrenched in the entertainment sector, but today, it can be quite easy, because all you got to do is to do something wrong, [a scandal that grabs headlines], and you can become a household name right away. But that doesn’t transfer into money and income for yourself, and there’s no sustainability in that.”

While Harvey praises younger generations for finding different ways of earning through the internet (“I’ve never even thought of getting views and getting paid on YouTube, or getting likes and stuff like that!”), he warns them that fame on the World Wide Web can be deceptive. “I had this guy tell me that he has 40,000 followers, but tell me how that turns into money,” he says. “If they all gave you $1, you would still only have only $40,000. What are you talking about? But, in their worlds, they have bragging rights. So, it’s a weird thing that’s happened to fame. There is a lot of fake fame out here. It’s also very fleeting, because all you got to do is not post for two weeks, and they will forget who you are.”

The importance of preferring profound real life impact over meaningless online likes and views is a lesson from Harvey that I will take with me, and Zahran concludes our conversation by adding that this principle is actually also the competitive advantage

that sets MELT Middle East apart. “A lot of these guys that we invite to Abu Dhabi aren’t as famous as some of other people out there, but when you look at the values they stand for, that is what counts,” Zahran explains. “As people say, not all money is good money, and we say that

not all fame is good fame. Everybody who comes here through MELT Middle East has been handpicked because they, in some shape or form, relate to the message that we’re trying to promote and that is of inclusivity, respect, progress, and everything else that Abu Dhabi stands for.”

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Antonio Gonzalez


022 has been a landmark year for Sunset Hospitality Group (SHG). For starters, it marks the tenth anniversary of the Dubai-based diversified hospitality group that came into being with a Spanish gourmet kitchen called Tapeo, and is today the enterprise behind a multitude of acclaimed concepts and brands like METT Hotels and Resorts, AURA, Ammos, SUSHISAMBA, Black Tap, Goldfish, Azure Beach, and more. “We could never have imagined all those years ago when we first launched Tapeo in Dubai that our vision for the hospitality industry within the Emirates would come to life, and develop into what it is today,” says SHG Founding Partner and CEO Antonio Gonzalez. “We have now expanded into an astonishing nine markets with over 40 outlets.”

But that’s not the only reason Gonzalez considers 2023 as being especially momentous for his company- this year has also seen SHG get set to further its growth by securing US$35 million in funding from global asset management firm Goldman Sachs, which is the latter’s first investment within the hospitality space in the Middle East. “We’re extremely grateful for this exciting opportunity, and we believe it will only further improve the SHG brand as a whole,” Gonzalez says. “The investment will sustain our ambitious yet impressive international expansion plans, inclusive of the opening of flagship property, METT Hotel and Beach Resort, in 2023 in Marbella. Not only this, but we’re actively seeking additional opportunities within the Mediterranean, UK, USA, and Asia. 2022 has been great for Sunset Hospitality Group, I envision 2023 will be even better- we are aiming to expand our existing portfolio with a further 60 venues across both the local and international landscapes.”

Now, those may seem like rather ambitious goals for SHG, but Gonzalez believes he has already cracked the code to realizing them in the years he has spent at his company’s helm. According to him, it all starts with dreaming big, and then working hard- and this formula always pays off, Gonzalez says. “Our initial vision when we first launched SHG was to create unique hospitality experiences around the world, and well, we’ve certainly done that,” he says. “And I think 2023 is all about improving this positioning even more so through a strategic growth strategy. We want to become a global company– we believe we’ve got the recipe for success, we’ve got the expertise, we’ve got the determination, and we’ve got the financial backing.” And while SHG may be operating in what is a rather crowded industry, Gonzalez believes that his company has the upper hand when compared to its counterparts. “SHG really sets itself apart from competitors due to the diversification of our portfolio- we’re aware of different target markets and varied demographics, which is why we aim to provide amazing experiences, and we do it well,” Gonzalez declares. “It’s all part of the plan.” sunsethospitality.com


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}Always stay tuned to what’s happening around you “Continue diversifying your offerings as trends change and industries grow. It’ll help you stay one step ahead.”
}Never forget that your success is dependent on the team you have around you
“The people you surround yourself within your business are integral to your success. In the hospitality field, these include, marketing, finance, operations, front-of-house staff within venues, and more.”
}Move forward in business by taking calculated risks
“Continue to take risks; they can reap great rewards. Risk-taking in business is essential, but you must ensure you have great people around you for support, as well as a contingency plan.”


t’s now been about two years since the world faced the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and for Kim Thompson, the co-owner and Managing Director of UAE-based RAW Coffee Company, just getting to where we are today in 2022 -when the pandemic is slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past- is something she is especially happy about the year that was, for both herself and her business.

“Realistically, surviving the COVID-19 crisis has to be the first highlight,” Thompson says. “Working and living with masks, social distancing, no events– it’s just so good to be out the other end of it. We feel fortunate that we have been able to retain our team at RAW, and with the pause in normal operations, we’ve had the time to concentrate on internal trainings, and to make changes on areas of the business that needed improvement, as well as time to focus on what we could do to improve our customers’ experiences.”

Launched in 2007 by Thompson and Matt Toogood, RAW is known for being one of the first specialty coffee roasters in Dubai- it started out as a small roastery in the Emirate’s Al Quoz neighborhood, and it has since grown into becoming a full-service

roastery and café, as well as a supplier to several other independent cafés. Caffeine enthusiasts will swear by RAW’s coffee beans, which are all organically certified and roasted in small batches, either as single origins or blends- the enterprise also happens to be one of the few local roasters roasting premium-grade Arabica coffee that is both organic and direct-trade, right here in the UAE. In 2022 though, RAW decided to broaden its offerings. “We founded a new company called RAW Beverage Trading, as we had the luxury of the pause in normal business, and while looking at new opportunities, we realized, we were missing non-coffee beverages of a similar quality to the specialty coffee we deliver– sourced ethically, high quality, healthy, and no added nasties,” Thompson reveals. “So, we have partnered with New Zealand-based Bon Accord to now offer premium single-origin drinking chocolates, ceremonial grade matchas, beautiful fruit pulps for smoothies and frappes, iced teas, and dehydrated ice-cream bases, which has really added to our offering, and strengthened the commercial partnerships we have with our customers. We were looking for these items at RAW, so we felt confident that our B2B customers were too, which has proven correct.”

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WAS 2022

→Thompson says her company has also been working on a refresh of its brand, an undertaking that see it launch, in 2023, new packaging made out of sustainable, recyclable material, as well as a new interactive website.

2022 also saw the company launch ReadyRAW, its convenient coffee solution that enables you to brew your own coffee, quite literally anywhere. “All you need is a kettle, a cup, and some good quality water; super simple, hassle-free brewing that delivers consistent exceptional quality, and retains freshness,” Thompson explains, adding that ReadyRAW can be seen as a showcase of her company’s 15 years of expertise in specialty coffee. “I am super proud to be celebrating 15 years of RAW, along with 51 years of the UAE, this amazing country we call home; so, we have created an anniversary blend called 15:51,” she adds. “This very special coffee is a celebration of diversity; it is complex, surprising, and evocative. We have done the unthinkable and used a beautiful washed Colombian Gesha varietal with one of our bestselling African sundried naturals for this blend, with amazing flavors of mangosteen, guava, and sweet pear.” RAW has thus been clearly hard at work on growing its offerings in 2022. But Thompson reveals here that her company has also been working on a refresh of its brand, an undertaking that will see it launch, in 2023, new packaging made out of sustainable, recyclable material, as well as a new interactive website. “We have also reached the threshold with our expansion into other MENA markets, and we will be building our new roastery in KSA,” Thompson adds. “This is a decisive step for us, which we have organically been working towards for a number of years. We have been really cautious and taken our time to forge strong relationships with the right businesses, and the timing is now good for us.”



}Communication is key “We’ve realized the importance of strong communication, both internally within our team, but also to our ‘tribe,’ our customers, both B2B and B2C. We’ve felt the need to focus on connections, looking at all areas of our supply chain, from the farmers and producers at origin, all the way to our end consumer–and trying to put ourselves in their shoes, to best understand how we can support each other, or do better.”

“We have become way better at having efficient shorter meetings, coming up with solutions for best- and worst-case scenarios, to always be prepared for what was coming next. We knew there would be a flick of the tail after the COVID-19 crisis, so we had already planned solutions to ensure continuity, factoring longer shipping times and additional costs, for example.”

lost a large percentage of our B2B consumers over the course of the COVID-19 crisis. In our industry, there are many new players, and there is lots of noise and disruption in the market, which is a distraction, and there is always the temptation to concede margins, or reduce costs. But we have held on and slowly clawed back, increasing production, capturing new customers, and have had old customers return to us, as they now understood and valued the total solution of what we offer.”

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}Efficiency and efficacy go handin-hand
}Stay strong on maintaining core values, and not compromising on quality of your product/service “We
“We have done the unthinkable and used a beautiful washed Colombian Gesha varietal with one of our bestselling African sundried naturals for this blend, with amazing flavors of mangosteen, guava, and sweet pear.”





After launching her full-service interior design studio, Styled Habitat, in the UAE in 2016, Rabih Saeid has seen her Dubai-based enterprise rack up an impressive array of residential, commercial, hospitality, and creative projects to its name- it’s a list that includes the regional headquarters of Norwegian paint and coating company, Jotun, in Dubai Science Park, as well as its own loft-like office in Dubai Design District. But when talking about her company’s exploits in 2022, Saeid doesn’t hesitate in stating that the highlight of the year has been Saudade, Styled Habitat’s installation at this year’s Dubai Design Week in November. In its debut appearance at the event, Styled Habitat transformed its studio to what it called “an immersive experience that reveals the imagined history of a life we lived,” with Saudade becoming an evocative showcase of Saeid’s creative sensibilities, as well as of the collaborative mindset with which she occupies her space in the regional design landscape.

“Deriving from an old Portuguese word that describes a feeling of nostalgia for ‘home,’ we wanted to bring this sensation to life by creating Saudade, a space that would connect people from every culture, instigating fleeting moments from the past, and suggest the promise of tomorrow,” Saeid explains. “Having thought about exhibiting something like this for years, and finally seeing it come to life was incredibly rewarding. It made me appreciate the hard work and commitment involved in turning an idea into reality. Nothing similar has been attempted before, so being able to subvert other people’s notions of what is possible, persevering, and breaking through limitations have led to us creating a substantial experience that sets a precedence in the local design industry. Moreover, it’s emphasized how important collaboration and teamwork are in reaching our goals. The success of our outmode has come from having built a community of people and organizations with whom we have built long-term

relationships. Brands like Gubi, &Tradition, Dedar, The Rug Company, Ikonhouse, and The Odd Piece were extremely open-minded and generous - contributing ideas, products, and art pieces that communicated our narrative, elevating the entire experience, way beyond the original concept.”

Given the warm reception Saeid has seen to Saudade, it bodes well for Styled Habitat’s pursuits in the new year, with the company aiming to double down on its unique understanding of the multicultural aesthetic of the region at large. “We are incredibly excited to be able to continue attracting impactful projects, whilst highlighting the talent that lives within our region,” Saeid declares. “It’s also important that we bridge the cultural and geographic disparity with designs that are universally beautiful. Team work is at the core of this, and I want to create more development opportunities for each of my team members, where they can not only advance in their specialties, but also nurture their personalities and interests. It’s a core value of our business that the development of an individual is intrinsically linked to the strength of the overall. It’s essential to be purpose-driven in a way that not only benefits you personally, but has a positive impact on the wider community. Having greatly diversified our project portfolio over the past few years, from our core of residential work, we are excited to take on more cultural, creative, and commercial projects around the Middle East.” styledhabitat.com



}Work with intention, always “I feel that, as an entrepreneur, let alone a designer, it’s often a challenge to stay the course, and drive the objective you’re trying to accomplish. Setting commercial intentions determines the path of your business, without being deflected by momentary trends or abstract opinions. Being persistent, mindful, and staying the course is key to solidifying your intentions and achieving your goals.”


“For us, our belief lies in surrounding ourselves with the best allies, who are authentic to themselves. Choosing collaborators and suppliers based on instinct and enthusiasm for the work builds multiple connections, and benefits everyone.”

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}Prioritize quality over quantity “For us, it’s not about building our portfolio by sheer numbers, it’s more about the quality of the relationship, and the people we elect to work with, and for. The results are partnerships and collaborations that create a sense of responsibility and accountability for everyone involved. Our joint vested interests translate into successful and high-quality projects, without compromising on the
Choose community over competition
“We are incredibly excited to be able to continue attracting impactful projects, whilst highlighting the talent that lives within our region.”



ccording to Rami Shaar, co-founder and CEO of UAE-based digital laundry and dry-cleaning service Washmen, 2022 will be classified -in his company’s books at least- as “the year of wins,” given that his enterprise was able to celebrate three key accomplishments over the course of the last 12 months. “Win #1 was coming back to the regular office setup, and settling into an efficient routine,” Shaar explains. “Win #2 was pushing beyond ordinary results by launching extraordinary concepts. But win #3 was the pinnacle of the year with Washmen getting honored as the #1 Most Innovative Laundry around the world and #1 Laundry in the whole of the UAE at the Comité International De L`Entretien du Textile (CINET) Awards 2022. We battled through the COVID-19 pandemic, achieved our growth targets, and won global appreciation- all in one year. We’re on the right track, and we’re completely ready to plunge into 2023 with reinforced drive.”

Now, it’s no secret that there are many business leaders out there who are vehemently against remote or hybrid working models, and they may be tempted to point to the first of Washmen’s aforementioned wins as validation for their particular frames of mind. But dig a little deeper into how Shaar went about deciding to have his employees return to work from the office, and one will see that it was less about arbitrarily choosing one side of the debate over the other, and more about doing what’s explicitly good for the business in particular. “In 2022, we transitioned back to working from our office, which had us welcoming our team members that were previously working from home,” Shaar reveals. “To ease this transition, we had to invest in better infrastructure, and have multiple stations in Dubai for employees to work from. Following this transfiguration, we witnessed a significant boost in employee morale, as well as a better company culture. At first, it felt like we were going against the tide, but we had to think about what works for us at Washmen, and the nature of our work. In retrospect, it

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was an excellent decision, which wasn’t just supported by the management, but the entire team as well. I wouldn’t have done it any other way, as it was this transformation that enabled us to grow our Washmen team in all departments in line with our business growth. With more people transitioning back to office, we observed striking growth in revenues as well. If we were to compare our current numbers with those pre-COVID-19, we saw a 2.5x increase in the total number of customers we serve.”

Washmen also saw its offerings grow over the course of 2022- after more than a year in research and development, its new shoe cleaning and restoration service, ShoeCare, was launched in September. “Against all odds, it surpassed every expectation,” Shaar declares. “Frequency of orders, appreciative feedback, repeat customers, and more- the efforts plowed into this vertical finally trickled in success. A major highlight of the year will remain the launch of ShoeCare, and Washmen investing in the largest operations of its kind here in the region. With the extension of our 30,000 sq. ft. facility, we were able to have a completely different section dedicated to ShoeCare, which now offers a plethora of opportunities for complimenting verticals.” ShoeCare’s launch was followed by Washmen’s announcement in October that its services would now be available on the region’s leading multi-service app, Careem. “We had bet on the super app strategy, and this year, we realized the potential when we chose to integrate our services with Careem,” Shaar adds. “With Washmen expanding its verticals and exploring opportunities for synergies, this was again a focal point of the year where we were able to extend our offering to consumers outside of our primary market.”

