Entrepreneur Middle East March 2024 | Flip The Script

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The reality of building a business while being a new mom

GRILL TO GREATNESS/ Dubaibased burger joint Eleven Green P.61 APP OLYMPICS 2023/ Meet the winners P.14
Liccione P.19
co-founder Mina

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Contents /March 2024 P.28 Flip ScriptThe MILA SEMESHKINA wants to rewrite the rules for women in leadership around the world. P34 Rooted In The Past, Ready For The Future Over half a decade since taking on the task of reviving the now 114-year-old BACHA COFFEE brand, V3 Gourmet President and CEO TAHA BOUQDIB has his sights set on global dominance. FEATURES 3 March 2024 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM / → Amrita Sethi is the creator of a unique art form called SoundBYTES.
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/ Contents

March 2024

↑ Founded in 2016 by Sophie Simpson, Atteline has operated across three divisions of communication -consumer, corporate, and digital- providing services to contemporary and established brands across the UAE.


19 The Business Of Funny

As DUBOMEDY approaches its 16th anniversary, co-founder MINA LICCIONE explains how her entrepreneurial venture has unabashedly redefined comedy in the GCC.

24 Positioned For Prosperity

Following a management-led buyout of all equity held by its previous investor, UAE-born fitness brand GYMNATION is all set for a new phase of growth.



From Grill To Greatness

SULTAN and KINDA CHATILA , the entrepreneurs behind Dubai-based burger joint ELEVEN GREEN , share the story of how they are driving a winning venture in the food and beverage industry.


51 Real Talk

PUREBORN founder HANNAH CURRAN offers the low-down on the reality of building a business while being a new mom.

53 Doing Leadership Right

DEBRA and KEN COREY share their expertise on how one can avoid the traps that lead to being a bad boss.

55 From Setbacks To Triumphs

SupperClub co-founders MEHREEN

OMAR and MUNA MUSTAFA explain how failing well can lead one to success.

56 Fight The Fear (And Do It Anyway)

ROAR FITNESS owner SARAH LINDSAY lists five things she learned as an Olympian that have gone on to help her run a successful business


14 From Contenders To Champions

Meet the winners of the APP OLYMPICS competition staged by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy.

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Editor’s Note /


In a world of bravado, seek substance

Is it just me, or are a lot more people being taken in by the pizzazz and bravado a person or business showcases, rather than the actual work or value that they bring to the table?

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by it, given that we live in an age where our social media existences -though largely unrelated to how we actually go about our days- are assumed to be an accurate tracker of how we spend our time on a daily basis- and an indicator of success.

I have often chanted “perception reality” to friends who have fallen for such fallacies in the online realm- but I’m beginning to think I’ll need to start doing this for people within my professional circle as well.

And that’s because I am noticing an alarming number of people being hoodwinked by those who talk a very good game- but whose results reflect the age-old problem of something that (arguably) has a lot of style, but very little substance.

Take, for example, a recent gathering that promised its participants an experience like they’ve never had before- well, that turned out to be true, but for all the wrong reasons. From the sloppy way it was organized, to the tone-deaf topics

discussed on stage, it was rather a washout, starkly contradicting the marketing blitz it had put us through beforehand.

Consider also the investors who make big claims about investing, but for some reason, fail to actually write any checks. This is the flipside of startups who have yet to demonstrate anything meaningful in this space- investors who ride the wave of their titles without actually deploying any capital.

Another instance that comes to mind starts with a conversation I had with the latest hire a startup had made to boost its digital presence. This so-called expert spouted every buzzword under the sun, and had no qualms making outlandish statements about the positive impact they could have on the business in question. However, in an email exchange that followed this chat, I asked for a tangible action plan that would lead to the bold results they had claimed, and, well, let’s just say that the response was severely lacking. Eloquence, as it turns out, doesn’t always translate into efficacy.

For all you entrepreneurs out there, this is a problem that I’d ask you to be wary of- it seems to have become far too common for business leaders to be seduced by those who come to them with promises of grandeur. Worse, in this process, they also often tend to disregard those already in their teams who have toiled for just about every success they had enjoyed until then.

Now, this is not to say that you should dismiss everyone who comes to you with a proposal to do something better, or to create something with the potential to be momentoushowever, do take everything you hear with a grain of salt, and put checks and balances in place to ensure that they can, at the end of the day, walk the talk.

At the same time, make it a point to acknowledge and appreciate those who have already proved their worth after joining this entrepreneurial ride you’re on- in a world inundated with noise and spectacle, there’s value in holding on to those with genuine achievements on their track record.

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Meet the winners of the App Olympics competition staged by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, who were honored by Dubai Crown Prince H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at a ceremony at the Museum of the Future

On February 29, 2024, the App Olympics competition, an initiative launched by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, concluded with an awards ceremony held at the Museum of the Future in Dubai.

Winners were selected across four different categories, with one of them also being awarded the title of “Dubai’s App of the Year.” The ceremony was held in the presence of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al

Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, who also handed out the awards.

Launched in October 2023, as part of the Create Apps in Dubai initiative kicked off in March by Sheikh Hamdan, the App Olympics was a six-month-long competition that saw 247 ideas selected from over 1,100 applicants during its first phase. International participants from 64 countries accounted for 30% of the entries submitted, while the remaining 70% of entries were from UAE nationals and residents.

The awards ceremony in February 2024 thus marked the competition’s final stage, which saw the final 12 participants pitching their ideas to a panel of judges comprising the following industry experts and venture capitalists: Arnav Danthi, Principal at Nuwa Capital, Begoña Águeda C. De Albornoz, Corporate Sustainability Lead for the Middle East at Accenture, Khalil Alami, founder and CEO at Telr, Rohan Patel, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Builder AI, and Sharif Elbadawi, CEO of Dubai Future District Fund.

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The Loop


The App Olympics had prizes listed for four separate categories, which included Best Youth-Made App, Best Social Impact App, Most Innovative App, and Best Advanced App.

The winner of the Best Youth-Made App was Emudy, a platform that assists students in preparing for the Emirates Standardized Test (emSAT), a national system of standardized computer-based tests in the UAE to determine entry into universities as well as scholarship applications.

The award for the Best Social Impact App was given to The Intern, an app that connects college students

with relevant internships and also offers financial management and educational resources.

The winner of the Most Innovative App category was Bareeq, an app that connects users with homemade products from within their communities.

Finally, the winner of the Best Advanced App title was Takeem, an app that reduces the time, cost, and other stresses that come with long-term renting of properties.

Sheikh Hamdan presented awards to each of the four winners, following which -based off the votes from all

attendees at the eventEmudy was crowned Dubai’s App of the Year as well. All the winning apps received a prize worth US$150,000 each, which includes a package of services provided by Builder.ai, a UAE-based global company specializing in smart application software development.

The winners will also receive support from the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy in launching their startups, including assistance

with licensing and banking services and help in identifying potential partners and customers.

In a statement released on his official X account, Sheikh Hamdan lauded the innovative ideas that were on display during the App Olympics -an initiative he termed as “a cornerstone of the Create Apps in Dubai initiative”- and also announced the launch of a global edition of the competition. }}

↑ H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, attended the App Olympics awards ceremony ← Takeem, the winner of the Best Advanced App category.
15 March 2024 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
↑ Emudy, the winner of The Best Youth-Made App category, as well as the winner of the Dubai's App Of The Year title → Bareeq, the winner of the Most Innovative App category.

“Hosted by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, this competition drew 1100 entries, showcasing the exceptional tech talent available in the UAE and from around the globe,” he said. “Building on this success, we are pleased to announce the launch of a global edition of the App Olympics. This new chapter invites innovators worldwide to join us in contributing to Dubai’s remarkable digital transformation journey.” In a separate statement, Sheikh Hamdan provided more information about the global edition of the App Olympics, which will seek to expand the opportunities for innovators and developers of smart applications from around the world.

“Dubai has an ambitious vision and is taking proactive steps to enhance its position as a global hub for technology innovation,” he said. “The city has created an exceptional platform for attracting digital talent from around the world. Guided by the vision of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the city serves as an inspiring role model for nurturing

ideas and innovations that shape the future.”

“Empowering the technology sector is an integral part of efforts to achieve the goal of the Dubai Economic Agenda D33 to establish Dubai as one of the world’s

← App Olympics was launched in October 2023 by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy as part of the Create Apps in Dubai initiative that was kicked off in March by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

top three cities,” he continued. “The extensive participation of innovators and digital creatives from around the world in the App Olympics reflects Dubai’s stature as a global hub for research, innovation, and opportunity and a leading city that offers sustainable growth and a high quality of life.”

The App Olympics’ award ceremony was also attended by H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Applications, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, Ahmed bin Byat, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, President and CEO, Dubai Chambers, Khalfan Belhoul, CEO, Dubai Future Foundation, Saeed Al Gergawi, Vice President, Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, and several other officials and dignitaries from the public and private sectors.

→ The Intern, the winner of the Best Social Impact App categoryMak-

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The Business of Funny

As Dubomedy approaches its 16th anniversary, co-founder Mina Liccione explains how her entrepreneurial venture has unabashedly redefined comedy in the GCC

19 March 2024 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
← Dubomedy co-founder Mina Liccione is a performance artist, tap dancer and comedian.

B /The Big Idea

In 2007, Mina Liccione -an Italian American performance artist, tap dancer and comedian- received a call from her agent offering her a gig in the UAE. At a time when information about the country and the surrounding region was limited in the USA, Liccione was a little uncertain. But after throwing away any misgivings to the wind, she landed in Dubai. And this marked the start of a journey that would change her life -and the landscape of comedy in the GCC- forever.

“I thought, ‘Let’s just take a leap of faith; let’s just go,’” Liccione recalls. “It was supposed to be 10 days, performing as part of a festival, and then it turned into a month-and-a-half. Everyone I met kept saying they love comedy, but there was no local comedy scene. I too was one of the comics that had been flown in. People told me I should come back, and start a [comedy] school. I had to finish up my Master’s as well as a couple of contracts, but I said I’ll come back in a year, and I’d give it a year- as we all say.”

Fast forward to 2008, and Liccione, with her background in performing arts and education, saw the opportunity to fill the void that was apparent in the local comedy scene. While speaking to people interested in what she was hoping to achieve, multiple contacts kept telling her, “Have you met Ali? You need to meet Ali.” They were all referring to Emirati comedian and television presenter, Ali Al Sayed. “It was like an arranged friendship,” Liccione laughs. “He was just leaving his corporate job, because he wanted to start a comedy company, and start building the comedy scene. We had the same vision. His dream was to be able to export talent, especially as a local. We partnered almost instantly.”