Such successes over the course of 2022 have laid the foundation for what looks set to be a very promising 2023 for Washmen. “Washmen is set for some exciting growth plans, since our current revenue has been much better than we initially projected,” Shaar says. “In 2022, we were quite conservative with our estimates, but with the very strong demand that we’re witnessing internally, we’ve realized that we can make that leap, and project greater numbers. To match this new projection, we’ll be doubling down on shoe cleaning and restoration, as well as exploring the launch of yet another vertical in the category of fashion accessories. With an added new vertical set for launch in 2023, next year will be dedicated to creating this new market, and refining our portfolio even further by raising the bar for convenience, transparency and quality, which, for Washmen customers, has always been nothing but the best. The new vertical is definitely one to watch out for, because it will be nothing the region has seen before- at least not at the level of expertise and care that Washmen promises! Additionally, we will also be investing time into tech work to smoothen out our product roadmap, and, overall, gain complete operational excellence in 2023.” Shaar also reveals that 2023 will see his company build further on its sustainability efforts, which will be led by a high-impact project it has engineered with Sharjah-based environmental management company, Bee’ah.

“After the whirlwind of a year that was 2022, we’re only inspired to break Washmen’s own benchmark,” Shaar adds. “This year, we saw our efforts turn into quantifiable results. We saw our obsessive focus on core values translate to recognition not just here in the region, but across the globe. At Washmen, we only believe in moving upwards, and this year has reignited our die-hard passion to show the world the power of doing things the Washmen way.”


}Don’t get complacent

“If you find yourself in a comfort zone, always look out for new risks to take, because every time you take on new challenges, you prove to yourself that you are better than your fears. It took us 10 months to launch ShoeCare [Washmen’s new show cleaning and restoration service]; so, we know how difficult and complex it is to deliver an exceptional service from day one. We had to dive deep, hire the best talent, develop our tech, run tests, include a soft launch phase for two months, and by the time we were ready to announce, it was a “Hail Mary”!

}Take the time to do things right

“As cliche as it may sound, slow and steady does win the race. While it may be tempting to move fast and offer new verticals, there are gains from studying the situation, and taking your time to plan before making an impactful move. Choose to take a route that’s right (not easy if you wish to play for the long haul), and achieve sustainable growth. Engaging in price wars to gain a large share in the market only reaps short-lived success.”

}Try rethinking your digital marketing strategy

“After seeing better returns on our marketing around brand awareness, as opposed to transactional marketing like Google Search ads, we’ve redirected our efforts. With the current disruptions in the digital landscape and concepts like consumer privacy on the rise, app-based businesses should gear their focus towards the basics: delivering an exceptional experience that sells itself, and building a long-term brand.”

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“We had bet on the super app strategy, and this year, we realized the potential when we chose to integrate our services with Careem.”

Marwan Chaar Hassan Jaffar Al-Lawati CO-CEOS, KAVAK GCC

Billed as Latin America’s most valuable startup, Mexicobased Kavak made a grand entry into the GCC in 2022 with an announcement in October that the vertically integrated used car e-commerce player founded in 2016 had merged with Oman-founded Carzaty to kick off its operations in the region. A disruptor in its own right, Carzaty was founded in 2017 by Hassan Jaffar Al-Lawati and Marwan Chaar as “a technology-driven omnichannel automotive retailer,” and its acquisition by Kavak -which currently has a valuation of US$8.7 billion and a presence in 10 countries- can be seen as an indication of the depth of local market knowledge it will bring to the latter’s global playbook. Al-Lawati and Chaar are now co-CEOs of Kavak’s operations in the GCC, and their excitement about this next chapter of their entrepreneurial journeys is clearly palpable.

“When we launched Carzaty in Oman, we were problem-solving for immediate market needs; now, the merger has now allowed us to shift focus from startup to scale-up, growing the team, and building the size of our inventory,” Al-Lawati and Chaar say. “We also launched our game-changing retail hub, which is a whole new way of buying and selling used cars in the UAE. The launch has allowed us to disrupt the market from two sides, and it is set to revolutionize the pre-owned car industry in the GCC. For customers selling their cars, Kavak provides the highest instant cash offering with same-day purchases and the convenience of home service. For customers purchasing cars, we provide a wide selection of high-quality cars at transparent fixed prices. We look forward to ongoing growth while we continue to provide consistency and reliability, so that customers can feel trust and reassurance in the car they are buying.”

The retail hub that Al-Lawati and Chaar are referring to here is the 17,000 sq. m. space Kavak has to its name in Dubai’s Festival Plaza mall, which has been described as “a redefined retail experience, and a one-stop-shop for the entire buying and selling

process” for cars in the UAE. The hub is part of Kavak’s commitment to invest $130 million into the GCC over the next two years- that figure shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that founder and Global CEO Carlos Garcia Ottati has already declared that the region is “a massive untapped opportunity” for his company. But while such prospects bode well for Kavak’s future in the GCC, Al-Lawati and Chaar are clear that their leadership of the enterprise will remain centered on the basic elements that make a business successful in the long run.

“As we enter the new year, we are excited about the continued growth of our sales, but more importantly, of our team,” the co-CEOs say. “We are building a strong culture of entrepreneurship within the firm, where we challenge the status quo, and have both a happy and productive workplace. We also look forward to a continuous flow of positive feedback from our customers. We expect more traffic to the hub, and an increase of inventory throughout 2023, as we continue our journey.” kavak.com


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your team. Building
trustworthy brand, and live
those expectations
and avoid
}Get the right people around you from the start
are only as strong as
the best talent for the role is vital for longevity and continued success.” }Build (and maintain) customer trust “Build a
up to
to ensure credibility in the long run.” }Look toward the long-term wins “Focus on a sustainable business model,
all the hype about growth at all costs.”

Faiza Bouguessa

Built on “an ethos of minimalist sophistication and feminine elegance,” Bouguessa, the Dubai-born contemporary ready-to-wear label founded by Faiza Bouguessa, has seen its fashion flag fly high over the nearly ten years it has been in business. Women around the world have found favor with the brand’s signature silhouettes- it is perhaps worth mentioning here that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is just one of the many celebrities who have been known to adorn Bouguessa’s garments so far. In 2022, the brand debuted a new product line with the launch of Ounassa, a versatile handbag made out of soft calf leather for which the development, Bouguessa reveals, took about two whole years. “Both 2021 and 2022 were very challenging, and the number one highlight was changing the company strategy to keep up with multiple global crises,” Bouguessa reveals. “We had to redesign our marketing strategy, our online strategy, our company structure, and so on. This had demanded from us to become more creative in the way we deal with our partners. On the positive side, it has allowed us to become more structured, and created new opportunities for us, such as developing new products and service offering. One product range that we introduced was leather goods, and we also developed L’Atelier, which offers customized designs and made-to-measure items for those customers who wish to express their distinctive styles.”


Now, standing at the precipice of a new year, Bouguessa is getting set to build on her brand’s current footing in the market. “2023 is a crucial year for us, as we want to further expand our global reach, and increase brand recognition in a significant way. That requires us to invest in two key areas of the business: public relations (PR)/ marketing, and production capacity. We will also introduce exciting products like shoes, kids wear, and, further down the line, eyewear.” But while Bouguessa may have already laid out a roadmap for her label’s future, the entrepreneur reveals that her pursuit of those goals begins with a careful review of what her business has got up to over the last 12 months. “At the end of every year, we look back at the performance of the company to evaluate how internal and external factors made us strong in certain areas, and weak on some others,” Bouguessa explains. “As a result, it makes us more eager to outperform ourselves in the following year.” bouguessa.com

“As an entrepreneur, it is very important to take the time to build and maintain a proper structure when it comes to how you run your business. The fashion industry is so fast paced that sometimes people tend to work outside of the company’s procedures or framework.”

“Employees’ performance is their responsibility as much as it is management’s. When bringing new talent onboard, it is key to provide them with the proper resources and tools required for them to perform their job. Even the highest performer of employees requires regular feedback to ensure smooth operations.”

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}Set up the requisite checks and balances for your business
}Take care of your team, so that they can take care of your business
WAS 2022
“We had to redesign our marketing strategy, our online strategy, our company structure, and so on. This had demanded from us to become more creative in the way we deal with our partners.”

IN BEIJING, where, after years of trying to live

desktop-bound existence, she gave up on that career trajectory, and then took a leap of faith and launched her first bar, Press Release, in the city.

hen asked to share her most memorable highlight of 2022, it’s quite unsurprising that Lynn Lin responded by pointing toward the launch of Electric Pawn Shop, the Asian Mediterranean bar restaurant that she opened with co-owner Lobito Brigante in Dubai in May. Electric Pawn Shop has since gone on to become a darling of the masses, as well as the recipient of several accolades from the industry at large, which includes a place on this year’s 50 Best Discovery list that is made by the same experts who create the rankings of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and The World’s 50 Best Bars. Now, at this point, some of you may be tempted to write off Lin’s Electric Pawn Shop journey as one of those entrepreneurial fairy tales you often hear about, but the Chinese entrepreneur -“a nomadic spirit” that has lived in cities like Beijing, London, New York, Beirut, and now Dubai- makes it clear that she has certainly not had it easy to get to where she is today.

Lin started off her entrepreneurial innings in Beijing, where, after years of trying to live a desktop-bound existence, she gave up on that career trajectory, and then took a leap of faith and launched her first bar, Press Release, in the city. The bar opened to rave reviews and was an instant success, but Lin then decided on leave Press Release on that high note, traveled around the world, and ultimately found herself in the Middle East- which is where she launched her second bar, Electric Bing Sutt, in 2018, in Lebanon. This Beirut-based concept outperformed her last venture, with it becoming a raging hit and becoming the first bar in the Middle East to be recognized by The World’s 50 Bars, among several other awards and accolades. But then, an unexpected event destroyed the venture- Electric Bing Sutt was one of the casualties of the Beirut port blast that happened on August 4, 2020, a devastating explosion that has since been reported to have caused at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, as well as leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

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“Our goal is to establish the most creative Asian-themed hospitality brand growing from the Middle East to the rest of the world that advocates a daring attitude, an independent style, and a distinguished originality.”

“After the Beirut explosion in 2020, my business was destroyed in its entirety,” Lin says. “I was also inside the bar when it happened, and I had parts of the balcony land on my chest.” To say it was a traumatic experience for Lin seems like an understatement- and one can only imagine how difficult it was for her to move on from everything she had built and worked on in Beirut. “It literally took me blood and tears to say goodbye to my past, and to move forward to the next chapter of my life,” Lin reveals. “I met my new business partner, Lobito, one of the most respected musicians and entrepreneurs in the circuit, at the exact same phase when he was planning to open his own bar. And after this, Electric Pawn Shop was born. As my dreams were being rebuilt, it is a blessing that I met some of the greatest people along the way, and as a team, we overcame a tremendous amount of challenges before finally opening the doors of Electric Pawn Shop.”

Today, given the manner in which Electric Pawn Shop has succeeded and set itself apart in Dubai’s F&B scene, Lin says that she hopes to launch more such one-of-a-kind ventures in this landscape. “I’ve visited many F&B

venues here and around the world, and I believe we can still create new segments in the market that guests have never seen before,” Lin says. “There is a huge amount of potential in the fine casual dining sector for smaller venues with intimate experiences. I also think the existing cuisines in Dubai can be explored further.” This, by the way, ties into the long-term goals she and Brigante have earmarked for themselves. “Lobito and I have always aimed to serve unique and culturally-fueled nightlife offerings, and I think we’re well on track, but we’re still very hungry to do more,” Lin says. “In the long run, our goal is to establish the most creative Asian-themed hospitality brand growing from the Middle East to the rest of the world that advocates a daring attitude, an independent style, and a distinguished originality.” And in case anyone doubts Lin’s resolve as she pursues these goals, well, let’s not forget everything that she has got past to reach her current standing.

“New bar, new country, new life,” Lin points out. “I know that there is a fighter inside of me, and I would never be a quitter, even if my business got bombed. I believe that if I made it from zero once, I can definitely do it again.”


}Make a solid plan- and stick to it

“At the beginning of the journey, we analyzed the market, and found a particular segment where we can bring in our expertise, and create new experiences for the Dubai crowd. We made a solid business plan considering all the situations and circumstances that could happen. We understood all the calculated risks, and agreed on a systematic way to tackle all upcoming challenges. Then, we stuck to the plan.

Rain or shine, we executed that same plan step-by-step, and we never doubted our judgment. Along the way, we also set up a few key points to reevaluate our overall plan, such as, is the venue capacity still profitable? Is our average check reasonable? Do we still decide to open only in the evening? Given all four pillars of the business (food, drink, music and experience), did we push to our 100% for each aspect? Can our cash flow cover the unexpected delay in construction, if any? How long can we hold on to?

We dealt with all the roadblocks, including people that doubted us. Some naysayers even remarked that because we had zero F&B experience in the Dubai market, our judgment is biased. Some said that the Asian-inspired restaurant bar segment is overcrowded, and that we stand no chance. Other people suggested that we need to reduce our targeted check average, and focus on hops instead of craft cocktails if we want to survive. Well, we did not believe any of that, and we remained loyal to our plan. I think that was one of the best decisions we made.”

}Adapt and change quickly

“After we opened, we received a few comments regarding our food. We quickly sat down with our chef, and discussed the general direction of our menu, and what we can change or improve. Within three weeks, we introduced a few dishes that addressed previous concerns, and catered to our customer's needs, which received waves of positive feedback. Three months later, we launched a new menu with 40% new items, and more vegetarian and seafood options. Right now, all the dishes on our menu are flying, and we boosted our food sales by more than 30% in general.

We also kicked off our happy hour program soon after we launched to appeal to the massive amount of professionals in our area. After a few new venues opened in the Trade Center area, the competition became fiercer, so we expanded the happy hour menu, and also extended the offer from 6pm till 8pm to 6pm till 9pm. After these strategic adjustments, we saw remarkable footfall during the early operating hours, and most of the guests stayed much longer than before, because of the quality of the offer. As a result, we saw dramatically improved topline growth. Overall, it is important to be prepared for feedback and changes in the environment, and to stay agile to make sure you are consistently meeting the demand of your target audiences.”

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→ Electric Pawn Shop


It’s almost impossible to talk about the Middle East’s F&B scene and not talk about Izu Ani, the Dubai-based chef behind some of the most noteworthy restaurants in this landscape, including Gaia, Carine, La Maison Ani, Alaya, Eunoia by Carine, Shanghai Me, Scalini, and Piatti. Three of these names -La Maison Ani, Alaya (and its hidden speakeasy, Ly-La), and Eunoia by Carine- opened in the UAE in Dubai in 2022, and the year has also seen work get underway for the launch of two other Ani-led concepts -Gaia and Shanghai Mein Doha, Qatar.

Shanghai Me, by the way, is one of three concepts -the other two being Piatti by the Beach and Scalini Dubai- that Ani, alongside Evgeny Kuzin (the restaurateur known for being the co-founder of Bulldozer Group), took charge of -in terms of their culinary directions- this year. No wonder, then, that Ani -who’s also the founder of YSeventy7, a creative consulting and management agency specializing in F&B worldwide- describes 2022 as having been “a year of creative expansion and expression.”