Soon after, Liccione and Al

Sayed -who, by the way, went on to get married to each other in 2011- launched Dubomedy as a platform for aspiring comedians and performers. From the start, it was always envisioned as more than just a comedy club- the two entrepreneurs running it saw it as a platform for nurturing talent, offering workshops and classes in improv, sketch comedy, stand-up, and even tap dancing. Reminiscing about when they first started teaching Dubomedy’s signature “Comedy 101” course, Liccione says, “In 2008, when we first started doing classes, there would be a circle of 20 people, who had never met a local, ever- they had so many questions for Ali. Plus, because I was an Italian American woman with a local

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man, a lot of women felt more comfortable taking the workshop, and a lot of Arabs -especially if English was their second language- felt very comfortable having Ali there.”

But starting this venture was definitely not smooth sailing. After all, in 2008, venues were mostly booking karaoke spots and cover bands for their live entertainmentcomics were not necessarily on their list. “The hardest part was definitely the very beginning,” Liccione admits. “This is 2008, and the only comedy shows happening are the big names being flown in- and even that wasn’t that many.” That said, having started Dubomedy,


Liccione and Al Sayed were looking for a platform to showcase their students. “We were ready to do a regular weekly [show],” Liccione recalls. “We had the talent; now they needed a platform to get better. We talked to multiple venues, and back then it was a bit stricter, so they said, ‘No, it’s going to be too dirty.’ And we told them we’ll keep it on the cleaner side. And then they said, ‘But then it won’t be funny.’ So, there was this juxtaposition, and this constant push back.”

But this didn’t deter the two entrepreneurs- and soon enough, their efforts bore fruit. “It took months, but we finally met a guy named Jose, who worked at an F&B venue called Warehouse at the Le Méridien Dubai Hotel and Conference Centre, who said he had a free slot on Mondays,” Liccione says. And this, as it turned out, was all that the

Dubomedy co-founders neededLiccione proudly declares that she and Al Sayed started the first weekly comedy show in Dubai that featured both locally-based and regional comedians. “And after that, the phone would not stop ringing,” Liccione adds. “All of a sudden, everyone wanted comedy.”

The duo still co-teach the signature class, nearly 16 years later. Significantly, Al Sayed also teaches classes in Arabic. “That’s very important, he’s very passionate, because so many kids in our generation don’t want to speak Arabic,” Liccione adds. “And it’s so important that we do that.” That said, Dubomedy has also evolved, with its offerings catered to the changing needs of the market. For instance, in addition to classes and workshops that welcome everyone from beginners to professionals, Dubomedy now also produces }}

21 March 2024 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
← Dubomedy is behind several community projects like Clowns Who Care, through which they host arts camps, shows and workshops at refugee camps and centers for children with determination.

B /The Big Idea

events and festivals, offers corporate training and team-building workshops, and is also behind several community projects like Clowns Who Care and Autism Smiles. “The Clowns Who Care program is where we do a lot of arts camps, shows and workshops at refugee camps and centers for children with determination,” Liccione explains. “That is definitely our heart.” Meanwhile, Autism Smiles came about after Liccione and Al Sayed were asked to be comedy coaches for a film called As One: The Autism Project, produced by Abu Dhabibased Image Nation, which released in 2014. The documentary focused on the children, parents, and teachers involved in a theatrical and musical


program in the UAE designed specifically for children on the spectrum. After an emotional experience being part of the film, Liccione and Al Sayed decided to start Autism Smiles, where they would teach children with determination performing arts and comedy.

Liccione has also made it a personal priority to create a safe space for women in the comedy arena. This is why, in 2009,

Dubomedy started Funny Girls, the region’s first all-female standup troupe, which is still going strong today. “We started this specifically, because I had a lot of local women saying they would like to try comedy, but they were terrified, and they couldn’t go to these places [like bars],” she explains. “And I said, ‘Okay, let’s make this happen.’ I had a group of women from different parts of the world, and we started doing shows at the

Ladies Club, specifically for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Continuing to talk about the importance of inclusivity in comedy, Liccione adds, “I want my mother-in-law to be able to come to a show, I want women in hijab to sit in the front row, and feel comfortable. We really wanted to build this this environment of inclusivity in the comedy world, because many of these women are not going to go to bars.”

Looking at how Dubomedy has grown since its humble origins, Liccione proudly says the company has achieved a lot of its goals around building a homegrown comedy scene. “Our whole mission and vision were completely opposite [to other companies], which was to make this our home,” she says. “This is our comedy, and we’re going to build it here. We are not going to import. We wanted to export, and that has 100% happened. We were struggling to get one venue to take a chance on us, struggling to get permits because they were terrified we were going to say something and get everyone in trouble. But you cannot fake track record. Once we had a very solid reputation and community, it kept going, and now, we have had so many graduates gone on to do incredible things.”

Here, Liccione ticks off Dubomedy alumni like Fatima Al Taei, who plays Amal on Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic version of the American children’s educational show Sesame Street, and who is also a lead on the Netflix show Justice: Qalb Al Adala, as well as Ammar Dabaa, who has famously started an Arabic comedy scene in Amsterdam. “We have made an impact on people’s lives.” Liccione declares. “We are not just trying to make people laugh. A year or two down the road, we get letters [from alumni] saying, ‘Thank you so much. You changed my life.’ For us, that is one of the most beautiful things you can ask for, and many of our alumni

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have gone on to create their own nights producing their own shows, doing podcasts, and some are writing short films.”

So, what is next for Dubomedy?

“The next step is a comedy industry, and anyone will tell you, there wouldn’t be a local comedy scene without Dubomedy, 100%,” Liccione replies. “We’re the OG pioneers.

That’s what they call us.” And it’s this foundation that Dubomedy plans to use as a springboard to further grow the industry- and part of that is remaining independent so that they can chart their own journey. “Comedy is tricky,” Liccione explains. “There’s truth in jest, so we have a responsibility, as comedians, to speak the truth, and expose the truth in unique ways.

Both Ali and I, since day one, want to make people laugh, of course, but we also want to make them think, and maybe change a negative perspective along the way. From day one, Ali and I had ethics and integrity about what we do, and if you bring in corporate sponsors, that’s going to change, unfortunately. So, we didn’t. We have lots of brands and clients that hire us, and we have sponsors for bigger events and festivals, of course, but, internally, it’s us. It’s a mom-and-pop shop, if you will.”

But that’s not to say that this mom-and-pop shop isn’t going to get bigger- and that will start with the launch of a permanent venue. “We usually partner with different venues, and right now, we’re at Paramount Hotel Midtown; they have a beautiful facility and gorgeous studios,” Liccione says. “Our students love having class there, and the weekly show is there. But we have always wanted a home, and I can’t reveal more details, but a permanent venue is coming this year.” More festivals, TV and film projects are also on Dubomedy’s list for 2024 as well, and Liccione and Al Sayed are looking forward to what the years to come will bring for the comedy scene in the GCC. “Comedy has been our culture for a long time,” Liccione adds. “For Ali and I, comedy is a way of life.”

March 2024 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM / 23
→ Dubomedy, which was co-founded by Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed in 2008, is set to open a permanent venue in 2024.

→ Since its launch in the UAE in 2018, GYMNATION has grown to now have 11 locations with 65,000 members. Plus, with six more UAE locations in fit-out, it is expected that the company will reach 17 gyms -and 100,000 members in the UAE- once all locations are at full maturity in 2025.

Positioned for Prosperity

Following a management-led buyout of all equity held by its previous investor, UAE-born fitness brand GymNation is all set for a new phase of growth by

Since GymNation burst onto the UAE fitness scene in 2018, its founders have been committed to one mission- to democratize health and fitness by making going to the gym more affordable and more accessible to the UAE public. “We identified a gap in the market where the incumbents had been overcharging the public, so much so that Dubai was ranked as the second most expensive city anywhere in the world to own a gym membership,” says Loren Holland, who co-founded GymNation with Frank Afeaki and Anthony Martland. “We quickly became recognized as the most affordable gym in the country, by offering an unmatched value proposition that still stands unparalleled in any sector across the UAE.”

Today, GymNation has grown to 11 locations with 65,000 members. Plus, with six more UAE locations in fit-out, it is expected that the company will reach 17 gyms -and 100,000 members in the UAEonce all locations are at full maturity in 2025.

“Our ambition extends beyond the borders of the UAE, with the aim to become the largest gym chain across the GCC,” Holland adds. “Later this year, we will open our first six gyms in Saudi Arabia, and we have started company

formation and the search for real estate in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait, which are all strong markets where we believe the GymNation proposition will be very well received.”

While the business has been experiencing a healthy and rapid growth, Holland explains that GymNation’s purpose extends beyond that- and that is to play a leading role as the region’s movement partner, enhancing the wellbeing of nations here by championing healthy and active lifestyles, promot-

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B / Strategies

ing the importance of mental health, and nurturing the power of positive thinking. And Holland and his fellow co-founders have undoubtedly placed this purpose at the heart of their work following their recent decision to pursue a management buy-out of GymNation from JD Sports Gyms- an arm of the British sports-fashion retail company and FTSE 100 giant, JD Sports- which had acquired the company in 2022.

According to Holland, this decision was made following a desire for greater alignment between the company’s investors and its dynamic, founder-led spirit. “Our previous majority investor, UK-based JD Sports PLC, didn’t share the same

entrepreneurial management spirit as us, and didn’t appreciate some of the unique nuances of the Middle East market,” Holland says, candidly. The management buy-out deal has seen GymNation bring on board new equity and private credit investors from within the region, which include Washingtonheadquartered diversified principal investment group Tricap Investments and Abu Dhabi-based independent private credit firm Ruya Partners.

Holland and his team believe that this will be critical for the company’s ambitious expansion plans across the GCC. “The deal also transitioned us as a management team from being a }}

25 March 2024 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM /
→ GymNation co-founders Frank Afeaki, Loren Holland, and Anthony Martland

minority to significant majority shareholders, which importantly aligns our ownership with operational and strategic control,” he adds. “This shift in equity is not just about financial stakes- it has also enabled us to better incentivize our wider team with equity, and create a more invested management team. Equally important, it grants us board control and greater autonomy to swiftly and effectively deliver on our ambitious and bold strategic plans, in our own unique way.”

The three co-founders have also allocated 12% of the company’s equity to the wider management team and value-add non-executive directors whom they have started to recruit. “This approach reflects the conviction of myself and my co-founders, Frank and Ant,

that those people who are in the heart of our of day-to-day operations can share in the ownership, and in doing so, further enhance a common alignment with the longterm goals of GymNation,” Holland explains. “We are passionate believers in the power of equity to drive the right behaviors and culture. This equity participation ensures that our management team is not only rewarded for present successes, but is also motivated to sustain performance, innovation, and growth over the long term.”

According to Holland, such a structure also gives GymNation a rock solid foundation to harness the team’s collective efforts to support the company’s ambitious plans to double its size of the business within a year. “It is no small feat, and

it requires a well-orchestrat ed strategy, underpinned by a technology and data science-led approach,” Holland says. “We’re making significant investments in artificial intelligence (AI), which has already started to transform how we handle customer service, sales, retention, and member onboarding.”

Holland believes that the company’s AI systems will not only give it a unique competitive edge, but will also help GymNation double down on its position as pioneers by doing things that simply have never been done before in the fitness industry, which competitors have been either unwilling or unable to do. “Our focus is not just on expansion, but on setting new standards in the industry, ensuring GymNa tion remains at the forefront

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/ Strategies
→ GymNation proudly declares that its gyms stand apart in every dimension. Ranging from 25,000 to 60,000 square feet, each of its locations welcomes people into a world where fitness never sleeps.


“I am profoundly grateful for being born into a simple family, devoid of wealth, where I learned the value of shaping my own destiny, and pursuing my aspirations independently.”
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60 countries.

Mila/ Semeshkina



Interviewing Mila Semeshkina, the founder of international educational platform Lectera and the Women’s Empowerment Council global community, has a very particular quality to it- the well-spoken, highly capable, and glamorous entrepreneur is honest and authentic in a way which, while we all praise, actually rarely demonstrate ourselves, or even encounter everyday.

Let me give you two examples of how Semeshkina’s words make for a kind of intimacy that, although I was talking with someone whose accomplishments have merited her inclusion in a number of prestigious lists of top CEOs or top women in edtech around the world, I came to realize that she is a remarkably approachable person, and a woman who is evidently focused on adding value, instead of just being surface-level.

A globally accomplished entrepreneur, philanthropist, and thought leader in the fields of edtech, women’s

empowerment, and personal growth, Semeshkina is open about how her journey -that started with growing up in a small village in Krasnodar, Russia, to building what is now a successful career out of Dubai in the UAE- shaped her personality. “I am profoundly grateful for being born into a simple family, devoid of wealth, where I learned the value of shaping my own destiny, and pursuing my aspirations independently,” Semeshkina says. Now, while this might be a statement that most of us have already heard in different shapes and forms, Semeshkina adds a comment that shows you how truly down-to-earth she is. “Recently, I mingled with people born into affluence, those typically known as ‘old money,’” she shares. “During these interactions, I realized my deep gratitude for my modest upbringing. There were times of hardship, and it’s these experiences that cultivated my appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. In contrast, growing up in wealth often makes it harder to find surprise and delight in the everyday. So, undoubtedly, my formative years have profoundly impacted me.” }}

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My second example of Semeshkina’s honesty takes us back to the beginning of her career when she, having completed her education at Kuban State University and Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia, worked on creating impactful marketing and public relations strategies for clients from Switzerland, Germany, the UAE, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “When I was a top manager at various companies, I encountered blatant male chauvinism,” she recalls. “I remember a particularly offensive incident at a bankers’ meeting, where I was the main presenter. Despite my key role, I was asked to move from the table to

the wall, simply because the table was for men. This incident, which occurred in a European country, left me deeply offended, especially since I was only 26 at the time. It frequently happened to me that my abilities and successes were overlooked, simply because of my gender and age. Thankfully, society has evolved considerably. The way I am accepted and respected now is noticeably different from those earlier days.”

It should be obvious by now that Semeshkina’s words, although delivered with care and delicacy, never bring half-truths. In the same manner, Semeshkina talks about her own personal development; as brave as she was to battle and overcome career setbacks, she also seems to have never

→ A serial entrepreneur, author, and venture investor, Mila Semeshkina is deeply committed to democratizing education, making learning efficient and accessible.

shied away from critical introspection.

“My leadership style has undergone a significant transformation,” Semeshkina says. “In the past, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, it was decidedly authoritarian. I was uncompromising and rigid, insisting on my way of doing things. However, over time, this has evolved into a mentorship style of leadership. I have immense affection for my team. Now, I focus on developing and advancing people, guiding them step by step.” In business, Semeshkina adds, she finds mentorship and having role models absolutely vital for success. “Without mentoring the team appropriately, they simply won’t grow, but having role models in business and life is equally crucial,” she says. “Observing someone achieve remarkable results makes you realize that it’s possible; therefore, I believe role models are the proof of possibility.”

Afew years ago, Semeshkina noticed that the scarcity of female role models in business was a notable issue. That was the spark that resulted in her eventually establishing the Women’s Empowerment Council in Dubai -which she describes as “the world’s epicenter”- in 2021. “The idea for the Women’s Empowerment Council came to me after a journalist asked me about my female role model,” she says. “It was a moment of realization– I didn’t have one… In the business world, while there are significantly more male leaders, this doesn’t mean that successful women leaders are absent. Rather, it indicates that women are underrepresented and less vocal in these roles. There are numerous successful, talented women

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out there, but for various reasons, they are not as prominently showcased or heard as their male counterparts.”

Based out of Dubai, the Women’s Empowerment Council today claims to have grown into a community of 30,000 women from around the world. Its flagship event, the Women’s Empowerment Convention (WE Convention), featured a stellar lineup of 65 speakers in 2023, which included notable names like model, author, and dietician Maye Musk, Wildberries founder and CEO Tatyana Bakalchuk,and Build an Empire CEO Elena Cardone. And Semeshkina is very clear about why she makes it a point to ensure there are women of this caliber on the stage of the WE Convention. “Women facing challenges often lack visible examples of what they can achieve, as such success stories are not widely shared or known,” Semeshkina says. “Moreover, women often find themselves without varied scenarios for handling difficult life situations. Thus, when we invite women to the stage during the WE Convention, it is to present role models, to demonstrate that multiple successful approaches exist.”

Here, Semeshkina adds that her mission with the Council is also to educate women on the untold stories and invisible layers of success. “A moment from our last WE Convention exemplifies the resonance of shared narratives,”

she says. “A leading entrepreneur, typically reserved, eventually accepted our invitation after persistent encouragement. Her rare public address received a standing ovation, highlighting the profound potential of her insights. Later, in a reflective conversation, she recognized the value of more frequent public engagement, acknowledging how her experiences could inspire others. This episode reinforces the vital role influential leaders play in reshaping societal perceptions of women’s achievements.” Moments like these are thus what one can expect from the 2024 edition of WE Convention, which will be held at the Atlantis Royal Dubai on April 20-21. Included in the speakers list this time around are names internationally renowned tennis champion Maria Sharapova, H.H. Sheikha Dr. Shamma bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan Cultural and Educational Institutions, and Nayla Al Khaja, the UAE’s first female director.

Besides the Women’s Empowerment Council, the majority of Semeshkina’s time is dedicated to growing Lectera, the edtech platform that she launched whose comprehensive curriculum -with offerings in English, German, Spanish, Hindi, and Russian- serves almost three million people from 60 countries. “The edtech industry is at a pivotal point where significant change is long overdue,”

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Mila Semeshkina shares her tips for female entrepreneurs

1/Embrace being an entrepreneur

“The first and foremost rule is not to fear being a female entrepreneur. Embrace it wholeheartedly. Women have every potential to achieve the same level of success as men in entrepreneurship. The key is not to be intimidated by gender stereotypes or societal expectations. Believe in your capabilities, and proceed with confidence.”

2/Aim to be at the top of your field

“Always strive to excel in your area of expertise. Your goal should be to become the most knowledgeable and skilled professional in any room you enter. This level of proficiency and dedication ensures success and transcends gender-based boundaries. When you’re the most competent person in the room, your gender becomes irrelevant to your ability to succeed and lead.”

3/Leverage the abundant opportunities in the UAE “The UAE offers a wealth of opportunities for female entrepreneurs. The environment is increasingly supportive, with numerous clubs, platforms, and workshops dedicated to women in business. The Dubai government, in particular, provides significant support for female entrepreneurs. Take advantage of these resources. Engage in networking, pursue self-realization, and utilize the programs available for support. The country is progressively focusing on empowering women in business, creating a thriving ecosystem for female entrepreneurship, and offering more opportunities each year for women to excel in the business world.”

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Semeshkina says. “The technologies currently in use, I believe, are somewhat outdated, and we at Lectera have been among the pioneers in incorporating artificial intelligence into our educational platform. Now, we’re delving deep into integrating augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain technologies into our platform. These innovations represent a shift in how users will interact with content in the future. In education, blockchain technology holds tremendous potential, and we focus on harnessing it uniquely. We’re committed to exploring and implementing these advanced technologies to fundamentally enhance and transform the educational experience for our users.”

However, the company’s currently successful trajectory did not come easy, as it was launched during the COVID-19 crisis, which was inhospitable to most businesses. “People, who previously consumed content on the go, were now stationary at home, necessitating a different approach in our communication with the audience,” Semeshkina recalls. “Being a young business, these changes directly impacted our monetization strategies. The way people approached content purchase transformed, and there was a surge in the distribution of free content. Adapting to these new consumption patterns and finding effective ways to monetize our content posed a significant challenge.” The first two years of Lectera, Semeshkina continues, were a period of intense struggle for many other reasons too. “I remember it as a time of nightly tears and constant setbacks,” she says. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong- from operational hiccups, to issues with monetization. The entire platform, along with our business processes, needed a complete overhaul. It was a test of resilience and adaptability, not just for the business, but for me personally. I had to reinvent myself, break down my previous self, to construct a new version that could rise to these extraordinary challenges.”

And so, is there a life philosophy that guides Semeshkina through all kinds of challenges in life and business? “My mantra is, ‘I don’t know how, but it will work’,” she declares. “This approach always lights a spark within me. I start with one step, followed by another, and gradually, I see progress unfolding. This mantra particularly resonates with me in moments of fear or uncertainty. Acknowledging that I don’t have all the answers, but moving forward regardless, because the goal matters deeply.” At the same time, Semeshkina points out that her second core life principle is realism. “I approach life without rose-tinted glasses,” she says. “It’s crucial for me to

fully recognize and value my successes as well as my failures. This perspective extends to appreciating my relationships, opportunities, strengths, and weaknesses. I’m not afraid to acknowledge my shortcomings, as this honesty is fundamental to my growth and integrity.”

As we finish our conversation, Semeshkina reveals the ultimate pillar of her approach to life which, we both agree, is often overlooked by many. “I am always a priority in my life,” she says. “My interests and well-being come first. This might sound self-centered, but it’s a principle I live by. Whether in the context of my family or romantic relationships, I maintain that if I am not happy and fulfilled, then it’s impossible to maintain harmony in other areas of my life. Therefore, it all starts with me- ensuring my own happiness and well-being as a precursor to contributing positively to the lives of others.”

↓ MILA SEMESHKINA'S efforts to uplift women professionally and personally led her to establish the Women’s Empowerment Council.

→ Bacha Coffee’s first location in the UAE, at the Dubai Mall, is an indoor alfresco concept that offers over 200 hand-selected coffee beans from Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia in a refined ambience. Customers can choose their preferred beans, ground to order by in-house coffee masters for a bespoke brewing experience.



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In January 2024, when Bacha Coffee, a Moroccan luxury coffee brand that originally came into being in 1910, opened a new location at The Dubai Mall in the UAE, it also became a gateway for customers to viscerally take a journey through the walls of a grand palace in Marrakech, the Dar el Bacha- which, as it so happens, is where the brand’s story began.