“Personally, my biggest highlight, where I find the most joy, is during the evenings at our restaurants,” Ani says. “It makes me so happy to see the smiles of our guests in Gaia, Carine, La Maison Ani, Alaya, Eunoia by Carine, Shanghai Me, Scalini, and Piatti. Our kitchens are an extension of our homes and hearts. I like to visit each and every outlet regularly, speak to people, listen to their feedback, learn what they like and dislike, and incorporate this as soon as possible. A lot of our clients have become close friends, and their support means a lot to me.” But given that Ani operates in the F&B space, critiques are par for the course too- how does he deal with all of that? “In any industry, we have to block out a lot of the ‘noise,’ and focus on our craft,” Ani replies. “Keep our blinkers on, and only look at what is on our own plate; don’t let yourself be distracted by other people. It takes time to work out the difference between constructive comments, and those that wish to tear us down. I see everything as a lesson, a steppingstone towards growth and development, and this mindset is what gets me through the tougher times. Sometimes, we need a little slap in the face

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→ Chef Izu Ani in the Ly-La lounge at Alaya in Dubai, UAE

to wake us up, and force us to learn things quickly. It is ok to be your biggest critic, as long as you are using it as fuel and motivation to keep yourself going. Fear can either take us backwards, or we can use it as firewood.”

For his part, Ani seems to be only looking toward to the future. “My focus is now on the global and regional expansion of our homegrown concepts, while ensuring that the essence, quality, and ethos of the brands can be seen in every location,” Ani says. “I want to embed our brands into the communities that they will be located in- it’s not about recreating the exact same restaurant, and placing it in different places. We want to take the philosophy of each brand, and tailor it to fit the environment, making cultural adjustments that appeal to the people that live there. This is the challenge- we want to be a part of the cultures we go into, and build our roots there, so that we can grow.” And that’s exactly what Ani

has got lined up for 2023- the new year seems set to be a busy one for him and his team. “We have a significant pipeline for next year, including the launch of Gaia London; the first brick-and-mortar restaurant for Izu Burger, a dirty, clean burger with a focus on honesty; Sirene Beach by Gaia; La Plage by La Maison Ani and Le Petit Ani in DIFC, as well as the development of another homegrown concept, which I am really excited about,” Ani concludes.


}Know your purpose

“This year, more than any other, has taught me that our purpose is the most imperative part of any business, project, or plan. We must check in with ourselves on a regular basis. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing, and make sure that the reason is in line with your core values. We know when we are out of sync with ourselves, it’s a feeling that just gets louder until we make a change. Personally, my goal is to see all of our restaurants filled with people that are genuinely happy, that feel comfortable, and love their experience. One of the biggest lessons the COVID-19 crisis taught us is the value of human connection, how much we need to share our energy with one another. It is human nature to gather, share meals, and conversations. My aim is for our concepts to become a part of people’s lives, places where they can make memories, eat, laugh, and enjoy. Seeing the smiles of our guests makes all of our work worth it.”

}Focus on the now

“It is so important to live in the now, to be present. Anxiety and anger are natural, but they are signs that we are living in the future, or holding on to the past. We have to breathe, and let things go. So often, the magic is in the timing. The same is true of cooking, of work, and of our lives. When we are passionate and excited about a project, we want to go faster, get there quicker, and go, go, go. I’ve learned not to rush this process. Every step is vital, especially in the beginning- this is where we learn the most, and it gives us the ability to assess and adjust before we go live.”

}You have to come first for yourself

“Finding time for ourselves gives us the ability to see things differently, to take a step back, reflect and breathe, before going full steam ahead. I start every day with a cycle through the desert, or a run at home. It is my meditation. We have to find what we love in life, the things that make us happy, and then do them as much as we can. Pushing myself in the morning gives me the strength and motivation to handle anything that the day will bring, and it gives me the capacity to be there for others. That’s the thing about focusing on yourself; it is the least selfish thing we can do. It’s important to find our energy sources, where we can plug in, and refuel. I’m not a half-glass kind of guy, I need to make sure my cup is full. I’ve also learned a lot about acceptance- there is power in accepting the things that you cannot change, and changing the things that you can. We can’t control what happens to us, but we do have control over our response to it, that’s where we can focus our energy.”

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“We want to take the philosophy of each brand, and tailor it to fit the environment, making cultural adjustments that appeal to the people that live there.”




Gadgets and doodads that you might’ve missed out on, sourced by a tech aficionado. by

Read into it → /Amazon Kindle

The newest Amazon Kindle is the lightest and smallest of its series, with premium features such as a 300-pixels-per-inch, high-resolution, six-inch display, the provision for USB-C charging, longer battery life of up to six weeks, as well as 16GB of storage, twice the storage of the previous generation. That should be enough to hold thousands of titles, so you can take your library with you, wherever you go. Plus, discover a wide range of books (including the latest bestsellers) with access to over one million paid and free Kindle eBooks in more than 40 languages including English, Arabic, French, and Hindi. Enjoy a comfortable reading experience in all reading conditions, be it in sunlight or with no light at all using the device’s dark mode as well as its adjustable front light. The device comes packed with customerfavorite features like X-Ray, which provides important details about people or places

mentioned in a book, as well as a built-in dictionary to quickly look up any word. The all-new Kindle is available in black or denim colors alongside fabric in black, rose, denim, and dark emerald.

Work it out ↓

/Apple MacBook Pro with M2

The 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with M2 gives you incredible performance, with expandable memory and extensive battery life, with up to 20 hours of video playback. M2 is the next generation of Apple silicon- its eight-core CPU lets you zip through everyday tasks like creating documents and presentations, or take on more intensive workflows like developing in Xcode, or mixing tracks in Logic Pro. M2 also features up to a ten-core graphics processing unit, resulting in a big boost in performance. Plus, its media engine lets you play and edit up to 11 streams of 4K, and up to two streams of 8K ProRes video. The 13-inch MacBook Pro can be configured with up to 24GB for more fluid multitasking and easy handling of large files. MacBook Pro is available in two finishes; space gray and silver.

Sony Bravia XR A95K

Take a look ← /

The Sony Bravia XR A95K takes vision and sound to a new level with its Cognitive Processor XR, which understands how the human eye focuses, cross-analyzing images to render the most enjoyable viewing experience. The new OLED screen delivers real-life depth and a wide range of accurate colors in every scene. Sony Bravia XR also features Acoustic Surface Audio+, which uses special actuators to turn the screen into a multi-channel speaker. This TV has also been designed to work in two different

styles. The Front position style with One Slate design offers the most immersive experience possible, while the Back position style sets the TV close to the wall for optimum room harmony. Additional perks include Bluetooth connectivity to seamlessly pair your headphones and gaming devices with your Bravia TV. Plus, in line with Sony’s commitment to use less virgin plastic, the A95K uses Sonydeveloped SORPLAS (with a recycle rate of up to 85%) in its rear cover.

B / Gear
TAMARA CLARKE, a former software development professional, is the tech and lifestyle enthusiast behind The Global Gazette, one of the most active blogs in the Middle East. The Global Gazette has been welcomed and lauded by some of the most influential tech brands in the region. Clarke’s goal is to inform about technology and how it supports our lifestyles.
Talk to her on Twitter @TAMARACLARKE theglobalgazette.com

Turn up the volume

With winter nights round the corner, ‘tis the season to stay in, and catch up on all your favorite films and shows. And what better way to have an immersive viewing experience than bringing home the Devialet Dione, an all-in-one Dolby Atmos at-home sound system that delivers a crisp surround sound. Offering bass-rich sound quality, the Devialet Dione soundbar doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer. A 5.1.2 surround sound system that includes a total of 17 drivers, it weighs in at a hefty 26.5 pounds, and it is nearly four feet wide. A sphere-like structure in the middle of the bar, which serves as the central audio channel, can be turned to face the viewer, no matter how the soundbar is positioned- and, by the way, the Devialet Dione can be mounted on the wall, or simply placed flat. Now, if you’re the type to turn the volume up while binging on your favorite content, then there’s good news for you- the Devialet Dione also features nine fullrange aluminum drivers that deliver stunningly clear and powerful audio with zero distortion even at high volumes. The Devialet Dione soundbar also has wireless connectivity, which makes it easy to use it with any audio source. With additional features like Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect, this surround system will certainly be a worthy buy for all the audiophiles out there. devialet.com

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The Devialet Dione has got our ears perked up

The Executive Selection

From better goods to better wardrobe bests, every issue, we choose a few items that make the approved executive selection list. This edition features our picks for the upcoming festive season, with the list including Sacoor Brothers, Tom Ford, and more.

Looking for the perfect gift this holiday season? With its distinctive and discreet styles, Tom Ford’s Fall/Winter 2022 eyewear collection offers a range that will suit every discerning customer’s style. One new cool technical update for the season are the eyewear’s photochromatic lenses- available in assorted tints, these lenses adjust according to the light source, meaning there’s no need for you to change glasses when going from your indoor spaces to outdoors in the sun. Offered in two frames each for men and women, its male variations are on a pilot frame, while the female option includes a flamboyant butterfly frame as well as a large, soft cat-eye. Crafted in Italy, Tom Ford’s expert craftsmanship and alluring designs are evident in all the pieces, including the sleek graphic signature T logo. tomford.com

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The act of self-care can often seem a bit daunting for men- and that’s why UAE-based Mr. Regimen wants to make it easy for them to access and understand grooming through its clean beauty and wellness platform. Founded in 2022 by entrepreneur Hani Al Jundi, the brand is in pursuit of “transforming men’s self-care and authentic self-expression into the new normal.” Now, if you find yourself not knowing where to begin, the platform is here to help with personalizing your skincare routine with its online Regimen Builder test to guide and match you to products suited for your skin type. Be it cleansers, toners, exfoliators, serums, moisturizers, masks, or face oils, these products will leave you looking, feeling, and smelling your best in the upcoming holiday season. With a focus on featuring natural, eco-friendly, clean, organic, and cruelty-free ingredients specifically formulated for men’s skin, Mr. Regimen’s list of exclusive brands includes Jaxon Lane, Grown Alchemist, The Good Mood Co and more. We’re especially keen on The Grey’s Charcoal Face Wash- suited for all skin types, this detoxifying gel wash’s star ingredient is activated coconut charcoal, which will give a deep pore cleanse to draw out dirt and excess oils that can clog pores. Soothing, non-drying lather gently washes trapped dirt to leave your skin fresh and healthy, and it also softens the skin and facial hair, enabling an easier shave. Suitable for daily use every morning and evening, this product can help you get started with your skincare routine. mrregimen.com

UAE-based fragrance brand Lootah Perfumes has debuted the Barjeel collection, a line of home fragrances evoking the iconic scents that are synonymous with the UAE. The range, which features four scents, is inspired by memories of crowded spice souqs, fresh shorelines, earthy sands, and floral aromas of Emirati gardens. Aptly named Al Rams Dust, Jumeirah Breeze, Liwa Rose and Bastakiya Scent, these four fragrances offer a wide range of notes including bergamot, vanilla, saffron, patchouli, and more. From floral and woody, to fresh and spicy, there’s a scent here for every home. lootahperfumes.com

FORM AND FUNCTION →/ Sacoor Brothers

European fashion retailer Sacoor Brothers’ Autumn/Winter 2022 line is all about contemporary yet impactful fluid silhouettes, cosy essentials, and statement layers. From standout printed pieces inspired by vacations, to athleisure sets and elevated basics, the collection fuses functionality and elegance, without forgetting comfort. The collection also features pieces that blur the boundaries between lounge, work and casualwear, as well as tweed sport coats and preppy cardigans. The season’s blazers crafted in wool feature the brand’s signature fit, allowing them to be spontaneously mixed and matched for a pitch deck meeting, or an afternoon brunch during the holidays. Simplicity, quality, and design continue to blend together in these earthy and neutral tones chosen by Sacoor Brothers. sacoorbrothers.com

53 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /



HRH Princess Nourah Al-Faisal

It was impossible to miss the air of quiet confidence that Nuun Jewels founder HRH Princess Nourah Al-Faisal had around her during her talk at the 2022 edition of Tanween, the annual flagship creative season organized by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), which ran from October 27th to November 12th this year. In line with the theme of collaboration that this instalment of Tanween was built on, Al-Faisal -who is also the founder of Adhlal, a research-based consultancy focused on the design sector in Saudi Arabia- chose to center her talk at the event on the subject of “change by design,” and it was abundantly clear that the insights she shared with the audience were lessons that she had learned along the way of her own entrepreneurial journey.

While Nuun Jewels is a bespoke jewelry brand that Al-Faisal established in the French capital of Paris in 2013, Adhlal came into being as a Saudi Arabia-based social enterprise in 2018 after she identified the need for a platform dedicated to supporting the development of the growing design community in the Kingdom. Both of these ventures speak to Al-Faisal’s entrepreneurial prowess, because while she readily admits that she has had to deal with plenty of hurdles through the course of running these enterprises, she also points out that she never allowed any of these challenges to stop her from realizing her business goals all the same. “I am not someone who’s confrontational, and I don’t view things in a confrontational way,” Al-Faisal explains. “I am a problem-solver (I think all designers are problem-solvers), and so, I always try to find an easier way to get to what I needed to get to.”


Now, Saudi Arabia has changed a lot in the years since Al-Faisal launched her businesses, and as such, the entrepreneur is quick to highlight the fact that a lot of the challenges that she faced as a female entrepreneur back in the day simply don’t exist for women in the Kingdom today. “I believe that the only thing that would stand in the way of women today is themselves,” Al-Faisal declares, which is a nod to the unprecedented amount of support that’s currently being seen for women in Saudi Arabia’s business landscape. In these circumstances, Al-Faisal believes it falls upon women to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way, and to look out for ways to empower themselves, whether it is by, say, educating themselves, or finding allies to help them navigate their industry of choice. And as they do all of this, women need to remember just one thing, according to Al-Faisal - and that is to not be afraid of failure.

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“I am the accumulation of every step I have taken. I would not change a single thing.”
Nuun Jewels

“I cannot say this enough,” Al-Faisal declares. “There is nothing wrong with failure. Every lesson I have learnt, everything that has allowed me to excel in any way, came off the back of a big failure, when I thought that the world was ending- but it didn’t.” Here, Al-Faisal shares a story from when she was getting ready to launch Nuun Jewels to prove her point. At the time, Al-Faisal had planned on an entirely different name for her fine jewelry brand, and it was one that she remembers as being absolutely “appropriate” for the business she wanted to launch. However, a week or so before she was supposed to unveil the brand to the world, she was informed that she couldn’t register her company with that name in a country that was integral to her business’ operations. Al-Faisal was crushed when she found out, especially given the fact that this was happening after a lot of work had already been done with that initial name she had thought up for her brand. “I was heartbroken,” Al-Faisal recalls. “I thought I was going to die.”