As enchanted as I was when researching the history of the Dar el Bacha, I think it’s best I leave it to be described by someone who has actually experienced it first-hand, and that would be Taha Bouqdib, the President and CEO of global luxury gourmet lifestyle group V3 Gourmet, whose enterprise has today converted Bacha Coffee into a global brand. “In 2017, I was invited to Morocco for a ceremony attended by His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco to mark the launch of the Dar el Bacha Museum of Confluences, which was previously the palace of the Pasha [governor] of Marrakech,” Bouqdib recalls. “The Dar el Bacha (which translates to “House of the Pasha”) was originally constructed in 1910 as a residence and a gathering place for guests, celebrities, and noteworthy personalities of the time, situated just adjacent to the workplace of the regional government of the day. After the Second World War, the Dar el Bacha complex had been closed for 60 years, but during the tour, I was invited to reopen the café, which had yet to be renovated, and was still closed to the public. From that moment, I was smitten, and I immediately took the initiative to revive the brand, starting with renovating the entire building in accordance with the very strict guidelines, as it is a protected heritage site.” }}

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Thus began Bouqdib’s journey in reviving a brand that carried over a century’s worth of history, and it led to Bacha Coffee opening its doors to the public once again. “When we eventually reopened the original Bacha Coffee in 2019 in Marrakech, I saw that customers flocked there from all around the world, not just once, but they came back every day, even if they were only staying in Marrakech for a short time,” Bouqdib says. “It was at this point that I thought this is interesting, and that this concept would attract a variety of different nationalities and cultures. ‘Let’s open in Asia,’ I thought. And since I already had investments in Singapore, I decided to open the second location at the ION Orchard, a premier shopping mall there.” But that was only the beginning of the brand’s

growth- since then, Bacha Coffee has been transformed into a global concept with offerings including coffee rooms, coffee boutiques, coffee bars, travel retail and takeaway counters, as well as an international wholesale distribution network. Today, the brand serves over 200 varieties of 100% Arabica coffees from 35 different regions, as well as accessories and coffee tableware. Additionally, in the last six months alone it has seen the opening of new locations in Hong Kong, Taipei, Kuwait City, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and of course, Dubai. And this series of expansions, Bouqdib says, has been a very calculated one.

“I know that Bacha Coffee is a concept that can catch on very quickly; however, I am also equally obsessed with choosing prime retail locations for the brand, to ensure that from the start, Bacha Coffee is a destination, not just another coffee brand on the street,” Bouqdib explains. “We will open select locations in every fashion capital around the world over the next three years, starting with Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Simultaneously, we are bringing the brand to the rest of the world through our e-commerce platform and very select, premium online marketplaces. Today, we fulfill orders to over 40 countries, including the United States, France, Japan,

transforming an everyday commodity to an experiential one,” Bouqdib adds. “While coffee is, and will always be, the star in every cup, the Bacha Coffee Room experience goes beyond the intricate décor to reimagine the vibrancy of the original Dar el Bacha, allowing guests of today to live in what was once the epitome of luxury, enjoyed only by those who could. This can only be conveyed in the most authentic manner beyond just taste, smell, and sight, through a conjuring of emotions in the theater of opulence that is Bacha Coffee, and every detail that guests see -and don’t seeplays its role in achieving that.”


and the UAE, in their local languages and currencies. In 2024, Bacha Coffee will grow its footprint to 50 locations globally, with multiple new boutiques, coffee rooms and flagship concepts slated to launch in key markets around the world. We have plans to open in South Korea and Indonesia next, as well as expand in Europe towards the end of the year.”

The first step in achieving the 2024 targets has thus been the newly-opened Bacha Coffee Room and Boutique located along the Fashion Avenue of The Dubai Mall. Designed as an alfresco concept, this particular branch has been festooned with hand-painted motifs and an ochre-hued coffee wall that is a direct homage to the Bacha Coffee legacy. “Bacha Coffee prides itself on

This commitment to go the distance to create a favorable ambience has been intrinsically connected to Bacha Coffee’s success so far- but it is also a facet of the brand that can sometimes override any and all monetary ambitions it has, says Bouqdib. “Bacha Coffee is, first and foremost, an experiential brand- each concept we create as part of the Bacha Coffee experience work together to make that aspirational quality that then generates revenue from a business perspective,” Bouqdib adds. “We aim to create a passion for the brand, rather than sales targets. While we are first and foremost a retail brand, all our concepts participate in engaging our customers, and without them, I don’t believe that Bacha Coffee would be as prosperous as it

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Managing Editor Tamara Pupic → Taha Bouqdib is the President and CEO of V3 Gourmet, the global luxury gourmet lifestyle group with F&B and retail brands including TWG Tea and Bacha Coffee.

currently stands. As such, we have something for everyone, and we offer the same service, quality, and small touches, such as complimentary gift wrapping and gift cards, no matter how much you spend. In so doing, we aim to cater to customers young and old, and at every level of coffee connoisseurship, to create longevity for the brand.”

Now, allow me to pause the story on Bacha Coffee for a moment to allow any entrepreneurs- particularly those in the F&B space- reading this to take away some vital advice from Bouqdib. After all, besides his work at Bacha Coffee, he’s also known for being the co-founder of TWG Tea, a luxury tea brand that he founded in 2007, and then led for 15 years. Having thus worked in this space for over 30 years, Bouqdib advises entrepreneurs that striking a balance between creating a memorable customer experience and focusing on the core product itself is “everything” in the luxury sector. “An exceptional product needs equally exceptional packaging, service, and ambience to make a lasting impact on the customer,” he continues. “Every detail needs to be addressed. For us, we can only claim that we have quality coffee if we prepare it well, or if our staff provide genuine, personalized service. This is why creating a luxury brand is a passion, rather than a

financial objective. Customers sense when a brand is authentic, when we are creating products that we genuinely love before sharing them with our customers. Once they feel this passion, sales will come naturally!”

According to Bouqdib, it is this leadership mantra that has allowed Bacha Coffee to enjoy a favorable growth trajectory, but he also notes that the brand’s success today is also tied to the resolve shown by his team during what was a particularly difficult time for businesses worldwide- the COVID-19 pandemic. “The brand’s most significant achievement to date was our aggressive expansion during the COVID-19 lockdown,” he recalls. “We were one of the only brands investing in and renovating locations during the most challenging months of the crisis. I recall signing a lease for The Arch, our largest and most exceptional location to date at Singapore’s Changi International Airport Terminal 3, when the airport was literally empty, and traveling to Hong Kong to secure locations when air travel had all but stopped. We renovated so many locations, which we just locked up during that period, until the airports and the world slowly opened. But by then, we had strengthened our back-end and prepared ourselves, so that when customers started to go out again,

I know that Bacha Coffee is a concept that can catch on very quickly; however, I am also equally obsessed with choosing prime retail locations for the brand to ensure that from the start, Bacha Coffee is a destination, not just another coffee brand on the street.”

Indeed, as Bacha Coffee now looks to grow its footprint not only in the UAE but across the globe, Bouqdib iterates that creating a seamlessly similar experience across all of its locations will serve as the driving factor for the brand’s journey ahead. “I have always been fascinated with brands that bridge a link between the past, present, and future, allowing me to draw on what has been, and expand on it to bring the authenticity of the past to products relevant to today’s customers,” Bouqdib says. “What is a mainstay across all our products is the same quality and attention to detail that put the coffee of the Pasha on the map in the first place. We bring back the five senses to the coffee experience, from our slow roasting methods, traditional coffee preparation, and elegant service. What I see as its future is taking that quality and that detail, and applying it to products and concepts that will revolutionize coffee drinking, so that Bacha Coffee can continue to mesmerize customers into the future.”

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Bacha Coffee was ready to take on the world!”





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

An Apple A Day →

/Apple MacBook Air with M3

Apple’s new MacBook Air with the M3 chip takes power, efficiency, and performance to new heights. With M3, MacBook Air is up to 60% faster than previous models. Whether you choose the 13-inch or 15-inch, the lightweight device features a liquid retina display, gives you up to 18 hours of battery life, and support for up to two external displays. M3 allows for enhanced artificial intelligence performance, thereby enabling macOS to deliver a number of intelligent features like real-time speech-totext, translation, text predictions, visual understanding, accessibility features, and much more. Plus, with a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, you can look your best when

connecting with friends and family, or when collaborating with coworkers. A three-mic array and an immersive sound system with support for Spatial audio along with Dolby Atmos, rounds out its multimedia features. With its durable aluminum unibody enclosure that’s built to last, the new MacBook Air is available in four striking colors: midnight (which features a breakthrough anodization seal to reduce fingerprints), starlight, space gray, and silver. Combined with its world-class camera, mics, and speakers, as well as its silent, fanless design, MagSafe charging, and macOS, MacBook Air delivers an unrivaled experience.

Take Note ←

/Xiaomi Redmi Note 13

Watch Out ↓ /Samsung Neo QLED 8K TV

The Samsung Neo QLED 8K ushers in a new era in home entertainment, delivering unparalleled picture and audio quality. The television offers remarkable 8K precision powered by Quantum Matrix Technology Pro with Mini LEDs, with the Neural Quantum Processor 8K able to upscale any content to 8K. Meanwhile, Dolby Atmos with Cinema Object Tracking Sound Pro can track the action from all corners to deliver an immersive entertainment experience. And all of this is wrapped in an impossibly slim 360-degree metal profile with an Infinity One design.

Xiaomi’s flagship Redmi Note 13 Pro+ 5G, powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 7200-Ultra chipset, boasts a 5,000mAh battery as well as the 120W HyperCharge feature, ensuring a full charge in just 19 minutes. It boasts a 200MP camera equipped with optical image stabilization and 2x/4x lossless zoom capabilities. This camera setup, complemented by a large 1/1.4 inch sensor, improves image processing. In addition, durability is a cornerstone of this smartphone, with the introduction of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus for enhanced resistance against accidental drops and scratches. It also has IP68 dust and water resistance certification, which will provide you with peace of mind, no matter where you work.

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

B / Gear

The Executive Selection

STEALING THE SPOTLIGHT → Saint Laurent Winter 2024

For Saint Laurent’s Winter 2024 menswear show, Creative Director Anthony Vaccarello chose to build on elements introduced in prior seasons of the brand- but with changes in both their tone and content. With Paris’ Bourse de Commerce as the venue, the show kicked off with looks reminiscent of power dressing from the 1980s, but the formal silhouette soon dissolved- consider, for instance, the couture jackets made of crepe georgette and lined with satin, which, if you’ve been paying attention, was also a nod to the house’s latest women’s collection. While the collection had a predominantly somber palette, it lightened toward the finale's dusty range of hues: pale nudes, greens, and violets, among other tones. All of this also was an indirect hint to the personal sartorial evolution of the founder of the house, Yves Saint Laurent, which is known to have gone from earnest, to brazenly stylish, with a rare sensibility for color. ysl.com

From better goods to better wardrobe bests, every issue, we choose a few items that make the approved executive selection list. In this edition, our picks include Saint Laurent, Dima Ayad, and Montegrappa.

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A FUSION OF CULTURES → / Montegrappa X Triplea Perfumes: From Sand To Sky

Renowned Italian pen maker Montegrappa has joined hands with Emirati luxury sensation tripleA Perfumes to create a new fragrance called From Sand to Sky. Now, while Montegrappa has been producing fragrances in Italy since 2011, the collaboration with tripleA Perfumes marks a significant milestone, as it is the first fragrance that the former has produced outside of Italy- you see, it’s a limited edition that has been crafted here in the UAE. Housed in a deep blue bottle with delicate golden details and elegant Arabic script, From Sand to Sky is thus a harmonious blend of Italian craftsmanship and Emirati luxury- and given that it claims to encapsulate “the heart and soul of the Middle East in every note,” this fragrance is certainly worth a try. montegrappa.me


Dima Ayad Ramadan 2024 ↑

UAE-based fashion label Dima Ayad has come out with its collection for Ramadan this year, and true to form, it is making use of vibrant colors and fabric palettes to put together a luxurious assortment that intertwines contrasting tones with sheen, sequins, and metallic accents. 19 unique styles make up this collection, with it including everything from sophisticated two-piece sets, to graceful dresses, kaftans, and kimonos. And while it has been released for Ramadan, do not think these are to be adorned only over the course of the Holy Month- the entire collection has been designed with versatility in mind, which means that one can rest assured of timeless wearability, regardless of the season or occasion. dimaayad.com




Ifirmly believe in being the artist of one’s own life, creating new narratives, characters, and outcomes, through deliberate choices and actions.” With this statement, Amrita Sethi reveals one of the guiding principles that helped her transition from a career in banking, to her current status as one of Dubai’s most popular names in the realm of non-fungible token (NFT) art.

“The pivot towards art was not solely a professional decision, but also a spiritual and emotional journey,” Sethi says. “Years before leaving the corporate sphere, a meeting with an Indian spiritual mentor named Manoj Lekhi profoundly shifted my perspective on life, sparking an interest in the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and

soul. This spiritual exploration, complemented by studies in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and insights from various gurus, laid the foundation for a transformative process, which ultimately guided me towards embracing my entrepreneurial spirit, and rediscovering my artistic voice.”

Today, Sethi is known for creating a unique art form that she calls SoundBYTES, where she captures the essence and structure of sound waves, and transforms them into visual narratives through art. “This innovative approach stemmed from the idea that a single word can evoke a myriad of images, challenging the traditional notion that a picture is worth a thousand words,” she explains. “In essence, my art encapsulates the belief that our words and thoughts have }}

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↑ Amrita Sethi is the creator of a unique art form called SoundBYTES.
I firmly believe in being the artist of one’s own life, creating new narratives, characters, and outcomes, through deliberate choices and actions.”

the power to shape our reality, drawing parallels with artificial intelligence’s capability to generate visual interpretations from textual inputs.”

Since launching the concept, Sethi has been able to see SoundBYTES quickly gain traction, and has led to significant milestones for the artist, which include creating the first voicegenerated art installation at Art Dubai -one of the Middle East’s largest international art fairsin 2019, participating in the 2020 edition of the World Expo in Dubai, and creating one of the largest augmented reality murals at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). As for this year, Sethi is getting set to launch a digital collectible collection called Bucket Monsters, which, she says, intertwines art, storytelling, and technology. “It is designed to offer a unique interpretation of the bucket list concept, transforming it into a narrative about life’s experiences, challenges, and the emotions we accumulate,” Sethi explains. “Each piece in the 5,000 NFT collectible series will highlight the significance of our choices, and the ways we navigate life’s hurdles, encouraging a reflective and introspective journey for the audience.”

An interesting thing about interviewing Sethi for this feature is her insight that a reinvention in life and business is not a one-time event- on the contrary, she suggests that every stage in life requires us to go through various hurdles, and emerge out of them as better versions of ourselves. In line with this sentiment, Sethi is now focused on overcoming challenges she has faced in the art sector. “The traditional art narrative has long celebrated male artists, leaving female artists underrepresented,” she says. “This imbalance extends to museum collections and exhibitions, where works by women have been significantly less featured. In the commercial realm, auction records have shown a stark preference for male artists’ work, underscoring the gender disparity in the valuation and recognition of art.” According to Sethi, the emergence of digital art and NFT spaces presents a new frontier for with fewer gatekeepers, offering a more level playing field for women. “In these arenas, I’ve found opportunities to assert my presence and voice, using the platforms to champion diversity and inclusivity,” she says. “The digital realm, particularly the NFT space, inherently democratizes art distribution and recognition, allowing artists like myself to bypass traditional barriers, and connect directly with audiences.”



}Respect the process “Acknowledge that mistakes are part of the growth process. Regularly reflect on, and address your errors, learning from each to progress with clarity and insight. This practice is vital for personal development and successful career transitions.”

}Remember to put your mask on first (always) “Make your well-being a priority. Fostering mental, physical, and spiritual health creates a solid foundation for enduring success. When you are well and whole, you are better equipped to face challenges, inspire others, and achieve your professional goals.

}Become a learn-it-all “Embrace a mindset of continuous learning and curiosity. Engaging in ongoing education, whether through courses, workshops, or self-directed study, can unlock new opportunities, and empower you to adapt and thrive in new professional landscapes.”

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While Rayne founder and CEO Sarah Jones has been able to build quite an illustrious career for herself (which, of course, had many turns and u-turns), the entrepreneur thinks that she would not ascribe the way that it played out to a need to reinvent herself; instead, she believes that all her decisions have followed her inner sense of true fulfillment. “I’ve tried to stay true to what really drives me,” she says. “I love growing businesses, working with talented people, and building solutions that address real market needs.”


Jones’ biography thus reveals someone who’s a courageous builder- she moved to Dubai as part of the retail mergers and acquisitions team at British multinational Deloitte, but before long, she left her corporate career to start up Mini Exchange -an online shopping site for parents- in 2014, which went on to be rebranded as Sprii in 2017. Over the years, Jones was able to grow it to a business that raised millions of dollars; however, it closed in 2020, and she then decided to spend a few years focusing on her family- as it so happens, she is now a mother of five. As she reflects on her experience with Sprii, }}

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Jones says that she could write a book on all the learnings and the journey she went on, but the key pearls of wisdom would include, firstly, the importance of getting the right people on one’s team. “Times will get hard, so you need to surround yourself with people who are smart, committed, and who you trust,” Jones says. “Then, identify your strengths, and leverage them in your business, but be aware that running a business can be demanding, both physically and mentally. When the stakes are high, you need to be at your best- I didn’t always get this right.”

Running Sprii also taught Jones to always seek out the views of customers, employees, and mentors, and that’s another piece of advice she gives her peers today. “Use their feedback to improve your business,” she says. “Double points if they have a completely different view to yours– being curious of other perspectives always helps. And lastly, embrace failure as a learning opportunity, because not every idea or decision will lead to success, and that’s okay.”

In 2023, Jones made her way back into the entrepreneurial arena as the founder and CEO of professional services consulting firm, Rayne. “Rayne provides a solution that’s very close to my heart,” she says. “After working with a number of businesses over the last couple of years, I noticed a consistent requirement for senior consultants and employees in the finance and human resources (HR) fields, but on a flexible, interim, or fractional basis. Rayne was formed to address this need, giving businesses of all sizes

specialist talent when they need it most.” Jones says that for 2024, her plan is to focus on building Rayne, delivering on its growth potential, and creating opportunities for consultants and clients. “My challenge, however, is to do this whilst also hitting my second target- maintaining a sensible work-life balance,” Jones adds. “In truth, this will be a challenge, as I have a super busy home life, with five young kids- the oldest is six! I don’t know if there’s ever a way to get this balance ‘right’, but I’ll be doing my best.”



}Identify your passion and strengths “Take the time to reflect on what truly motivates and energizes you. Aligning your professional path with your passions and strengths leads to real professional fulfillment.”

} Connect with others “Build relationships with people who can offer support and guidance as you navigate your career change. Seek out mentors who can share their insights and experiences with you. Give first– you’ll get it back.”

} Keep learning and growing “Identify the skills you need for your new career path, and find ways to develop them. Whether through formal education or hands-on experience, continuous learning will help you succeed in your new endeavors.”



When she was a student of computer engineering, D14.AI founder Melda Akin remembers working on solving extremely difficult optimization, prediction, and scheduling problems that could be solved by heuristics and combinatorial optimization approaches, all of which -she explains for us ordinary humans- are the types of problems that cannot be solved by software development techniques. “And I realized that there was a gap in existing solutions,” Akin says. “I wanted to provide more efficient and effective ways to the market. So, as a computer scientist, setting up D14.AI was my dream, where I could combine my passion for technology, innovation, and problem-solving skills to set up a successful

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business, and also help society have better working conditions.”

Having started D14.AI with US$5,000 of personal funds in 2017, Akin has grown it to a business that she claims generates “millions in revenue” today, with plans underway to expand its operations to the US this year. The company has also allocated US$500,000 to invest in startups and new tech ideas, such as BeeInvites, a startup that was selected for the Techstars Riyadh Summer 2023 program, as well as Sirius Labs, a tech entrepreneurship and leadership academy aimed at upskilling future female tech leaders and entrepreneurs. However, back in 2017, when Akin had just moved to Dubai “with two pieces of luggage, and rented a super small place,” achieving the level of success that her startup enjoys today would have seemed like a long shot- but not for Akin.

“When I came to Dubai, I did not know anybody. I was unfamiliar with the market and the business culture,” she recalls. “I attended many different conferences and events during the day, worked at nights and on weekends. Many of my friends strongly suggested that I stop doing what I was doing. I tried to explain my mission to them, but they found it too risky. It was one of the most challenging times in my life. However, I was aware of my skills, strengths, and weaknesses, which helped me shape my strategy for growth. I convinced highly successful and experienced individuals to be my mentors, ranging from CEOs of massive international corporations, to regional, extremely successful entrepreneurs who became role models for many, and transformed the MENA ecosystem forever. So, I worked hard, really hard.”


adaptability. About her commitment to learning, Akin says, “My career started as a software developer where I excelled in coding, problem solving and system design. One significant transformation happened when I transitioned from a purely technical role to a leadership role. Being a social, extroverted person absolutely helped me move to the product management and leadership roles. I was acting as a connector between the development team and our clients. However, it was never enough. I had to keep developing not only technical expertise, but also strong communication, conflict resolution, financial management, negotiation skills to progress further.” Having said that adaptability is another feature that is crucial for success, Akin believes that it can be best learned while working with people from different cultures. “I believe diversity is a wonderful source for social development,” she says. “Understanding discussion styles, power distances across different cultures, and how to navigate to create a win-win situation for every party are extremely important.”