But then, that same night, she remembers the name “Nuun” just coming to her- it just happened, she says, with the name being the written pronunciation of the Arabic letter “ن” that starts her first name. “Now, when I look back at it, I cannot imagine my brand having a different name,” Al-Faisal says. “It actually came out for the better!” Plus, Al-Faisal notes, she had a sense of validation when the name she chose for her brand ended up being used -albeit with a different spelling- for what is today one of the largest e-commerce players in the Middle East. “My Nuun was there before the Noon,” she laughs. “Just to be clear, I was there first!” Now, Al-Faisal’s travails with her brand’s name are just one of the many difficult moments that she has had to navigate over the course of her career. But when asked if she’d do anything differently were she able to go back in time to start her entrepreneurial journey again, Al-Faisal’s answer to that query is an emphatic “no.” “I am the accumulation of every step I have taken,” Al-Faisal declares. “I would not change a single thing.” -BY ABY

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H.E. Alia Al Mazrouei

What does it take to be assured of one’s own grit, talent, and resilience as an entrepreneur? “I think you only realize it after you’ve enjoyed the first taste of success in business,” replies H.E. Alia Al Mazrouei, CEO of the Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (KFED). “I also believe that the number one thing that stops people from ever stepping into entrepreneurship is their aversion to taking risks. I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker. This does not mean one should be reckless. But entrepreneurship does require that you are able to handle a certain level of calculated risk. And if you persist for long enough, resilience is an ability that one certainly develops.”

Al Mazrouei is clearly no stranger to the perils and pleasures of running one’s own business. Having tapped into a plethora of sectors over the years, Al Mazrouei’s very first entrepreneurial project, in 2007, saw her foray into the F&B space. “I started my first venture with my childhood friend who shared my passion and a deep-seated desire to make a difference,” Al Mazrouei recalls. “Naturally, as friends, we also trusted each other fully. That definitely helped. I believe that a good starting point for any business is when you’re able to get a realistic understanding of your own needs and talents, combine them with a relevant market need, and then build your business around that. It increases your chances of success.”

Having thus had her first taste of entrepreneurship, Al Mazrouei later ventured into the education sector in 2014 by launching Little Haven Nursery,


an Abu Dhabi-based enterprise that offers daycare services for infants and toddlers, a Montessori-model preschool and private kindergarten, as well as after-hours care and tutoring programs. Along with her entrepreneurial pursuits,

Al Mazrouei’s business prowess has also been felt in the UAE’s public and private corporate sectors. She was the Group Chief Operating Officer at her family business, Mazrui International, for nearly six years up until 2018, the Director

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“Building a business is like creating a family, and instilling the right values in your business is very important, and it should be done from the start.”

General at Abu Dhabi’s Human Resources Authority until 2021, and an advisor for the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development until February this year. Curious to know her secret behind balancing so many different roles, I pose the following question to Al Mazrouei: does multitasking work, or is one-task-at-atime the way to go? “There are two elements that have helped me venture into different industries and successfully build multiple businesses,” she reveals. “The first is always knowing my priorities, so that I can give my undivided attention to one thing at a time, and the second is having the right team behind me that can support me where needed.”

their businesses. “Individual excellence and team success go hand in hand,” Al Mazrouei says. “As a leader at the helm of a business enterprise, when you are committed to growing as a person, then you create that same spirit within your team. Their growth directly impacts the growth and well-being of your business.”

Al Mazrouei’s mindset on this matter hasn’t changed in her current role at KFED as well. With a vision to transform the UAE’s capital into a haven of entrepreneurship and innovation, KFED has been instrumental in supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through funding, digital education services, and awareness campaigns, among other initiatives. And in her role as the CEO of KFED, Al Mazrouei aims to create further opportunities for young entrepreneurs. “At KFED, we always strive to develop a vast array of initiatives, training workshops, knowledge-based resources and partnerships, that are rooted in longevity and long-lasting impact for this generation of entrepreneurs and the ones to follow,” she says. “By developing a diverse range of projects that spans and serves across sectors, we well equip our entrepreneurial ecosystem to be optimal as a whole, and help all levels of entrepreneurship.”

Al Mazrouei’s ability to seamlessly juggle many tasks also blends into one other value she holds very close to her heart: ensuring that a sense of community is fostered within everything she does. “There’s an ancient piece of advice that has been my guide: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together,’” she explains. “Keeping community at the heart of my ventures has made a huge difference in the amount of success I’ve enjoyed along with my team. It just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Building a business is like creating a family, and instilling the right values in your business is very important, and it should be done from the start.” In her opinion, this is something that all entrepreneurs should strive to build in

A big part of Al Mazrouei’s vision at KFED is also to align with the UAE’s march towards gender equity, whose progress she has seen first-hand as an Emirati businesswoman. “The country’s gender equity is highlighted in the fact that both male and female business owners face the same set of challenges,” she says. “In other words, the challenges that women owners face are not unique to them, and they are similar to what any business owner -regardless of gender- has to overcome. Throughout my 15-year career as an entrepreneur, I never felt discriminated against as a female business owner. On the contrary, women in the UAE get more support when they step into entrepreneurship- from getting the necessary funding, to the government issuing specific licenses, so women can continue to grow their businesses from home.”

But despite the UAE proving to be a stable launchpad for many female entrepreneurs, there are many who still remain unsure about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. Plus, the ones who do dive in are sometimes halted by feelings of ineptitude or self-doubt. “I think it’s normal and even natural to feel some of these feelings, especially as you step into entrepreneurship for the first time,” assures Al Mazrouei. “It’s a time when you are questioning your own ability to pull things off. But it’s also important to remember that our minds tend to play tricks on us and give us reasons to quit and stay within our comfort zones. My recommendation is to feel these ‘feelings’ and go ahead and do your thing anyway. When we have a vision for something bigger and better, we also have what it takes to make it a

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“At KFED, we always strive to develop a vast array of initiatives, training workshops, knowledge-based resources and partnerships, that are rooted in longevity and long-lasting impact for this generation of entrepreneurs and the ones to follow.”

reality. We just need to overcome the mental roadblocks and take the first few steps.”

In her entrepreneurial journey thus far, Al Mazrouei’s impressive list of accomplishments is certainly one that many women may aspire towards. But, from a personal perspective, Al Mazrouei considers motherhood as having been her single biggest feat. “Being a mother is my number one priority and also my greatest and most fulfilling achievement in life!” Al Mazrouei reveals. “I think motherhood has taught me a lot of the attributes of successful entrepreneurship; perseverance, patience, collaboration, team building, and tenacity. Also, as a mother, you become more conservative with your time and

make sure that every minute counts. I’m proud of my ability to wear three hats at once: personal life, public office, and private businesses.” But it is in her reminder that female leaders must learn to fully own their accomplishments, that Al Mazrouei imparts her most important advice. “Women sometimes tend to explain their success away by ascribing them to things like luck, hard work, or help from others, rather than their innate ability or intelligence,” she says. “They need to own the roles they play in their success. They need to practice saying these words out loud: “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.” As you step into the business world and even life in general, always be true to yourself, and treat people with your manners, not theirs.” -

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Karima Anbar

Everyday, it is my goal to facilitate an impactful change in people’s lives,” says Karima Anbar, CEO of Intisar Foundation, the first charitable organization to offer psychological support of drama therapy to Arab women affected by the trauma of war and violence. “I am also ambitious about making a meaningful impact in the lives of Arab women and all the women in the world, and that is why I am proud of supporting the work of Intisar Foundation founder and Chairwoman H.H. Sheikha Intisar AlSabah. And I am also driven to empower people free themselves from any cultural or social stereotype and to be given opportunities to excel in life, just like I have been given.”

Besides her role at Intisar Foundation, Anbar is also a founding member and Managing Director of Global Diwan, a pan-European business club and platform that aims to connect leaders from Europe and the Arab world. Her career choices stem from a lesson she learnt early on thanks to her growing up in a home where supporting others was always welcomed and encouraged. “I spent my formative years learning to always help those in need, be it as a 13-year-old schoolgirl, when I donated the proceeds from selling homemade cakes to support the victims of the genocide in Rwanda for a few years, or as a student when I volunteered on public awareness projects for international organizations, such as UNICEF and the World Wide Fund for Nature,” she recalls. In terms of her career trajectory, Anbar kicked it off as a diplomat of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the Government of France, and she has since served at the French Missions in Jordan, Palestine, Kuwait, and the UAE, working as a political advisor on identifying the most impactful local initiatives in a range of areas, from business, human rights to environmental projects, that could enhance the cooperation between France and Arab countries.

Then, in 2017, Anbar welcomed the opportunity to become the CEO of the Intisar Foundation, and with it, support Sheikha Intisar’s vision to bring peace to the Arab world. To date, Anbar has led the Intisar Foundation team to conduct over 4,300 hours of field work as well as implement over 130 virtual and field drama therapy sessions, reaching more than 600 Arab women in Lebanon and Jordan, and close to 1,500 indirect beneficiaries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Anbar did not let the social restrictions to slow down the work that Intisar Foundation was doing, with the entity providing online drama therapy sessions for the first time ever. “I am proud that we at Intisar Foundation have been praised for developing and introducing an innovative approach to peace building in the Arab world based on enabling the psychological recovery and self-empowerment of women traumatized by war and violence through the use of drama therapy,” she adds. As for the road ahead, Anbar says she and her team are committed to working on the Intisar Foundation’s One Million Arab Women initiative, which is a 30-year plan to heal one million Arab women from the trauma of war and violence, as well as to expand its work to Iraq, Egypt, and Morocco.

When asked about the most difficult period she has had in her career to date, Anbar reveals that she had to bear the brunt of racism at one of her former workplaces, but that also did not stop her from believing in herself and working hard for her goals. ”I was lucky to be born and raised up in France, a country of ‘freedom, equality, and fraternity,’ and I was lucky to attend a Christian school where I

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experienced and witnessed tolerance as proof that our societies can only grow once we all accept our differences and each other,” she says. “That is why I trust that even the worst situations, such as being harassed because of my Moroccan origins and the color of my skin, hold the seeds of good and learning. I chose to be a hero rather than a victim, and this is how I was able to handle this situation in my former workplace.” Today, she encourages everyone -of all races, nationalities, and genders- to never lack self-confidence and to always strive for the best. “Diversity and inclusion will always make our societies much better places,” she adds.

In her current role at Intisar Foundation, Anbar believes that her strong feelings about always striving to help others make her passionate about her tasks every day. “I personally consider that my work is an extension of myself, and my values don’t stop or start when I go home or get into the office,” she says. Speaking about challenging situations that have also made her the leader that she is today, Anbar provides as an example her actions when she heard about the 2020 Beirut explosion, a powerful blast caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored at a port warehouse on August 4, 2020, that caused more than 200 deaths. In that moment, Anbar remembers her priority being to do everything in her power to ensure that the Intisar Foundation team in Beirut were safe and protected. “I believe that the human

approach in leadership is fundamental, and a responsible CEO should always consider the psychological approach on daily basis,” Anbar says. “This is at the core of the Foundation’s values, and this is how I have always modeled leadership in my career- by unlocking commitment and creativity, by being truly human, and by showing compassion, humility, and openness.”

This ethos perhaps explains why, when asked about her advice for those among us who are currently struggling with difficulties in life or work, Anbar suggests remembering this quote attributed to the Persian poet, Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Anbar adds, “I have always made the best out of every situation, and that has made me the person I am today. You should always give it your best. If you do whatever you are doing with pure enthusiasm, you’ll be able to do it in a perfect way. Also, I have always been surrounded by people who always encouraged me, and always lifted me up.” This last point would also explain Anbar’s ardent commitment to the mentorship of younger generations. “If we take the example of Socrates mentoring Plato, and Plato mentoring Aristotle, this trio alone can show us the power of mentor-mentee relationships, which date as far back as 400 BC,” Anbar says. “In our modern era, this is still equally important, and I am a firm believer that we all have the responsibility to transfer our knowledge to the young.”

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Alia Al Farsi

In her younger years, one of the things that Alia Al Farsi was certain she wanted to do in the future was to open her own art gallery. An artist herself, with an art career spanning decades and involving the representation of her country Oman in regional and international exhibitions and competitions, by 2018, Al Farsi felt it was finally the right time to start working on her eponymous gallery, Alia Gallery, which she describes as her “biggest art project yet.”

Having spent her days working at Oman’s then Ministry of Culture and Heritage for 17 years prior, the gallery is Al Farsi’s first business venture. “During my time at the Ministry, I had seen how art businesses are managed,” describes Al Farsi. “It is a completely different game from your ordinary business. Luxury and art require different approaches in marketing, sales, and operations, and it takes getting used to the market’s ups and downs.” Yet, knowing the unique industry challenges, she was determined to take them on, and create a special art haven in a country where a national art museum is yet to be established, and the number of art galleries is still relatively low. Al Farsi’s vision was to upscale a warehouse in Al Rusayl, an industrial area in Muscat, and have an exhibition hall, library, and cafe spread across two floors. “Since it was a somewhat unprecedented project in Oman, I faced many bureaucratic challenges, from getting the café license to naming the gallery,” she recalls. “It was not easy to explain to the relevant authorities the purpose of Alia Gallery, but with determination and lots of resilience, I was able to do that.” In winter 2020, Al Farsi’s long-held dream turned into reality, and the gallery, as she had envisioned it, opened its doors to the public.

Housing more than 100 works by the artist depicting womanhood, society and Sufism, the gallery is currently the largest private art gallery in the country, and it has become a must-visit space for various segments of society. “Over the past two years, we have been fortunate to have guests from all walks of life, from royals, to college students, to tourist groups,” she says. “It has been fascinating to see them under one roof, united by their appreciation for fine arts.” With COVID-19 closures and economic turmoil forcing a number of established galleries around the world to permanently shut their doors, it is natural to wonder how Alia Gallery, a gallery that is new to the scene, fared within that context. “Sales-wise, we had a great year in 2021,” Al Farsi says. “That year gave us a boost to keep going, and have faith in our products.” She adds, “I believe the more you can hold your ground, the older the business becomes, which ultimately results in more brand recognition, and higher value for your art.”

While art sales are the backbone of any art gallery, Al Farsi understood the need to diversify sources of income early on. “We make it a point to rent our space to different communities and businesses to hold events at our venue,” she says. In December 2021, Alia Gallery collaborated with Aston Martin to unveil the latter’s Valhalla models in the gallery’s exhibition hall. “While Alia Gallery is now associated with multiple luxury car brands, we also ensure that we are connected with literature, music and other forms of art,” she adds, with reference to various workshops and musical evenings that are regularly held at Alia Gallery. “Events help us get higher footfall not only during the event, but for the weeks that follow it. I think having many people sharing content on their social media on the same day creates a buzz.” That said, Al Farsi does not leave it all to chance. “You have to dedicate a budget to marketing,” she is quick to emphasize, including for online promotions. “I believe that a strong digital presence is the backbone of any business marketing strategy. I understand that word-of-mouth and physical participation are equally important in the art business, but a digital approach is more affordable and not seasonal, which are very important factors in my gallery’s marketing approach.”

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Founder/ Alia Gallery
“Over the past two years, we have been fortunate to have guests from all walks of life, from royals, to college students, to tourist groups.”

Online, Alia Gallery has a presence on both Instagram and Twitter, and the accounts are very active, with engaging posts about events, visits, and Al Farsi’s own artworks. If users see an artwork they like, they can hop on to the gallery’s website to view the art up close, check its price, and make a direct enquiry about purchase, wherever they may be in the world. The website boasts digital documentations of hundreds of works by the artist, which allows the gallery to operate through a hybrid physical and digital model. When asked why not just go entirely digital, as some galleries in the Arab world have done, Al Farsi replies, “In theory, online galleries are cheaper to maintain, but I strongly believe that our industry needs physical spaces and more personal touches to achieve its goals.” Here, Al Farsi touches on an important point, which is the growing but still relatively small art purchasing and collecting culture in the Arab region as a whole, including Oman. “Allowing the local audience to interact more with world-class art galleries and museums, as well as international art fairs and auctions, will help shape a new culture in which people see art in their day-to-day lives,” she believes. “However, introducing a new

trend requires a government-level plan, which I hope to see implemented in Oman.”

In the meantime, Al Farsi is focusing on juggling between her new roles of being a gallery owner and artist. “I think it is very challenging to be an artist and a businesswoman at the same time,” she admits. “To Alia the artist, art is priceless and sacred, but to the business-minded Alia, it is a product to display and sell. I think I am maintaining a good balance between the two sides of me, but I make sure to take breaks from the business once every quarter to refresh my artistic inspirations.” -

Sharifah Alhinai is the founder and Managing Editor of Sekka, and the founder and director of the Khaleeji Art Museum. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and The School of Oriental and African Studies, and the recipient of the Arab Woman Award 2020. She tweets @sharifahalhinai. sekkamag.com

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→ Alia Gallery has become a cultural and art hub


Desiree Vlekken

In 2012, when Dubai-based Desiree Vlekken visited her family in the Philippines, she noticed her father behaving strangely: he was angry, full of rage and confusion. Her mother whispered, “Your dad has it.” Vlekken, who had noticed her father’s memory lapses and other symptoms, knew that “it” meant that her father was struggling with the early onset stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). And once she returned to Dubai, Vlekken became a voracious reader about all things relating to AD, dementia, and mental health.

“Between requesting permits for access to medical libraries, to connecting with various physicians in Dubai, I was determined to find out why we missed out on the signs of Alzheimer’s with my dad,” Vlekken recalls. “I was hungry for information, and I recall those desperate times trying to connect to any community support or non-governmental organizations on AD, but there were none.”

It was thus in an attempt to gain more knowledge that Vlekken spent hours online understanding strategies for AD

prevention, intervention, and care. “The more I pondered about the people at high risk of AD, the more I found empathy towards senior people,” she says. “I become even more aware, and I could relate to the emotional burden of the disease on family and caregivers, even though I was in the same boat, and I was determined to help.” Her father’s prognosis and her subsequent pursuit of information around it is what led Vlekken, in 2013, to launch 4get-me-not, a UAE-based social enterprise with a mission to raise awareness on the latest news, research, and best practices on AD and dementia, while engaging members in various creative pursuits and events.

But starting a venture wasn’t something Vlekken had set out to do. “I was happily minding my own private life when an AD crisis hit our family,” she says. “ This was a wake-up call. I wanted to share my story to help increase an understanding of the disease and remind others that they are not alone.” Plus, Vlekken was also driven by the need to destigmatize and alleviate misconceptions that surround AD. “The problem with stigma or fear is that it may cause individuals to delay seeking diagnosis and care,” Vlekken explains. “This has a significant impact on interpersonal relationships, especially within families.” Being a resident of Dubai for more than 20 years, Vlekken also saw it as an opportunity to give back to the community, especially the aging population of the UAE. “My journey revealed that the peculiarities of the vulnerability of aging parents are something many of us have never been prepared for,” she says. “Studies have shown that aging is the most profound risk factor for many noninfectious diseases, including Alzheimer’s. This realization led me to a greater awareness that there is no adequate social support for alleviating problems among the older expatriate population here.”

From building 4get-me-not, Vlekken noticed the lack of adequate social infrastructure that fosters interaction and meaningful connections for senior expats, individuals with AD, as well as caregivers. Vlekken and her team have since learnt from experience that by providing something as simple as someone to talk with, or organizing events with like-minded people, seniors can prolong their independence and

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Founder and CEO/ 4get-me-not

maintain their happiness quotient. “This is a service provision gap overlooked by other sectors,” Vlekken adds. Today, her social enterprise not only raises awareness on AD, but also promotes quality of life for seniors and provides social support to individuals who are at high risk of dementia. Some of the services offered include hosting educational events, memory cafes (a comfortable, social gathering to allow people experiencing memory loss and a loved one with them to connect and socialize with others), support groups, seminars, webinars, workshops, and more.

Vlekken also makes sure that her entity organizes meaningful engagements and fun activities too like bowling, chess, painting, and sometimes, even cat therapy (inspired by Vlekken’s own cat, Mocha). Its programs have also extended to geriatric wards and Dubai Health Authority’s Seniors’ Happiness Center, a facility offering medical and nursing care to elderly UAE nationals, across other Emirates, thus helping to boost its profile. “Validating the growing presence of

energized seniors in the UAE gained a lot of media attention, and it became a crucial consideration for stakeholders to sponsor 4get-me-not as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform,” Vlekken reveals. Initially a self-funded initiative, 4get-me-not’s events are now sponsored by private companies through their CSR platform and employee engagement programs.

Having staged over 500 CSR-sponsored community events, 300+ corporate volunteers and 200+ seniors, individuals with Alzheimer’s, and caregivers, Vlekken proudly says that 4get-me-not is now well on its way to building a sustainable community around itself. In fact, families have started to reach out and entrust their loved ones with AD to join its events. It is also as a member of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), a global federation for 105 Alzheimer’s and dementia associations, wherein, the enterprise is a recognized entity to “facilitate opportunities to enhance the public’s knowledge and understanding of Alzheimer’s through online and offline

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← INSPIRED BY HER FATHER'S ALZHEIMER'S PROGNOSIS, Desiree Vlekken launched 4get-me-not, a social enterprise with a mission to raise awareness on the latest news, research and best practices on Alzheimer’s and dementia, while engaging members in various creative pursuits and events.

Vlekken remembers. “But it was a pleasant surprise to witness the senior group volunteer their efforts, and take charge of the operation at a time when I was unable to. They demonstrated not only compassion, but also leadership.” The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic also brought on a test of endurance. “The performance of 4get-me-not was at its peak,” Vlekken says. “Its creative and innovative characteristic of connecting seniors online made it resistant to the impact of the crisis. The pursuit of thriving made us reimagine our operations. The reinvent mindset made us embrace disruption as a catalyst to drive 4get-me-not forward.”

informative sessions and community events.” It is also working with similar organizations in Jordan and Oman to cross-share relevant information. The UAE Ministry of Community Development have also collaborated with 4get-me-not’s initiatives for Emirati seniors, and the latter has also been working the World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office on “enhancing the capacity to implement anti-stigma programs on mental health in the region.”

If there’s one factor that’s evident in Vlekken’s journey with 4get-me-not, it’s resilience amidst challenges she and her enterprise has faced. Last year alone, first, her father passed away in January from complications from AD, and three months later, her mother also passed away after contracting the COVID-19 disease. “4get-me-not had scheduled an Iftar event the following day; I could have cancelled and risked disappointing 50 senior invitees,”

On a personal note, when it comes to dealing with internal hurdles such as imposter syndrome and perfectionism, Vlekken states being able to step back, spending time with her cat, and getting in touch with her support system helps her tackle those challenges. She also commends fellow cohorts from the ADI, particularly those from Jordan and Oman, who remind her of her enterprise’s mission. “Catching up with fellow AD advocates reminds me to see myself as an AD advocate,” she says. “This positive sensory boost my energy levels, and affects my drive and motivation.” At the end of the day, while Vlekken acknowledges that while getting into social entrepreneurship often puts you on a collision course with challenges galore, she remains adamant that it is a worthwhile endeavor. “Carrying the mindset of a social entrepreneur allows you to follow your passion, find motivation, and make a positive difference, whether big or small, local, or global,” she declares. “It’s never too late to give back to the community, become a catalyst of change, and find real, lasting happiness.”



Desiree Vlekken, founder and CEO, 4get-me-not, shares her tips for female entrepreneurs

}Stay disciplined

“Don’t quit. I can personally state that the secret to a successful career as a social entrepreneur is persistence and continuous learning.”

}Challenge the status quo

“Women are natural problem solvers. Yet, eight out of every 10 media reports worldwide are about men; only two from them have women as their focus. A more gender-balanced system of social entrepreneurship can generate more social impact.”

}Setbacks are progress too

“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself and becoming mediocre. We as women lean toward the idea that everything must be perfect before starting an idea. Expect setbacks. We also need to fail now and then so we can continue to grow.”

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Caroline Scheufele

Caroline Scheufele, Artistic Director and Co-President of Chopard, was one of the many business leaders that took part in the 2022 Global Citizen Forum, the annual summit of the eponymous Canadian non-profit organization that was staged in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE. And once Scheufele got off the stage to speak with me after, the venue was still very much abuzz, but she demonstrated the calmness of a person who has always been in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and saying all the right things. And as soon as she started answering my first question (which was to list her key career achievements to date), I became aware that her self-confidence was strongly present even during her teenage years, inspiring her very first business decision. “I would mention, first of all, my first design, which became an icon, although I was only 16, I was still in school, when I created it,” Scheufele says, referring to the Happy Clown, a clown pendant with small dancing diamonds twirling inside its belly, which was the first ever piece of Chopard jewellery, because, up to that point, the Geneva-based brand was known only as a watchmaker. “Because of this little clown that my father made for me, the whole world of Chopard changed.”

Born in Pforzheim, Germany just a few years before her father, entrepreneur Karl Scheufele, bought Chopard in 1963, Scheufele joined the family business immediately after obtaining a diploma from Geneva International School. Her talent also led to some of Chopard’s most significant jewelry designs, such as its first jewelry collection, Happy Diamonds, then the Happy Sports watches featuring a world-first combination of steel and diamonds, as well as the Haute Joaillerie Red Carpet and Animal World collections. Each of these are iconic in their own right- for instance, Chopard’s Happy Diamonds timepiece caused an upheaval in the world of watchmaking in 1976, because it featured a glittery array of dancing diamonds floating freely around the dial- a technical breakthrough amongst watchmakers at the time. In 1993, Scheufele released the Happy Sport watch, which considered to embody her passion and joie de vivre, and for which she, once again, shocked her artisans after requesting the gems between two sapphire crystals to be directly encased on top of the dial.

Such stories demonstrate Scheufele’s innate creativity, and according to her, that’s something you just have, as opposed it to being a skill that can be learned. “You can maybe learn how to draw properly, or how to make plans, and maybe that process you can learn, although you still need a bit of talent, but, the creativity itself,

I think it’s something that you either have, or you don’t have,” she says. “There’s no school where you go to in order learn creativity. It doesn’t exist.” Inspiration, she continues, can be found in nature, animals, music, architecture, traveling, or simply put, in everything. She adds, “There is not a specific moment where you sit and say, ‘Now I have to be creative.’ It’s an ongoing process.” Such a mindset can also explain how, under Scheufele’s leadership, Chopard has become one of the first brands to use raw materials that meet the highest possible social and environmental standards.

Chopard is also one of the only few family-run businesses in the world of fine jewellery and watchmaking, with it being run by Scheufele’s and her brother Karl-Friedrich, who were appointed Vice Presidents of Chopard in 1985 and Co-Presidents in 2001. “Thank God, we work in harmony,” she says. “My parents handed over, pretty early, all the decisions, everything, to us, and, of course, they’re there, and we do listen to them, but it is my brother and me, and I think we are a good team. We’re yin and yang. We’re a good synergy, and it works well.” In terms of the workforce, Scheufele says that the company employs over 800 people in the atelier and head office in Geneva, about 500 in a manufacturing unit in Switzerland, another 700 in the other company in Germany, and about 2,300 in subsidiaries and boutiques. Scheufele’s direct reports range from 6 to 50 on a daily basis, and for her, being flexible is the key to good management. “You have to be structured and organized, but you also have to be open to changes,” she says. “If somebody tells me that there is all of a sudden a VIP client in Geneva, I will drop everything and take care of that, because, in our business, we cannot function as robots. However, the base is sort of structured, and I see my design team every month, minimum, and the same goes for retail boutiques, wholesale departments, and so on. I meet them all regularly.”

Being a part of a family business has shielded Scheufele from some of the snowballs that are often thrown at other women in the business sector, but not from all. “I started in a system where some gentlemen would ask me why I was here, or what I was doing,” Scheufele remembers. “I was 18 years old, and I didn’t understand: what did I do wrong? When my brother started three years before that, nobody said that or asked anything, so it was a bit strange. But, sometimes, you have to impose yourself on people. People say stupid comments like, ‘Oh, but she’s a woman,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay. And you are a man, so what?’ But it’s becoming, I think, less and less and less. We have a lot of women working in our company now. Out of the 800, maybe 400 are women.”

Looking toward the future, Scheufele’s hope for 2023 is that both the world of Chopard and the world itself will be more joyous. “We will keep our positivity. The name says it all, happy like our Happy Diamonds, and we will continue to communicate happiness through our products. So, despite the state of the world right now, we’re not going to make sad jewelry,” she smiles. -BY TAMARA PUPIC

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← CAROLINE SCHEUFELE, Co-President and Artistic Director, Swiss-based luxury watches and jewellery manufacturer Chopard


Harley K. Dubois

Co-founder and Chief Culture Officer/ Burning Man Project

Most people know that Burning Man, a nine-day-long event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that uses artistic self-expression to promote non-commercial community values, originates from a small function organized by American artists and activists Larry Harvey and Jerry James in 1986, when they created the ritual of symbolically burning a large wooden effigy, which has since been referred to as “The Man.” Most people would also know that the event has been held at Black Rock City in northwestern Nevada since 1991, and that it has grown from a 200-person meeting to a celebration that sees the participation of more than 70,000 people today.

However, what not many people might know is that this event of such social and cultural significance has been organized solely by women. “Burning Man has always been run by women,” reveals Harley K. Dubois, co-founder and Chief Culture Officer, Burning Man Project. “Men have never run it. There’s a great constellation of the six of us, three men and three women, working together for decision-making, but in terms of how the organization is run, it has been Crimson Rose, Marian Goodell, and I, running it since 1997.”

Dubois spoke to Entrepreneur Middle East in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, on the sidelines of the 2022 Global Citizen Forum, an annual event staged by the Canadian non-profit organization of the same name, a social action platform focused on improving the world for the

future. Dubois said that it was in the 1990s that she -who has been an artistic painter, a fitness coach, and even a San Francisco firefighter at one point in time- worked on organizing Burning Man events as a side job, before fully coming onboard the non-profit organization behind it all, Burning Man Project. While she is proud to declare that it was her who created “all the infrastructure that a person who comes to Burning Man experiences,” Dubois believes her biggest achievement is the culture of volunteerism that she has instilled in the event. “There’s no paid staff- it’s all volunteers, and it takes 16,762 volunteers to run Burning Man in the desert,” Dubois says. “However, I think that when people give intrinsically, and when they are so passionate about something, they should get something back, and since we can’t pay people, I’m really passionate about meeting their needs, and getting them training.”

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↑ HARLEY K. DUBOIS (in center, wearing white) at the 2022 Global Citizen Forum in Ras Al Khaimah

It is with that thought in mind that Dubois started an internal Burning Man leadership training program that also embeds facets of her personal leadership style. She explains, “How do you get chaos [creators] and anarchists to do anything? You have to let them be a part of the process, and that takes a very soft but persistent leadership style that we are known for.” Dubois also believes in learning about her volunteers’ strengths and weaknesses, and putting them to good use. “Some of our biggest critics have become our best community members,” she explains. “I remember this one guy, who was really complaining that we were doing everything wrong, and so, we asked him if he would answer our complaints at Burning Man, and he loved it. He did it for like 10 or 15 years- we just flipped it, and let him become a part of helping us to fix it.”