As someone who has thus reinvented herself several times through the course of her life, Akin believes the process to be dependent upon two key personal traits: continuous learning, and

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TIME FOR A CHANGE? THE HOW-TO (ACCORDING TO MELDA AKIN) }Plan, learn, and remain positive "I believe that changing one's professional path is an exciting journey that requires careful planning, continuous positivity, and perseverance. I believe understanding your passion and ikigai, investing in continuous learning, and building a supportive network are extremely important for the path to success.”
Melda Akin is the founder of D14.AI, a Dubai-based startup offering solutions that utilize artificial intelligence.


Maria Pavani founded her specialty coffee startup Tres Marias Coffee Company in Dubai in 2019 after noticing many cultural similarities between the UAE and her native Brazil, especially with respect to the two nations’ love of hosting family and friends over a cup of good quality coffee. “No matter where you are, both Brazil and the UAE share this awesome appreciation for hospitality and building strong relationships,” she says.”Whether you’re in Rio or Dubai, you’ll find people love to host guests with warmth, and make them feel at home.”

Besides crafting coffee solutions for both businesses (B2B) and consumers (B2C), Tres Marias Coffee Company is also the exclusive supplier of plant-based milk to all 150 branches of Costa Coffee in the UAE, while from June onwards, it will extend its reach by supplying plant-based milk to all Costa Coffee locations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well. It is also the exclusive plant-based milk supplier for the private aviation brand JetEx; plus, its

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One of the most significant life lessons I’ve learned along the way is the importance of recognizing and seizing opportunities for growth, both in business and in life.”

ensuring it stays on the right trajectory, all while working within our financial constraints.”

Pavani finds the UAE to be a fertile ground for her entrepreneurial dreams in the specialty coffee sector. “Growing up in Brazil, my mornings were filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee,


products are available to the general public at Al Maya supermarkets across the UAE. “We achieved a million-dollar-revenue milestone in 2022,” Pavani reveals. “Since then, our goal has been to maintain a steady growth rate of 50% per year. While I consider this goal to be somewhat conservative, it’s important to note that we are selffunded, which imposes certain limitations on our expansion efforts.”

Since moving to Dubai in 2013, Pavani has had quite a varied career path, which runs the gamut from serving tables at the Conrad Dubai hotel, to becoming a barista, to then managing coffee shops, and finally to launching a business. And while one might assume the last segment of her journey might have been the most difficult, Pavani says that starting Tres Marias Coffee in the UAE wasn’t as challenging as one might expect. “While there were hurdles along the way, particularly for a first-time entrepreneur like myself, they were valuable learning experiences,” she says. “In my view, the true test wasn’t the launch itself, but the ongoing juggling of growing the business, while



}Invest in self-development “Work on yourself. Focus on intangible aspects. Sometimes in business, you become preoccupied with numbers and growth, forgetting that you must always work on personal development. Understanding who you are, who you are not, and how you choose to live your life is essential in the long run. This self-awareness will help you avoid tricky situations as you grow.”

}Seek mentorship “Find people who have experience, and learn from them. In business, many will offer advice without having firsthand experience. Sticking to your vision, and seeking guidance from those who have walked in your shoes, is crucial. Make them your mentors, and learn as much as possible from their experiences.”

}Cultivate self-belief and resilience “Believe in yourself. Our limitations exist in our minds. So, believe in yourself, and find ways to achieve your goals. Nothing is impossible as long as you're willing to make it happen.”

a ritual my grandmother faithfully performed using a cloth filter,” she explains. “It’s ingrained in Brazilian households to always have a pot of coffee ready. In the UAE, a similar cultural reverence for coffee exists, particularly with the ‘dallah’ tradition. While Brazil has seen significant growth in specialty coffee houses over the past decade, the culture of consuming coffee outside the home is deeply entrenched in the UAE. Coffee shops serve as popular meeting spots where people gather to socialize, work, and enjoy a cup of coffee together.”

This is why Pavani hopes that Tres Marias Coffee Company will enjoy more aggressive growth across the UAE and the GCC in 2024. “Firstly, we will be prioritizing the stabilization of our plant-based milk offerings in the Middle East market,” she says. “Secondly, we will focus on consolidating the new structure of our business, which underwent significant restructuring in the previous year, and lastly, we aim to identify innovative offerings that resonate with our target audience, while expanding our presence in existing markets, and exploring potential entry into new territories.” Here, Pavani says that she considers the growth of her business to be deeply intertwined with her own personal development. “One of the most significant life lessons I’ve learned along the way is the importance of recognizing and seizing opportunities for growth, both in business and in life,” Pavani says. “Undoubtedly, embracing this journey of personal reinvention has required sacrifices and compromises. However, each instance of transformation has brought me closer to realizing my full potential, both as an entrepreneur, and as an individual.”

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← Maria Pavani is the founder of the Dubai-based Tres Marias Coffee Company.

Real Talk

The reality of building a business while being a new mom

Conversations around motherhood and what it means for women’s careers have become increasingly common in the seven years since I started my business. These open discussions are essential if we want to continue making progress, where there’s still plenty to be made.

Thankfully, many companies are striving to create a more inclusive working environment that provides flexibility and support for new mums. But we don’t pay enough attention to the “motherhood penalty” among female entrepreneurs. We know that entrepreneurship can be a lonely place sometimes. So can motherhood. Combine the two, and the pressure mounts fast. }}

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According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, family commitments hold female entrepreneurs back more than male founders. The 2022 survey conducted in 49 countries and territories found that 18% of female entrepreneurs who quit or exited a business did so for personal and family reasons, compared to 12.6% of men. Some other reasons people walked away were failing to be profitable as well as problems getting finance. But family saw the biggest gap between men and women by far, with the other two causes pretty evenly split.

Firstly, this disparity doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen it play out; plus, I know women who avoided starting a business altogether when their children were young. I decided to set up PureBorn when I was working in the nursery sector, and recognized a gap for eco-friendly baby products. Because of the industry I’m in, many people assume that PureBorn began after I had my son, but the business came first.

I became pregnant within a year of starting out, just when we were exploring expansion. I was protective of my vision, and I was also proud of how much we had achieved in such a short time. Therefore, I knew that I wanted to stay heavily involved, and so, I made a conscious commitment to making that happen.

Going through pregnancy, giving birth, and raising a child, while staying focused on another massive priority in your life, isn’t easy, to say the least. Female founders certainly face more barriers than our male counterparts, making it feel like an uphill battle at times. I understand why some prefer to step back. However, the decision

shouldn’t be forced on them, because they lack practical support, or feel a societal obligation to put family ahead of everything else. I have often felt more creative, productive, and motivated to succeed since becoming a mother. Personally, managing a business came easier than caring for a newborn. You could say I chose business over baby! I’ve always made sure that both were nurtured, but I have definitely sacrificed many small moments to make sure my first baby -my business- continued to thrive. But instead of giving myself a hard time about it, I leaned into it, and forced myself to confront several realities. These include:

1 /YOUR SKILLS WILL SHIFT Leadership is never static, and the leader you were before having a child might not be the leader you are after. In hindsight, some decisions I made after giving birth weren’t the most beneficial. I wanted to prove that I could lead with the same clarity and speed. Instead, I should have taken a step back to establish whether these actions were aligned with our long-term strategy. Experts agree that baby brain is real, caused by how hormonal fluctuations impact our neurons. Serious decisions must be thoroughly considered. Rather than burying your head in the sand, recognize what you’re capable of, and fill the gaps by recruiting people to concentrate on any crucial aspects you can’t.

2 /NO ONE IS DOING IT ALL Don’t buy into the myth that it’s possible to do everything; it only adds unnecessary pressure and

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won’t do you, your family, or your business any favors. Oprah Winfrey perfectly encapsulated the reality of being an entrepreneur and a mother when she said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” It’s far more helpful to admit there will be things you need to sacrifice, and make your peace with it. You may be unable to do the school run, be at every play date, or keep on top of the WhatsApp group. But it’s ok to prioritize certain things over others! Don’t let guilt get the better of you. Set a few family non-negotiables (mine is dinner together every night, for example), and give yourself credit for making them happen.

3 /BOUNDARIES PROMOTE BALANCE If you’re holding a baby on one knee and a laptop on the other, it won’t be long before you buckle under the load. I set clear boundaries between work life and home life, giving me the mental separation to stay fully present in both roles. It’s the best way to manage my time effectively and work towards having some kind of balance.


Motherhood doesn’t have to stop you from taking the next step in your business- but there is a cost. It will mean compromise and flexibility from your partner and family as well, so make sure they are on the same page. As a business owner, long-term vision often means dealing with an element of short-term loss, whether that’s emotional, financial, or physical. It’s not forever, but you will have to make choices.

5 /COMMUNICATION IS KEY This links to the point above, but it’s worth emphasizing. You won’t get a badge for staying silent if you’re struggling. There’s no doubt that having young children increases the obstacles of building a business, and the more aware we become, the quicker we can figure things out. Establish consistent lines of communication with your team, and be clear about what you need from them. The same goes at home, with your partner, family, and childcare providers.

We all deserve to find our purpose, and there’s no shame in pursuing success. Achieving my goals is fundamental to feeling fulfilled in every aspect of my life. And by exposing impossible ideals, we make it easier for other female founders to do the same.

Hannah Curran is the founder and CEO of PureBorn. PureBorn is on a mission to redefine baby care by offering eco-friendly, premium products that prioritize the well-being of both little ones and the planet. pureborn.com


How to avoid the traps that lead to being a bad boss by BY DEBRA AND

One of the first questions we ask leaders in the workshops that we run is: “Are you perfect?”

And except for the jokester standing in the back of the room, everyone shakes their heads and replies, “No.”

Here, we start to make the point that as humans (and as leaders), we don’t always get it right, especially when it comes to being a boss. Partly because of “us,” but also because each situation and employee is different, meaning that the behavior or approach that worked for the last situation might not be right for this one.

Sometimes we do get it right, with our people helping us thrive and succeed, and sometimes we don’t, with our people preventing or slowing us down from achieving what we set out to do.

To illustrate this point, just look at the results of a global survey we conducted, where 99.6% of people said that they’ve had a bad boss. You don’t have to be a mathematician to see that it’s almost everyone, validating that at some point }}


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in time, we’re all a bad boss. But don’t worry, for the more you understand the traps you may fall into that lead to being a bad boss, the more you can avoid them. Here are just three of them from our book, Bad Bosses Ruin Lives:

1 /TIME As we all know, time is precious. We only have so much of it, which puts pressure on how we decide to use it. For this reason, one of the most common traps bosses fall into that causes them to adopt bad boss traits is time- more specifically, the feeling that there isn’t enough time to act in any other way.

We see this happen time and time again when it comes to a variety of the 10 bad boss types that we explore in the book. An example is the “Avoider” boss, someone who doesn’t show up for their people, ghosting them, and not giving them the time, attention, and feedback they need to do their job, and feel valued. They often fall into this trap, because they believe they don’t have the time to devote to their people, and that time spent with them will distract or take them away from the work they really need to do.