In the years since its inception, Burning Man has turned into a hotspot for cash-heavy celebrities and CEOs, which has also led it to be criticized for attracting ultra-wealthy burners who fly in private jets, stay in luxurious camps, or employ private chefs at what was meant to be an experience of an authentic self-sufficient community, and not a display of status and privilege. When I asked Dubois for her thoughts about this critique, I was surprised to see that she had no prepared PR spin to respond to it, and instead remained honest and authentic while answering. “I think it’s one of our biggest problems,” Dubois admits. “There are some people that are doing camps which we would call a plug-and-play camp, and it’s really well-funded, and so, they just show up, and live in their bubble of luxury. On the other side, there’s one gentleman who rents private jets, and flies in musicians who, in the United States, don’t get paid enough, and they would never be able to come to Burning Man, and so it turns out to be a gift for them, and that guy is on the high, good end of the spectrum.”

But who then is on the lower end of the spectrum? “You get somebody who doesn’t understand what Burning Man is, and they’re doing it only because they think it’s the cool thing to do,” Dubois replies. “Those people come to our event, but they have no idea how to be a citizen. They have no idea what we’re doing there, and they become insular in their own camps. That’s bad. But there’s a spectrum in between, and there’s a way to teach people. Just because you did it wrong once, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, so maybe, there is a way for you really to become a part of Burning Man.” Dubois’ mindset also offers an insight into how Burning Man has kept its appeal over the years of its existence- according to her, the event is all about “changing the game on how to live your life for one week.” Dubois adds, “When you experience that, it’s addictive. It’s not about money or power or status, but about who you are, and what you value, and how you can contribute to others. When you get a taste of that, it’s hard to want to go back.”

Dubois is referring here to the impact of Burning Man’s 10 Principles authored by its co-founder and Chief Philosophic Officer Larry Harvey, which have since been taken by several attendees of the event to their local communities around the world. These principles are thus meant to ensure that the underlying concept behind Burning Man grows into a global cultural movement. When asked about the supervision of those regional events, Dubois explains that the Burning Man community has its own innate checks and balances. “Our community is really, really, really good at being vocal,” she says. “They come to us and say, ‘Hey, they’re not doing it right. Please check it in.’” And while its regional event network is building itself up, Burning Man is also in the process of setting up its 2023 edition, for which, Dubois says, the theme is “Animalia,” and that it will aim to celebrate the animal world and people’s place in it. “I think we need to lighten up a little bit, like, come to Burning Man, and just laugh, so I think we’ll have a great turnout,” she adds.

Given her many years of experience of running an event of the size and significance of Burning Man, Dubois can obviously share plenty of advice for other achieving women out there. For instance, for those of you running businesses, Dubois says that it’s imperative that you have established the right decision-making process within your ventures. “There’s a whole process for decision-making that we use within our fire department at Burning Man, and that is to have one person who is the meta decision-maker, and who makes the decision in the moment,” Dubois says. “After the event is over, you have to analyze that and see if there were any mistakes. But for that moment, if it’s an emergency, you just have to move quickly, and that is why the more chaotic it gets, the calmer I get.” Dubois then continues her advice for women by telling them to remember to stand their ground with generosity and kindness, and to come at things with a sense of inquiry, rather than accusations. Plus, if you’re a woman, and you want men to hear you, “simply, lower your voice,” Dubois adds, with a smile.

71 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
“There’s no paid staffit’s all volunteers, and it takes 16,762 volunteers to run Burning Man in the desert.”


Laura Jardine Paterson

There’s no doubt that in entrepreneurship, self-belief is a key trait that can get one though times of crisis. This is especially evident in Laura Jardine Paterson’s journey in building Concat, a Lebanonbased web development agency connecting marginalized developers to global companies looking for tech talent. Having faced tremendous obstacles that turned into opportunities, Paterson is today invigorated with her mission to create a more inclusive tech sector that enables women and refugees to join the sector and find long-term and sustainable employment. “At the beginning, 15 men -I counted- in Lebanon told me to close Concat and join them, because Concat would never work,” Paterson recalls. “Believe in what you are doing and remember this, even on your worst days!”

It is this unfazed mindset that Paterson has embodied whilst building her venture. Originally from the UK, Paterson came to Lebanon in 2018, and it was when she ran a coding bootcamp there when she “was first introduced to the amazing tech talent in the Middle East.” Having met two developers -who were both refugees- in the program, Paterson saw them struggle to find sustainable employment, compared to other graduates, mainly non-refugees and men. “I realized I had to try and change this stereotyping,” says Paterson. “I thought I would try to give solely those talented females and refugee projects from my friends and family, originally.” This idea is what then turned into the concept that today underlines Concat as an enterprise. “We want to prove to the world that is possible to hire from such communities and be successful,” she declares.

Launched in 2021, Concat offers innovative web solutions for clients across the world that are led by refugee and female developers and designers. Initially offering web development, the startup today includes among its services web design, user experience and user interface design, branding, and (due to high client demand) digital marketing too. Though it once received a grant of GBP10,000 (approximately US$12,000), it has since relied on its own revenue to grow, and it hasn’t received further funding since. Having worked with over 50 clients so far across 12 countries around the world, the enterprise has also provided employment to more than 15 developers. A few of its clients include European startup Olsam, as well as international schools Artemis Education and Lisboan, and it has also just signed a contract with UK-based Charity Reset, as well as larger client partnerships.

Of course, building a social enterprise in Lebanon came with its own share of struggles. Paterson recalls operational hurdles, which included figuring out whether she should register the company as a charity or a business, as well as which country to do so in- and everyone that she spoke to would end up giving conflicting advice. Paterson has since learnt that whilst getting advice is useful, it’s vital to choose wisely as the wrong insight can cost time and money. Another key hindrance was in August 2021 when there was unstable internet across the country. “That was an incredibly hectic summer of managing clients, and team members were all over the place!” says Paterson. They have since solved by ensuring all team members have UPS [uninterruptible power supply] in their houses, ensuring internet access at all times even with an electricity blackout.

On a personal level, Paterson is candid about facing self-inhibiting challenges such as imposter syndrome and self-doubt. “I think the strength in me comes from having built an amazing support system around me, particularly in terms of my career.” Emphasizing the power of networking, she says, “I always tell people to use LinkedIn, and often, that power is incredible. Promote

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yourself, your business, and your achievements there, and be ready with facts or figures if and when people try to tell you no.” When it comes to facing self-doubt, she says, “You really have to build confidence internally in what you are doing. For me, I believe in my team and their work so much, which has always spurred on me when I have imposter syndrome.” She adds, “Many of the problems we work on as entrepreneurs are so much bigger than us and our individual companies, so even on the days when it seems like nothing works, remembering that you are making a difference, no matter how small, helps.”

At critical times, Paterson says her belief in herself, and her enterprise’s mission guides her. “I am very driven by community, and I am constantly thinking about what more can Concat or myself can give or do for the community. I really believe in human-centered businesses, [and] my most important and maybe biggest worry, has always been about my team and their health happiness.” She continues, “I like to think that if you put that first, then the community grows more naturally around you.” On another note, she also points out the importance of remaining calm under pressure, particularly in critical times. “When something bad happens, I shut my computer screen for five minutes, breathe, and then go back, instead of instinctively replying directly.”

As a female entrepreneur in the tech sector, Paterson is emphatic on the importance of building a network that supports and accepts you and your work. “At the beginning, I was very shy to ask for advice, but now I do it very often and shamelessly!” she says. “I also have a community of amazing female entrepreneurs from the Middle East who continue to inspire me even on the worst days. We regularly speak about how we have to keep pushing forward, because the only way we are going to make a difference is by not giving up.” Besides having a supportive network, Paterson also advises to find a good mentor to “learn how to ensure your own voice is always heard.”

When it comes to her advice to other entrepreneurs, Paterson quotes a famous quote from Walt Disney, co-founder of The Walt Disney Company, who said: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” She elaborates, “The world would be so much better off if people spent less time talking and more time doing, particularly in terms of new ideas and businesses. The frequency of the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur will never seize to amaze you, so be prepared to ride the highs, and get back down to work in the lows. Don’t give up every time someone tells you no, or that what you are doing will never work.”

73 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
→ The Concat team


Abbey Dean

/ Bliss Flower Boutique

You have to believe me when I tell you that I wouldn’t be half the woman I am if I lived anywhere else but here.” Abbey Dean, co-founder of UAE-based luxury floral boutique Bliss Flower Boutique, is of the staunch belief that she was able to cultivate her entrepreneurial spirit largely due to the country she made home over a decade ago. “I have felt empowered as a creative and as an entrepreneur here,” Dean says. “I think the ecosystem here is so encouraging of women in the workplace.”

The New Zealand native has been running the homegrown UAE brand Bliss since 2008, when Dean’s decision to become an entrepreneur was sparked by her love and passion for all things floral. Her journey in the Emirates first started with a tenure as head florist at the Dubai-based luxury beach resort Jumeirah Beach Hotel in 2006. Soon after, she met Michael Lennon, with whom she co-founded Bliss. “It was a passion for florals and an eye for design that led me to start Bliss,” Dean says. “Michael, my business partner, and I understood that there was a void in the market for luxury floral design. I was at an age where taking risks was a possibility. In hindsight, it was an entrepreneurial mindset, an intrinsic motivation, and drive, coupled with a lot of hard work.” In addition to floral arrangements, Bliss’ offerings also include event installations for corporate companies, arranging private parties and events, chic and sophisticated concepts for weddings, as well as weekly deliveries of flowers. Since its inception, the firm has opened 11 branches across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah. And in all her years at the helm of this passion project, Dean says the business achievement she’s most proud of is the opening of a Bliss branch at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road. “I always dreamed of a street-facing boutique!” she exclaims.

While Dean’s leadership has certainly steered her enterprise towards success over the past 14 years, the co-founder says the results thus far have taken her by surprise. “Truth is, our growth has left me in awe of all we have accomplished,” Dean says. “Our values haven’t changed; we still want to source the freshest florals, provide superior service, and keep up with design trends, while staying true to our signature aesthetic. We always had a plan, of course! But a dynamic foresight is key to growth through different life cycles of the business.” And it is precisely with that foresight that Dean ensured the expansion of her brand into Saudi Arabia and Qatar during 2022. The move into the Saudi market, which happened during the initial half of the year, saw the opening of a boutique in Riyadh, marking Bliss’ first foray into the wider Gulf region. That decision was followed up with the opening of another branch in Doha in November this year. “Our current strategy of expansion is franchising; we’re growing here in the GCC with boutiques in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Sharjah, Riyadh, Doha and beyond,” she says. “We also have a Singapore boutique opening soon, which has been a real milestone! I truly believe the secret behind Bliss’ success are two words: ‘Never fail!’”

But such a statement shouldn’t divert from the fact that Dean too has tasted her fair share of hurdles and hiccups along the way of building Bliss. Perhaps the biggest test of her leadership so far came during the lockdowns and social restrictions imposed during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. “The pandemic created short-term disruptions for us, but my perception on business leadership remained the same then, as it does during any crisis,” Dean says. “And that is to be visible

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Co-founder ↑ Bliss co-founder Abbey Dean believes key to success is having a team who shares your vision and values, who are honest with their work, day in and day out.

and responsible, getting creative about demands and communication, as well as looking out for the wellness and safety of all our talent. We spent this time recalibrating and consolidating our processes and ideas, coming out stronger than ever before.” But how does one fare through difficult times, I ask Dean. “Well, you just simply keep going!” she replies. “I’ve learnt so much by doing; I really believe that experience is your best teacher. I also think the key to success is having a team who shares your vision and values, who are honest with their work, day in and day out. In a business like ours, service is of utmost priority. Bliss is a luxury floral boutique, and so I see myself as someone who has a say in current industry and design trends, and who sets the bar higher in floristry in the region.”

But amid her many ambitions, Dean says she remains wary of not getting sucked into an abyss of “workaholic” traits at any given time. There is, of course, a certain timeliness in bringing up this topic: as per the American Psychological Association, burnout and work-related exhaustion is currently at an all time high. Dean says the key to avoiding such a situation is to set boundaries. “I never forget to take time out for myself,” she says. “I have learnt the importance of a work-life balance over these years. A massage, weekend travel, or a summer away with the family is how I reset

and rejuvenate. It feeds one’s creativity and passion so being kind to yourself, and to know when to disconnect inadvertently increases productivity in the long run.” But the key to maintaining such self-discipline must always stem from a place of self-love, Dean adds. “I acknowledge my feelings, build strong connections, challenge my doubts, and avoid comparing my brand to others,” she says. “I don’t look at other floral design companies’ flowers for inspiration, or as competition. Unless my gut says yes, I never go with what someone else is doing. The bottom line is success does not require perfection. Failing doesn’t make you a fraud, it makes you a human!”

It comes to me as no surprise then -having gotten an insight into Dean’s way of going about things- that three words she uses to describe her leadership are “open, welcoming, and approachable.” “I want to motivate people to do their best,” she says. That might also explain the route she takes when I ask her for advice she’d like to share with other female entrepreneurs. “Keep smiling, even when the going gets tough,” Dean shares. “I smile even when I’m having a bad day, and when I get a smile back from a stranger, it just changes my mood. Believe in yourself; we’re all meant to achieve greatness. Make a plan, and then make it work, no matter what. Resilience is everything!” -

75 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
Bliss has
→ In addition to its 11 branches across the UAE,
now expanded into Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well.



Though women and girls represent roughly half the global population, they are often disproportionately excluded. Gender equality is a moral and a business imperative; it can’t be debated. But yet, unconscious bias holds us back, and debiasing people’s minds has proven to be difficult, and, at times, expensive.

By debiasing organizations, we can make smart changes that have big impacts. Research-based solutions hand us the tools we need to move the needle in classrooms and boardrooms, in hiring and promotion, benefiting businesses, governments, and the lives of millions. It draws on data such as the eighth report McKinsey recently released, Women in the Workplace, which surveyed over 40,000 employees from 333 organizations that employ more than 12 million people. The findings revealed that we’re amid a “Great Breakup,” where women are demanding what they deserve from work, and leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers to get it.

The report found that in 2022 women hold 48% of entry-level positions, 40% of management positions, 36% of senior manager director positions, 32% of vice president (VP) positions, 28% of senior vice president (SVP) positions, and 26% of C-suite positions. When comparing this to 2017, there has been slight progress; women with entry-level positions increased by 1%, while women holding management positions, senior manager director positions, and VP positions saw increases of 3% each. Furthermore, women in SVP positions and C-suite positions rose by 7% and 6% respectively.

It seems that a large majority of women are still leaving the workplace- citing these numbers can be discouraging enough for

them to quit their industry, or the workforce altogether. However, I’d encourage them to persevere with a different mindset and focus on evidence-based interventions that could be adopted right now, improving lives and performance. The facts are data-driven and indisputable. There is undeniably a gender disparity in the workplace, but there are two schools of thought to consider when trying to achieve a balance, and reframe your domain of thought:

A LIMITING DOMAIN If we get caught up in the numbers, we limit our progress. If we focus on the fact that women are significantly underrepresented in the workplace, our perspective becomes narrow; we view the gender imbalance through a glass-half-empty lens. Focusing on the negatives holds you back from what is possible. So, view data as inspiration, instead of as a reinforcement of why women cannot obtain and hold leadership roles.

AN ENABLING DOMAIN The opposite end of the spectrum is looking at what possibilities exist, and how we can achieve the subsequent outcomes. Instead of being discouraged by the fact that only 26% of the female workforce has made it to the top, understand that it is possible and have conversations to discuss how it can be achieved.

It all starts with you. There is hope, but you have to believe it is possible. There is no doubt that the percentage of women in leadership positions is disproportionate to males in similar standing. I encourage everyone to remember that some women have climbed to the mountaintop to prove that this is possible. As a woman in the workforce, you must believe in yourself. Ask enabling questions that empower growth, with a focus on upgrading your skills. Stay determined and be relentless in your ambition.

So, how can males in the workplace help? Women are leaving the workplace because they choose not to work in toxic and frustrating environments. This is something I support, because it means that we are valuing our worth, and we are adamant about seeking out a specific standard of excellence.

As a woman in the workplace, it is essential to stand up for yourself, demand your rights, and be clear about what you will and will not tolerate. Men in the workplace are responsible for supporting women in this regard. All team members, regardless of gender, have the responsibility to stand up for themselves and their colleagues if they hear ideas being unfairly dismissed, discussions being interrupted in meetings and presentations, and any other unjust or biased behavior.

Working together towards a more levelled working environment is key. This is what will advance the overall organizational culture, especially in the long term.

Niousha Ehsan wears many hats, with her most notable one being the Chief Energy Officer (CEO) of LINKVIVA. Being in Dubai for 25+ years, she has cemented her place in the international events industry via an innovative mindset and relentless pursuit of success. These efforts have landed her in publications such as the Top 50 GCC Women Leaders list and paved the way for her entrance into highly exclusive circles like the Young Presidents Organization. As both a certified life coach and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) coach, Niousha is a champion of women’s empowerment, and she has used her platform to mentor entrepreneurial and ambitious women across the globe. Niousha’s motto is simple, and has been repeatedly proven: “Happiness is Profitable.” linkviva.com

76 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM / December 2022
Achieving gender parity in the workplace starts with our mindset
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Support Systems

79 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
UAE-based tech startup Alfii launches with a private beta program aimed at solving HR issues for small businesses by AALIA MEHREEN AHMED ← Dina Mohammad-Laity, Yousef Albarqawi, and Becky Jefferies, co-founders, Alfii

If you’re familiar with the comic book character of The Batman, you’re perhaps also acquainted with Alfred Pennyworth, his trusted butler and sidekick. But what does this sidekick to a hooded vigilante figure have to do in this story about a UAE-based human resources (HR) tech platform called Alfii? Well, I’ll let its co-founder and CEO Yousef Albarqawi explain.”The name ‘Alfii’ has a few different meanings, but the original idea was inspired by Alfred, Batman’s butler, who helped make things happen for the world, but was never in the forefront,” Albarqawi explains. “He provided all the help and support that was needed behind-the-scenes. Our name is an homage to that: the support system that makes great things happen.”

It was during his tenure as an operations leader at

early-stage ventures as well as global multinational firms such as Deliveroo that Albarqawi first observed how overwhelmed and underresourced HR professionals can be. That eventually led him towards the idea of creating Alfii, and he launched it along with two other co-founders: Dina Mohammad-Laity, a data scientist who has worked at renowned MENA firms such as Talabat and PropertyFinder, and Becky Jefferies, a brand builder who previously led a MENA-wide marketing team at Uber. “I came to learn that many HR teams -some with a workforce of several thousand peoplewere still relying on spreadsheets or otherwise outdated and non-digitized systems to manage their HR processes and employee data,” Albarqawi recalls. “I also noticed that many companies invest in high-quality customer relationship

management systems to bring customer data into one place and easily manage those relationships, but they lack an equivalent ‘single source of truth’ for managing their employees. And this was despite the fact that staffing costs are the single biggest cost item for most companies! That’s why I set out to build Alfii. I want to make sure all businesses -not just large enterprises- can help their people thrive.”

Set to go public in midDecember 2022, Alfii has now launched its private beta program across the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom. Its early version aims to simplify the core HR processes of recruiting, onboarding, document collection and management, as well as payroll. And once publicly launched, Albarqawi assures that any business can sign up on the Alfii platform and

straightaway start using it.

“As a business-to-business (B2B) software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, our business model is subscription-based, and pricing is structured on a per-seat/ per-month basis,” he adds. “Further down the line, we will be tackling other aspects of workforce management, which will likely include benefits, leave and attendance, engagement, and learning and development. There will also be additional managed, value-add services that will be charged on a per-use basis. But more importantly, our model is optimized for startups and SMEs.”

} Now, with SMEs accounting for 50% of the UAE’s gross domestic product, and the nation itself becoming a global startup hub, catering to this market may well lend significant value to Alfii. “If we can enable our region’s startups and SMEs to deliver people experiences that are just as good as, if not better than, their larger counterparts, then we’ve done our job- the beginning of it, anyway,” Albarqawi says. The co-founder also makes it clear that a key reason for Alfii to target this specific market is because HR-related hurdles faced by smaller firms are extremely complicated. “Many large organizations are benefiting from enterprise-grade tools, but for most of the 5,000+ startups and 350,000+ SMEs in the UAE, adoption of these tools is still comparatively low,” he says. “On one hand, enterprise-grade solutions are either too complicated and expensive

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S /Q&A
↓ Becky Jefferies, Dina Mohammad-Laity, and Yousef Albarqawi, co-founders, ALFII

to integrate, they aren’t user-friendly, or they are highly fragmented to the point that a single business could be using up to 40 different tools to manage their workforce. On the other hand, SME-oriented solutions in the region have left a lot of room for disruption. To quote my co-founder, Dina, ‘It’s 2022. Why are people copy-pasting the same stuff every month? It makes me want to cry.’”

That an HR team’s inefficiency often trickles into other areas of an organization is probably a fair assessment. But Mohammad-Laity, the co-founder of Alfii who’s also its Chief Technological Officer, offers a narrative here that isn’t highlighted very often within such a discourse. “We need to understand that what further amplifies the frustration for HR teams is that they actually care deeply about making a difference for people -that’s usually why they pursued a career in HR in the first place- but they rarely get to focus on the most rewarding and gratifying aspects of their job,” she says. “No matter how well-intentioned they are, they keep getting sidelined by paperwork and administrative tasks. By removing repetitive administrative tasks, we’re increasing the amount of time they can spend on meaningful work that is best handled by a human. This meaningful work directly impacts the entire team, due to the people-focused nature.”

Incorporating a human touch thus became a necessary facet of Alfii’s operations. But the key to doing this right lay in leveraging the power of technology wisely, says MohammadLaity. “Data is a big part of the way we’re addressing the human element,” she explains. “We’re designing our platform with a powerful back-end that can provide advanced analytics and deep insights surrounding employee satisfaction, engagement levels, and other important metrics to keep a pulse on their people. I like to say that data is the voice of humans at scale, and by designing the product in the way we have, with the development principles we have, we ensure that users’ data is central to how the product works and gets developed over time.”

} So, how does Alfii reduce the mundane and repetitive tasks for HR teams? “One example is our offering of a self-service experience for employees, wherein instead of asking their HR business partner for official documents (like a salary certificate, for example) or for updates to their personal data, they can help themselves directly through the platform,” Albarqawi says. “One of our favorite features is a customizable drag-and-drop template builder, which simplifies things like offer letters, employment contracts, employee policies, and so on. By integrating e-signatures into the workflow, new joiners and employees can sign documents digitally without leaving the platform. We’re therefore committed to putting out a product that people actually like using -just like our favorite appswhich is why every aspect of the user journey has a human touch; that’s a big part of our DNA as a brand.”

And as per the startup’s co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Jefferies, the need for such people-centric features has become more significant in the post-pandemic world. “Despite

the recent macroeconomic climate leading to layoffs and other challenges for businesses of all sizes and stages, it’s still clear that for companies to remain competitive in today’s work environment, they have to win on talent- and that’s why so many of them are consciously making a shift towards becoming people-centric organizations,” Jefferies says. “It may seem like a buzzword now, but we believe it’s here to stay. And considering most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, that’s good news for all of us!”

} Jefferies’ claims are backed by hard facts, of course. For example, Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey highlighted that good work, life balance, and learning/ development opportunities were now the top priorities when choosing an employer. And if other workplace shifts such as “The Great Resignation” and “quiet quitting” are anything to go by, it is evident that catering to this millennial-majority workforce will require businesses to rethink the human


element of things. This, perhaps, is the right time to introduce the other meaning behind the startup’s name. “The word Alfii in Arabic also happens to mean ‘millennial,’ which is soon to be the world’s largest workforce segment,” Albarqawi explains. “The product we’re building is for the future of work that they’ll soon be the biggest part of!”

Jefferies adds that having two female co-founders at the helm of Alfii is also one of its greatest strengths. “When it comes to how female leadership is helping to shape things at Alfii, one of the first things I would point to is the empathy factor,” she says. “Empathy is often viewed as one of the ‘superpowers’ women bring to the table, and given the importance of letting customer feedback drive product development, this gives us an edge that we’re constantly leaning into. We’ve spoken to hundreds of HR leaders across many different geographies, and being able to listen to, understand and relate to their pain points and challenges plays a big role in shaping our product offering. With that insight, we can purposefully design the platform for what HR teams need the most.”

With a public launch now right around the corner, the co-founding trio hope to see all their plans for Alfii convert into tangible results very soon. “Alfii’s ultimate vision is to help businesses build a more connected, higher-performing, and happier workforce,” Albarqawi says. “We want to do that by building the most user-centric and comprehensive people experience platform. It’s a big product vision that we intend to build well, and fast!”

81 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /

First-Mover Advantage

Behind the scenes of Kuwait-based KLC Virtual Restaurants ’ successful entry into Qatar by

Since establishing Kuwait-based multi-brand virtual restaurant company KLC Virtual Restaurants (KLC) in 2009, co-founder and CEO Mubarak Jaffar has been at the helm of opening 15 kitchens in Kuwait and four in the UAE. However, expanding his familyowned business into Qatar wasn’t always meant to happen in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a FIFA World Cup. In fact, it was actually a plan Jaffar had discussed with Abdulaziz Fakhroo, Partner at KLC Qatar, in as early as 2019. “But then the COVID-19 crisis hit, and, as you know, the lockdowns that we saw were very strict and it wasn’t really the time to do an expansion across the GCC,” Jaffar recalls. “So, we put the brakes on the expansion, and then met once again in January 2022. After that, we literally just went out and did it… It was a very aggressive and fast expansion.”

That decision ultimately led to the opening of three virtual kitchens in Qatar’s Muaither, Abu Hamour, and Umm Salal areas. And at the time of writing this piece in November, Jaffar says that the results have already exceeded the targets they’d set for themselves. “We’ve only seen month-on-month growth since we’ve opened in Qatar,” he says. “Because it’s a very promising market, we feel that we can cover 80%-90% of Qatar with just four to five kitchens, operating the majority of our brands. The competition is also nowhere close to what it is the UAE or Kuwait, and while the number of orders for online food delivery increased drastically in the last two to three years, it just continued to grow after the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we feel our entry

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→ Mubarak Jaffar, co-founder and CEO, KLC Virtual Restaurants, and Abdulaziz Fakhroo, Partner, KLC Virtual Restaurants

into the Qatari market was the right move.” And Fakhroo believes that these results are simply a tester for what is yet to come. “When we opened our first kitchen, the market response was incredible, and orders exceeded our expectations,” he recalls. “So now, after opening our third kitchen, we are focused on building our team locally so we can accommodate what we perceive will be a successful period in November and December during the FIFA World Cup.”

}With one out of the three launched kitchens operational 24 hours a day, and the other two at 16 hours a day, all three locations currently average over 600 daily orders. “Each of these kitchens also has over 20 brands,” Jaffar explains. “Hopefully within the next couple of weeks, all three kitchens will be operating 24 hours and at full capacity. The Abu Hamour unit is quite a central location, and the one that we feel will allow us to cater to all the demand that we’re going to be hopefully seeing during the World Cup. We can do anywhere from 600 to 800 orders daily from that kitchen, so that’s what we’re preparing ourselves for. But we don’t expect to be opening any new brands during the World Cup. We’ll also be opening a fourth in a very promising location by the first quarter of 2023. This will allow us to cover the rest of the delivery hot zones in Qatar.”

}A point worth noting here is that although KLC’s ultimate vision is to create food brands and cuisines that can be easily delivered to homes, takeaway services have become a key facet of its operations in

Qatar. Fakhroo explains that the consumer landscape in the country demanded such an offering- one that KLC were able to oblige to with a seamless pivot. “We’re very flexible in our approach and in entering any market,” Fakhroo says. “As a Qatari myself, what I know differentiates Qatar from other markets is that we still have that takeaway environment- that is still culturally embedded in the people of this country. Which is why we decided to have that takeaway aspect within our kitchen. And so, we are situated in areas where we know there’s going to be car

traffic rather than foot traffic. A lot of people in Qatar drive around, because they enjoy going out in groups and families, and so, adding this takeaway feature was a way for us to accommodate these different clienteles.”

}At the forefront of this expansion journey is One Eatery, KLC’s virtual food hall that can simultaneously offer multiple food brands at one avenue. As an umbrella company to over 80 brands that cover over 15 cuisines across its many locations, KLC is aiming to introduce many of these to the people of Qatar as well. Jaffar believes

One Eatery, which houses 60 of KLC’s brands, offers a one-stop-shop solution in that regard. “We’ve expanded the One Eatery concept across the GCCfirst in Dubai, and now in Qatar- simply because we need to have a face to our locations,” he explains. “And this is because we do offer a bit of take-away and dine-in as well. So, we invested a lot of time in making our front of house location look pleasing and appealing to customers so they can also go and grab a bite. It’s a very small, casual seating area, but it’s an opportunity to tap into that market as well.

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So, when you enter One Eatery, you have the option to order from any of our brands. Moving forward we’re going to be opening more One Eatery’s!” Although all 60 brands that fall under One Eatery haven’t been launched in Qatar yet, Jaffar assures that they will be introducing new brands every month. “Hopefully within the next three to six months, we should have around anywhere from 40 to 50 brands operating in Qatar,” he adds.

} But despite the attention towards takeaway and dine-in services, KLC’s essence lies primarily in online food delivery, Fakhroo says. “The brick-and-mortar business model of casual or fine dining is slowly fading in Qatar,” he explains. “It also seems like only the quick service restaurants (QSRs) will survive. With the new generation and the technology they’re using, we now find a big gap between fine dining and the QSRs- that’s where the online delivery service is just growing exponentially. So, we want to tap into that market and that’s why we see the growth that we’re seeing so far from the past few months.” And Jaffar maintains that their core value proposition of offering multiple cuisines continues to be the KLC brand’s X factor.

“I think that’s one of the main reasons why we were able to, as a brand, succeed in a very short period of time and were able to see month on month growth in Qatar where we were doubling the numbers of orders and sales since launching” he says. “The biggest reason behind those results was that we were offering variety and gave custom-


ers the chance to order from cuisines that aren’t available to them in certain areas 24 hours a day.”