If you start falling into this trap, we suggest that you think for a moment about what happens when you meet and talk with your people. Do you suggest things that they may not have considered? Do you point out problems they may encounter, and then suggest ways to get around them? Do you give them words of encouragement to help them get through a rough patch? Now, think what would happen if these conversations didn’t take place. Wouldn’t your people be more likely to make mistakes, take more time to get things done, or get frustrated with the task at hand, and completely abandon it?

2 /MISUNDERSTANDINGS The next trap has to do with misunderstanding the needs and wishes of your people, and by doing this, adopting bad boss traits. An example is the “Micromanager,” someone who is overly involved in their people’s work, constantly controlling, and prescribing what and how work is done. You’d think that having a boss who wants to be deeply involved in


what you do would be great- how wonderful it is to have someone who takes the time to give you direction and instructions, review and give critique to all of your work. That’s exactly what many bosses, especially new ones, think, believing that they’re doing it for their people.

However, this is far from the truth, as nothing can be more demotivating and exhausting than having a boss who is a micromanager. In fact, micromanagement is one of the most often cited characteristics of a bad boss, with 80% of our survey respondents saying they’ve had a micromanager boss. And yes, a micromanager is there for their people, but at what cost? For instead of giving them the time, space, and autonomy to perform, their excessive control and

involvement often squashes the joy and meaning out of their people’s work, leaving them resentful, resistant, and frustrated.

3 /SKILLS The final trap has to do with a lack of the skills to meet the changing needs of your people. We see this happen time and time again when a boss either uses skills that may have worked in the past, or not doing something because they don’t feel they have the right skills to handle the situation.

An example of this is with the “Unappreciater” boss, someone who doesn’t show their people recognition or gratitude, making them feel unvalued, invisible, and unappreciated for their actions and contributions. It was actually the highest ranked bad boss in our survey, with 81% of people saying that they’ve had this kind of bad boss. This means that the majority of bosses have not yet learned the skills to give meaningful, genuine, and timely appreciation to their people. Or, as we say in another one of my books, they don’t know how to “see it, say it, appreciate it!”

Debra and Ken Corey are experts in human resources (HR) and people development, and the authors of Bad Bosses Ruin Lives: The Building Blocks for Being a Great Boss, which is out now.

With over 20 years of experience as an awardwinning HR expert, Debra Corey is a consultant, keynote speaker, and six-time bestselling author, who has been named one of the top 101 global employee engagement influencers multiple times.

Ken Corey is a specialist in innovative solutions to engineering management, most recently at financial services company Curve. With a rich career spanning over three decades, Ken has been at the forefront of cultivating high-performance teams within cutting-edge technical environments, ranging from startups to large enterprises.

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From Setbacks to Triumphs

How failing well can lead you to success by

With one unsuccessful startup behind us, it might have been easier for us to walk away from entrepreneurship, and return to the corporate world- but we never entertained that as an option. We still had the belief in our ideas, as well as the passion to see them through, but most importantly, we saw that we had failed well, and learned from our mistakes. For us, failing well put us on the pathway to success with our current venture, SupperClub, thanks to invaluable lessons that we were able to put into practice the second time around. Here’s what they were:


It is important for entrepreneurs to understand their forte and the industry they are operating in before venturing into a business. We were aware of our strengths, and we leveraged those to develop SupperClub. Our understanding of the hospitality industry, consumers, sector insights, and customer pain points was a huge advantage in a crowded marketplace.


ONE We recognized the need to do everything ourselves during the initial days; it was all about the hustle. We were not afraid to get our hands dirty, and tackle things we had no expertise in. We overcame the bureaucratic hurdles and trade licence complexities, created our content, and built a website without any real tech skills. There was no backup- it was simply about getting things

done. Even moving forward, outsourcing only those tasks that we genuinely cannot handle in-house keeps down costs, while developing our own skills.

3 /BUILDING THE FIRST PROOF OF CONCEPT IS KEY We built a hollow minimum viable product to sell our concept, and to get our business off the ground. We focused on progress, not perfection, and we went ahead with this mindset to land our first big client, despite not having a functioning website at the time. Simultaneously chasing leads -while creating a basic web presence- helped us to land that first high-profile client, which laid a strong foundation for our business early on.

4 /PIVOTING IN RESPONSE TO MARKET DYNAMICS Our initial idea for SupperClub was different from what it is today. Although it was an innovative idea, and our clients loved it, it was becoming a challenge, and too complicated to execute. We had to be agile, quickly pivot,

and change our business model and concept to something that was easier to execute and more scalable.



We had a good hold of our metrics and quantifiable data from the beginning, and that is something that has helped us to scale and grow. Startup success is no longer measured solely by the uniqueness of an idea. Startup entrepreneurs need to understand their customer acquisition costs, lifetime value, churn rates, and other key performance indicators, which reflect the viability and scalability of the business, and will help in decision making.

Failing well

We have lost money on failed business ideas or wrong business decisions, but we have failed well, and learned from the experience. Failures didn’t sink our entrepreneurial spirit; they brought us to where we are today, and shaped us as entrepreneurs. We have still managed to build a profitable business in an extremely competitive market dominated by industry giants. As such, don’t be afraid of failing- it can actually put you on the pathway to success.

Mehreen Omar and Muna Mustafa are co-founders of SupperClub, a premium membership discount platform providing clients with access to five-star venues and experiences through a single subscription.


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Fight the Fear

(and do it anyway)

Five things this entrepreneur learned as an Olympian (which have gone on to help her run a successful business as well)

It’s notably difficult for ex-professional sportspeople to transition into new lives or new careers post athletic success. Also, it’s important to remember that not every pro has earned Premier League salaries, or enjoyed the fruits of lucrative brand endorsements, or merchandise dividends. For that individual, there is a real sense of personal loss when a sporting career comes to an end, as usually, it is all they have known from a very young age, if not their whole lives to that point. This sits alongside the very real need to find purpose and earn a living.

As a three-time Olympic short track speed skater for Great Britain, and British Ladies Champion for nine consecutive years, I had been competing at the highest level ever since I was a child. When my career on the ice came to an end, it was my turn to find something new. Whilst it’s not unusual for sportsmen and sportswomen to move into fitness and personal training, it’s often as a freelancer. But I went a step further, and I now own and run my business, Roar Fitness, successfully in both London and Dubai- taking me into the realm of life as a business owner and entrepreneur. There is no handbook or schooling to guide you through the ups and downs of starting, running, and growing a business, but with that said, there are some things I’ve learned as an Olympian that have held me in amazing stead for this new chapter in my life. Here’s a primer:

1/ WORK ETHIC We know there is a backlash today against “hustle culture,” and everyone is looking for more of a work-life balance. The truth is very different, however, when you are just starting up and starting out, with the full commitment to build and grow a business. In speed skating, I trained for six to nine hours a day, every day. If I wasn’t training, I was in physio, looking at technical analysis, the upkeep of equipment, and more. It was a full-time job, never off, and always on. In business, you cannot expect a work-life balance in the startup or growth phase. If you are not working on it, you are thinking about it. Speed skating taught me that you are either in or out- you must give it your everything. People used to talk about “sacrifice” whilst I was skating, and that I sacrificed “life” to train versus socializing with friends and family. But I never saw it as a sacrifice, I saw it as a privilege. I chose this, both sport and now business, I’m

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‘T/ Skillset

doing what I love to do, and want to do. I was -and I still am- grateful for the chance to work hard on something I believe in.

2/ RESILIENCE In sport, I would compete in up to five races a day. Maybe the first one would go great, and the second one not as well. I’d have 20 minutes maybe to recompose and patch myself up before the next one. The pressure is on, because if you don’t get through, you may miss out on qualifying for goal events such as the World Championship, for example. You do have to perform, and the fact is, it doesn’t always go your way. I probably “lost” 90 out of 100 races- but you do it for the other 10. A life lesson in “getting back up” almost every day!

It’s not just about resilience race to race either, it’s year to year, season to season. Building yourself back up from injuries or poor form takes time, and it can feel slow, which dents both your confidence and enthusiasm. You don’t win them all, in life, business, or sport. You will make mistakes and the wrong decisions. A huge reason that a business will fail is because people quit too soon. But the “dream” doesn’t come easy, nor do the medals or championships. You must get up, and go again, and again- and again. Never give up.

3/ GOAL SETTING Aim high and think big when it comes to goal setting. Think about what “can” be done, not just the easiest thing. If you aim for a gold medal, you have a chance; if you aim to make “the top ten,” you’ll never win gold. This attitude also transfers across to our clients at Roar Fitness too, not just our business. If your goal is just to open a gym, and own your own space, I’m sure you can do that, but is that it? Growth and bigger picture goals don’t happen by mistake.

4/ TEAM WORK You can only go so far on your own. Everyone needs a team around them. Sportspeople have physios, coaches, and support

staff. Even in individual sports, you have teammates around you to train with, against, and for moral support. Exactly the same applies in business, and I recommend making sure that the team around you is chosen carefully. Do they have the same vision? Are you confident to delegate to them? Are they good to be around? I’m not a fan of hierarchy, but I always enjoyed seeing the team pull together to help even one person win. From senior to junior, there was no ego. We would all do what we could to help yur teammate perform to a result. If the team performs, the sport keeps getting funded. Bosses should be there to help each other improve and support, not just to “rule.”

5/ TAKE RISKS My team psychologist used to say to me “Dr Pepper” before a race. You see, I was always scared of overtaking and messing up. I didn’t

want to put myself on the line for making a mistake. Here was where an old advertisement for the Dr Pepper soft drink came into play, with its tagline being: “What’s the worst that can happen?” This served as the motivation I needed to fight the fear, and take a risk on the ice. When you put yourself out there, you risk failure, that’s a fact, but if you don’t put yourself out there at all, you are guaranteed to achieve nothing. It’s okay if something makes you uncomfortable or nervous. That’s normal- feel those things, and do it anyway. Take the risk where fear is holding you back- just remember Dr Pepper.

Sarah Lindsay, a three-time Olympic speed skater, is the owner of Roar Fitness. roar-fitness.com

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What Are You Building? Learn more at entrepreneur.vc

From Grill to Greatness

Sultan and Kinda Chatila, the entrepreneurs behind Dubai-based burger joint Eleven Green, share the story of how they are driving a winning venture in the food and beverage industry by

Visitors to the Meyan Mall in Dubai were probably confused in June 2023 when the parking lot suddenly didn’t have spaces anymore, and a line snaked out of a shopfront across the mall lobby. Closer inspection would have revealed that the long queue of people was spilling out of Eleven Green, a burger joint that has been able to quickly capture the hearts (and stomachs) of foodies in the UAE. The menu is simple- but that’s the beauty of it. Just three

specials (including the award-winning Bull Burger), two “smalls” (i.e. the single patty burgers), and two sides. You can see why the Bull Burger has won an award when you bite into it. For starters, consider the hand-pressed Wagyu beef patty paired with cheddar cheese, as well as its signature Bull sauce. There’s also the crunch of onions, and the smoothness of the house bacon jam. But what is truly exceptional is the Hokkaido milk bun- a soft and fluffy encasing for the moreish flavors packed within. }}

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← SULTAN AND KINDA CHATILA are the co-founders of Dubai-based burger joint Eleven Green.