At this point of the interview, Jaffar makes it a point to highlight that KLC has trademarked all its food brands to ensure easy expansion across the GCC. He also proudly mentions that his enterprise has a studio based in Kuwait where they create, develop, and market these brands. “We do our own tastings- we have a team of culinary experts across different cuisines that do tastings for us throughout the year to ensure we deliver delicious and quality food to

our customers,” Jaffar explains. “So, there’s a bit of a rigorous process involved, especially when we enter new cuisinesones that we’re not used to or we’re not familiar with. Once we’re happy and satisfied, we then develop a brand and introduce it within our cloud kitchens across the GCC in a very short period. So, this process shouldn’t take more than three months if our team is dedicated towards building a brand. We do focus on niche brands, and niche cuisines, and that’s really what makes KLC special. But we also have that flexibility to launch anything that’s trending globally in a very short period.”

} With such efficiency at their disposal, and with an expected rise in demand owing to the influx of tourists during the World Cup, it might have been easy for Jaffar and his team to get carried away with their success in Qatar. But biting off more than one can chew wasn’t even an option for the KLC team, says Jaffar. “No matter what we do, I don’t think we’ll be able to cater to the demand that we see during the World Cup, and that’s something that we are fully aware of,” Jaffar says. “The target that we set for ourselves was to be ready prior to the World Cup, and

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we were able to achieve that. We’re just getting started and we’re seeing amazing growth month on month. But with the sheer number of people that are going to be coming in and out of Doha, we just don’t want to take on more than what we can manage. We’re just going to be building what we have, making sure that the quality of the food, the standards, and the operations, is on point.” Opting for such a cautious route is an economically sound decision too, argues Jaffar. “Qatar has the highest average ticket [a metric that reflects the average amount of sales per customer] across the GCC,” he says. “So each order’s value

is significantly higher than it is in the UAE, Kuwait and even KSA. Overall, when you look at unit economics, it makes much more sense- a smaller volume of sales in Qatar could potentially make more profit than elsewhere. That’s what makes Qatar such a profitable market. It’s a sustainable market, and that’s why we’re really doubling down on it.”

} At the heart of such a conservative approach, however, lies Jaffar’s earnest attempt to continue KLC’s legacy as a family business.

“The way we’ve structured this business is that the majority of our team is also homegrown; they’ve been

with us for more than 8-10 years,” Jaffar says. “So, KLC is in their DNA! You have to understand, we’ve all built this together as a team and the success of this company is everybody’s success. We are extremely proud to be a local Kuwaiti business that’s expanded across the GCC. We believe we can operate in a sustainable manner while also competing with other regional players. At the end of the day, we see ourselves as a food business that is tech enabled. We don’t want to risk growth at any cost. If we do, we can’t guarantee the food quality that we can serve to our customers.” And it is with such a mindset that the KLC team is gearing up for

what it hopes will be a game changer for the industry. “I truly believe that the World Cup will cause a domino effect economically for the ecosystem here in Qatar, and it’ll be beneficial to not only Qatar but also surrounding nations,” Fakhroo says.

“When most companies were investing elsewhere, we capitalized in a market that is not saturated in terms of cloud kitchens. As first-movers into this country, it gives us time to expand, learn, and grow!”

→ KLC’s ultimate vision is to create food brands and cuisines that can be easily delivered to homes, takeaway services have become a key facet of its operations in Qatar.

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Based at the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), Bonocle is the brainchild of Abdelrazek Aly and Ramy Soliman who, when they came up with the concept, were both engineering students at Qatar University. At the time, Aly had broken his hand in a car accident, and sought help from his university’s special needs center to keep up with his studies. This led him to interact with students at the university who were visually impaired, and Aly met a blind student pursuing a law degree who was struggling to obtain study material in accessible formats. “It was a long, three-step processfrom getting the content from the professors, to getting help transcribing them in an accessible format by volunteers, and then finally plugging it into his braille display, a device that cost upwards of US$5,000,” says Aly. “We were shocked… And our engineering mind then came to play.” Having thus seen this problem affecting blind students and the wider visually impaired community, Ali and Soliman thus came together to find a solution, and over the next few months, they joined QSTP’s incubator program to work hard on turning their solution to a reality.

Launched in August 2022, Bonocle is a braille-based education and entertainment platform for the visually impaired. With a vision to improve the lives of the blind community through technology, its first product is the eponymously named Bonocle, a next-gen assistive device enabling the visually impaired to do a myriad of tasks. A portable, handheld device, Bonocle is designed with a “braille cell,” which consists of three buttons and different haptics that enable users to interpret the contents of any electronic device through the medium of braille. The gadget helps visually impaired people to read, write, count, take measurements, and even play games. Designed to be affordable and portable (it’s about the same size as an iPhone Xs Max), the device has an optical sensor that detects its relative position, just like a mouse, and buttons to move to another text line, giving the user autonomous control when navigating content. To maximize its use, the team also created a growing application library for Bonocle to offer more functions, such as apps for education, productivity, and games. “Braille, combined with gestures, haptics, and audio, makes accessibility immersive,” Aly says.

} When it comes to its business model, the team have set a one-time payment for the device at US$499, as well as recurring revenue from Bonocle’s apps and services. A distinct aspect about the startup is that Bonocle has been designed for the blind community, while keeping in consideration that they are surrounded by sighted people, and thus, all of its apps and

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↑ Abdelrazek Aly, co-founder and CEO, Bonocle ↑ Ramy Soliman, co-founder and COO, Bonocle Qatar-based Bonocle has built a braille-based education and entertainment platform for the visually impaired by PAMELLA DE LEON

games have been designed with inclusivity in mind. As an example, Aly points out a classic tic-tac-toe game- a blind gamer can use Bonocle to play against a sighted friend who’d use a screen. “We believe that gaming plays a very important role in developing an inclusive society, where everyone can have fun and socialize with their loved ones, and raise awareness about accessibility.” Next year, Aly and Soliman are planning to launch an online education platform to connect the blind community with a teacher worldwide to learn braille, math, or even music. This platform will allow the blind community to make extra income in the comfort of their home by sharing their knowledge and experiences,” Aly points out. Aly and Soliman admit to having their fair share of troubles to get Bonocle off the ground. “Even though the problem was obvious, the solution wasn’t,” Aly notes. “We were just starting to learn about the blind community and the assistive technologies available to them. For a while, we kept brainstorming and creating unfeasible and impractical solutions.” People’s reactions varied from finding it too expensive, too big, not good enough, or not working at all. And it’s thanks to the connections they made with the visually impaired community that have led to the creation of the current product. “We like to say that Bonocle was created for the blind community, by the blind community,” Aly says. “It sounds a lot like a cliché, but it

was the case for us. Our conversations with people from the community inspired all of our improvements and design choices. We were fortunate to meet people who worked on and used the latest technologies, and gave us harsh feedback when we had earned it.”

} Initially, the duo had thought of building the product was a braille-centric concept, but that didn’t pan out as it’d have turned extremely bulky and expensive. “It also wouldn’t achieve the desired outcome of inclusivity, since it would only show braille, which would lead to segregation in society,” Aly adds. The entrepreneurs then pivoted and designed a glove with a refreshable braille cell integrated inside, so that the user could point at text, and then have it translated to braille in real-time, under their fingertips. However, when they tested the product, the Bonocle team found that it wasn’t userfriendly. The team tried changing the glove to a stylus, but that came with difficulties too. Fast forward to the current version, and Aly states that it’s packed with high tech like motion sensors and haptics to provide an immersive user experience. But there were challenges aplenty getting to this version as well, be it with establishing a production line remotely for a new product, or dealing with the chip shortage amidst the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

→ Inspired by the issues faced by the blind and individuals with visual impairment, Bonocle is an affordable and portable device that offers them a wide variety of use cases including reading, browsing, learning, and even gaming.

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media posts or emails.”

Having said that, the Bonocle team tackled the issue by establishing partnerships with manufacturers and suppliers to secure critical components, while also designing a robust quality assurance process to test and maintain the quality of the product.

And the startup’s efforts have certainly paid off. For one, Boncole gained a massive boost when it was tasked to convert digital content into braille during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. The startup has also been shipping the first batch of its pre-orders to customers too. Focusing on the local and regional market, the team is keen to make Bonocle available in schools, universities, public libraries, and assistive

technology centers. “Our plan over the next two years is to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help us further expand our production line, and make sure we can get Bonocle in the hands of the blind community all around the world,” Aly adds. In September 2022, the startup also held an inclusive e-sports game tournament, wherein the blind and visually impaired community in Qatar played its first arcade game, Bo’s Run, alongside other gamers.

} Looking back on their entrepreneurial journey, Aly remarks that he’s learnt a crucial lesson in building a startup that advocates for inclusivity. “I have come to understand that disability is

relative, no one is born disabled,” he explains. “You could be born with an impairment (visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical impairment, etc.), but that doesn’t mean you are disabled; you are only disabled if the environment is inaccessible for you.” Giving an example, he says, “Imagine if all the staircases around us were designed with a one-meter-rise per step, guess how many of us are disabled now? Inclusion is a choice we all make every day as individuals and organizations. And thus, we always need to pause and question if what we are doing is accessible to everyone, whether it is building a website, or an app, or even writing social

In terms of advice for his fellow entrepreneurs, Aly highlights the importance of companies being customer-centric with their offerings. “Make sure your customers are at the center of your decision-making, not the product/service,” he urges. “And always listen to their problems, and validate your solutions.” At this point, Aly reflects on Bonocle’s early days to drive home his point. “When we first started Bonocle, we did not have a clear solution, yet we had a clear problem that should not exist, and the blind community was behind every decision we made,” he recalls. “Regardless of your industry, always think about the social impact your startup can make. Whether it is a food delivery service or a fintech [startup], there is always a way to make an impact on society.” As for the road ahead for Bonocle, Aly and Soliman say that they are planning on designing different experiences for its users, as well as releasing more apps and games to target different needs and uses. Next year, the startup also plans to release its software development kit to allow third-party developers to improve accessibility in apps and games by integrating Bonocle’s solutions. “I am personally looking forward to blind developers designing new experiences and developing their own ideas,” Aly says. “Our end goal is to have the blind community further integrated into classrooms and workspaces, while having equal access to technology.”

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THE OBELISK, Entrepreneur Middle East staged the Tech Innovation Awards 2022 as a celebration of the MENA region’s tech ecosystem.

A production of BNC Publishing (the media house behind Entrepreneur Middle East), the event, which was sponsored by du, and organized in association with in5, Fluidmeet, Kapturise, and Tech Venue, recognized individuals and enterprises that have been making waves in the region’s tech industry.

The gathering featured an impromptu address from one of the region’s most renowned entrepreneurs, Jabbar

Internet Group Chairman and CEO Samih Toukan, who is perhaps best known in the MENA for being the founder of Maktoob.com, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2009, as well as the co-founder of Souq.com, which was acquired by Amazon in 2017.

The awards were then presented to the winners by Saeed Al-Nofeli, Director of in5, Wissam Younane, CEO of BNC Publishing, as well as Rabih Najm, Managing Director of BNC Publishing. With the winners ranging from real estate titans to fintech disruptors, the event thus proved to be a celebration of the innovations that are set to power the Middle East’s tech arena into the future.

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MIDDLE EAST Make it your moment.

Best Tech Solutions Provider for SMEs GoDaddy Logistics Solution of the Year IQ Fulfillment Property Investment Solution of the Year Keyper HR Software of the Year Emirates HR Agritech Innovation of the Year Right Farm Foodtech Innovation of the Year Nextbite Construction Innovation of the Year Sobha Realty Fintech Company of the Year Spocto Healthtech Startup of the Year Webops Agritech Company of the Year Alesca Life Technologies Healthcare Fintech Firm of the Year Klaim Foodtech Company of the Year Talabat Digital Bank of the Year Wio OTT Platform of the Year OSN+ SME Tech Company of the Year Vuz Blockchain Visionary of the Year Mohan Kuldeep Ponnada, co-founder and CEO, The Metapolis Digital Transformation of the Year Ghassan Aboud Group Ecosystem Enabler of the Year Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park

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SAMIH TOUKAN, Chairman and CEO, Jabbar Internet Group
BLOCKCHAIN VISIONARY OF THE YEAR Mohan Kuldeep Ponnada, co-founder and CEO of The Metapolis HEALTHTECH STARTUP OF THE YEAR Webops
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Realty AGRITECH COMPANY OF THE YEAR Alesca Life Technologies 95 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
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ECOSYSTEM ENABLER OF THE YEAR Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park DIGITAL BANK OF THE YEAR Wio
97 December 2022 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /

In The Loop/

Agents of Change

How PepsiCo is supporting Arab youth in reshaping the narrative around climate change

In a world that is currently home to the largest generation of youth in our collective history, it is often said that the 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 are victims of the devastating effects of climate change brought about by generations before them. But that statement is only partially true. As the United Nations points out, the youth of today are also critical players in making positive climate action happen, be it as agents of change, entrepreneurs, or innovators.

We at PepsiCo have been witnessing the increasingly important role our youth are playing in the fight against climate change, and while they have already made great strides in this regard, it’s clear that they stand to achieve more if they are

empowered to build on the narratives they have in mind for a better future. This is especially true of young people in the MENA region- after all, the most recent edition of the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey pointed out that nearly three-quarters of Arab youth said that climate change is now affecting their everyday lives.

}This leads into why we at PepsiCo have signed a strategic partnership with the Arab Youth Centre to develop initiatives that empower the youth and nurture future changemakers in the MENA region. The first initiative that we are rolling out under this banner is what we are calling the Arab Youth Hackathon #HackforChange, a regional entrepreneurial program

that will be funded by PepsiCo Foundation, the philanthropic arm of PepsiCo, and implemented by the internationally renowned innovation platform, Plug and Play Tech Center.

The Arab Youth Hackathon is welcoming youth across the MENA region to create smarter solutions for solving climate challenges around agriculture, circular economy, water security, and renewable energy, with the Arab Youth Centre taking the lead in enabling these young minds to leverage regional opportunities.

Meanwhile, Plug and Play Tech Center will leverage its technical expertise and global network of mentors to provide content that supports the participants in building their business models.

}Slated for launch early next year, the Arab Youth Hackathon will invite applicants from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordon and the UAE to be part of a three-day ideation bootcamp, following which they will receive mentorship to fine-tune their ideas. They will then pitch their offerings to a jury that will decide on the winners of the hackathon, to be awarded with seed capital to bring their nascent sustainability ideas to life and be incubated by Plug and Play Tech Center to seek to turn their startups into sustainable businesses.

Launched at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) held in Egypt this year, the Arab Youth Hackathon is aiming to announce its winners at COP28 in the UAE next year. As for us at PepsiCo, this initiative serves as yet another indication of how we are doubling down on our commitment to sustainability and we are delighted and proud to support our youth in advancing our climate change initiatives.

Eugene Willemsen is CEO – PepsiCo Africa, Middle East, and South Asia. pepsico.com

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↑ ARAB YOUTH HACKATHON #HackforChange is a regional entrepreneurial program funded by PepsiCo’s philanthropic arm PepsiCo Foundation and implemented by Plug and Play Tech Center.

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