But how did we get to this burger in the first place? According to Eleven Green co-founder Sultan Chatila, the beginning of the brand could perhaps be called unconventional. “My wife Kinda and I have always been passionate about all things food and cooking, but Eleven Green isn’t something that we ever imagined as a concept, initially,” he says.

“Kinda and I started a supper club called Tano’s at 8 over four years ago, mainly focused on Mediterranean cuisine. Kinda was the genius behind the desserts, and I’ve always been focused on all our savory specials. Over a year ago, I randomly decided to enter a local Battle of the Burgers competition that was meant to find the best burger in UAE, and that’s where the Eleven Green journey really began.” Indeed, Chatila -who previously was the Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa for Honeywell Building Technologies- went on to win this particular contest. He then went on to represent Dubai in the World Food Championships in Dallas, where he nabbed the third place with the Bull Burger that’s now on his restaurant’s menu.

According to Chatila, the competition was a fun opportunity to explore his passion for food- but it was also a stepping stone to him co-founding Eleven Green with his wife. “Taking that chance has brought us to where we are now,” Chatila says. “The evolution of our burgers and the skills needed to make them came with time. What truly motivated me was stepping away from corporate life and pursuing my love for cooking… The burger was the perfect starting point.”

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As Chatila thus made his foray into entrepreneurship, he was cognizant of the challenges and risks involved in launching Eleven Green, which ran the gamut from finding the right team, to funding the endeavor. “Eleven Green was purely driven as a passion project, with me deciding to leave the corporate world after 19 years of various roles, and to finally pursue my passion,” he notes. “Luckily, my wife still had a stable job, which allowed me to take this risk. We funded Eleven Green ourselves, and it wasn’t a small

fact that hosting a supper club doesn’t automatically translate into being a successful restaurateur. “Honestly, I don’t believe they can be compared,” Chatila continues. “In my experience, a supper club is intimate. It’s really about you focusing solely on your passion for cooking for small groups of people, where customer service isn’t a major concern. People come with zero expectations, whereas a restaurant comes with much higher expectations, ranging from customer service to supply chain management, having the right team and culture fit,

a big mall or off a main highway; it was always something quaint and approachable. We wanted to be able to control operations and customer service, and offer a cozy vibe, which suits our menu. I think we’ve been able to do that quite well. Everyone I spoke with and discussed Eleven Green with was surprised by our decision to enter such a highly competitive F&B segment,” he continues. “Yet, I firmly believe that following your passion, and staying true to your beliefs -regardless of others’ expectations- is the initial step in setting yourself apart. Rather than


investment by any means.” However, what worked in the brand’s favor was its strategic partnership with Big Mouth Concepts, the brainchild of F&B entrepreneur Samar Hamadeh, known for his work on the likes of Stereo Arcade and Akiba Dori, with Chatila describing him as being their “eyes and ears in F&B, right from the start.”

Eleven Green, however, wasn’t the Chatilas’ first venture into the world of food- the duo did have the success of the aforementioned Spanish-themed supper club, Tano’s at 8, under their belt. Chatila is searingly honest about the

and representing your brand. So, ultimately, it’s very different. I wouldn’t say running a supper club translates in any way to owning your very own restaurant.”

Through this transition from supper club to restaurant, while the support of Hamadeh has proven invaluable, what lies at the core of Eleven Green’s success is its dedication to crafting the ultimate burger experience- from location, to ingredients, and onward to service as well. “Our vision for Eleven Green was always to be the neighborhood burger joint,” Chatila says. “I never pictured it in

simply joining the crowd in the burger category, I focused on delivering what I believed was the ultimate burger– simple, classic, made with quality ingredients. That’s how you stand out in any market, in my opinion.”

The name Chatila and his wife have chosen for their venture also helps it stand out- however, it might not be immediately apparent as to why it’s called Eleven Green. Chatila reveals here that 11 is his lucky number; plus, the shop he and his wife rented happened to number 11 in the mall’s layout, and they also signed the contract for it on January 11, 2023. “So you could say the number 11 had to be part of it,” says Chatila, and continues, “As for ‘Green,’ I just love the color, but it also symbolizes fresh starts and a new chapter in life.”

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↑ The Bull Burger is the award-winning dish from the restaurant’s menu, and is encased in a fluffy Hokkaido bun.

One of the other reasons the venue has the word ‘green’ in its name is related to its attitude toward waste. “At Eleven Green, we’re all about zero waste,” Chatila explains. “We grind our meat fresh every day, no leftovers or waste, and that’s a big part of our story too. This goes back to why we put green in our name too; everything is bought fresh, we don’t have a freezer in the back, all our food is made for the day, and that’s the reason we would often sell out. Fortunately, we have gotten better at forecasting the demand, and we are now able to keep on top of it. We team up with local producers and farms to get our fresh produce, and with bakeries for all our bread needs. It’s our way of keeping things green and supporting local businesses.”

Eleven Green’s story is only just beginning, and Chatila confirms that he and his team have no intention to rest on their laurels. That said, while Chatila admits that he has had numerous opportunities and requests for international expansions and franchising, he’s choosing to stay away from them, at least for the time being. “I believe the key for us is to expand cautiously, and never lose sight of our continuous objective: maintaining quality and sticking to our vision of zero waste, freshly made burgers with our limited menu,” he says. “That being said, we recently opened our very first drive-thru location at the Al Khawaneej neighborhood in Dubai. Additionally, we are looking at a couple more projects for 2024 and beyond. There’s definitely

→ The restaurant’s team aims for zero waste; it doesn’t even have a freezer in the kitchen ensuring everything is made fresh.

more to come, so watch this space.” Chatila is thus clearly confident about the future, and he is also optimistic about the further development of the F&B industry in the UAE. “F&B is definitely going through a growth spurt at the moment,” he says.

“There are ups and downs and cycles as always, but I think the appetite for people to go out and dine across F&B segments is there, which is encouraging. The landscape is quite competitive, but with that, there are still a lot of opportunities, and there is room for everyone, as long as you have the right product, and you can differentiate yourself.”

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Chatila shares insights garnered from overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities. “I think there are many unknowns when it comes to entrepreneurship– passion is where this project started,” he says. “But we know, like in everything, passion can only go so far. You will be struck with problems from every direction, whether it’s operational issues, supplier issues, customerrelated issues, or project execution issues. We just opened our second branch in Al Khawaneej, which is a drive-thru, a different business model that comes

with its own set of challenges, so you must be able to adapt as well. I think what’s important is to focus on three aspects of leadership. First, claritytaking a step back, analyzing the issue, and gaining clarity of a situation. Second is having the confidence to make decisions around those challenges. You don’t know until you try, so there’s no harm in looking at the facts thoroughly, and making an informed decision. The third aspect is being prepared for the worst. Because what this journey has taught me over the last year or so is that you don’t know what tomorrow brings, and you just have to be ready for anything.”


Eleven Green co-founder Sultan Chatila shares his tips for entrepreneurs

1/Success doesn’t happen overnight “You need to build your story, your brand, your concept over time– brick-bybrick.”

2/Start with passion- and enjoy what you’re doing “The business and the rewards come later; the key is to pursue your passion, and believe in yourself.”

3/The people you have around you matter “Find the right partners, and build the best team; you can’t do it on your own.”

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Joining Forces

US-headquartered Ruder Finn acquires UAE-based Atteline, marking its first such deal in the Middle East

Ruder Finn, a US-headquartered independent global communications and creative agency, has acquired Atteline, a UAE-based integrated communication agency.

In a move that marks the former’s debut acquisition in the Middle East, Atteline will now serve as Ruder Finn’s new hub in the region.

Founded in 2016 by Sophie Simpson, Atteline has operated across three divisions of communication -consumer, corporate, and digital- providing services to contemporary and established brands across the UAE.

} Ruder Finn, on the other hand, is a 75-year-old company that has offered its communication strategies across key sectors such as healthcare, enterprise technology, reputation management, and crisis communications, among others. Ruder Finn has also launched RF Studio 53, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered creative hub, and RF TechLab, a tech incubator, both of which provide predictive analytics, and creative as well as customerfocused digital engagement.

In 2023, when Ruder Finn recorded a double-digit growth in its revenue, its CEO Kathy Bloomgarden recognized this as a time to kickstart the company’s expansion plans in the Middle East. And while the global agency had a roster of public relations (PR) and communications firms to choose from, Atteline proved to be the ideal acquisition candidate owing to its alignment with Ruder Finn’s vision.

“When we met Atteline’s leadership team, we knew that they shared our high standards of expertise, curiosity for emerging technologies and new tools, and core value of building strong partnerships with clients,” Bloomgarden explains. “Our teams are aligned on our aspirations for the Middle Eastern market. Atteline, a company built on strong foundations and significant growth, is authentically embedded in the culture and community that it represents. We sensed a great cultural synergy between our two firms, and a shared goal of being the best in public

→ Founded in 2016 by Sophie Simpson, Atteline has operated across three divisions of communication -consumer, corporate, and digital- providing services to contemporary and established brands across the UAE.

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relations, communications, and storytelling.”

It was a similar propensity to achieve synergetic results that led Atteline’s Simpson to believe that the cultural insights and expertise her firm can offer would make the acquisition a successful one. “Ruder Finn brings to the table over 75 years of experience, which is hugely beneficial not just to Atteline but also to the GCC market, which is rapidly evolving,” she says. “Together, we will unite global thinking with localized insight in all of our communication work, which is a powerful combination. Furthermore, our values are aligned; specifically, Ruder Finn and Atteline are passionate about creating a rewarding and positive work culture, we are client-centric but teamfirst, and this is essential to both organizations as people are at the heart of what we do. With this acquisition, we are going to bring an even more robust offering to the region through pioneering expertise, new technologies and tools, and the unity of global thinking with local insight. Everything we do within the GCC or outside of the region will be deeply embedded with cultural understanding.”

} Simpson, in addition to working closely with Bloomgarden, will also be deeply involved in working with Atul Sharma, who leads Ruder Finn’s Middle East operations, which will see her continue to bring her own specific ideals to the leadership of the organization. “I want to ensure that I continue to champion the diversity and unique skills of those who contribute to the ever-changing communication landscape,” Simpson declares. “Atteline’s success to date has been a

result of bringing some of the best and most ambitious communicators together, and we hope to continue that moving forward.”

} From Ruder Finn’s perspective, the opening of a brand new office in the Middle East, by means of this acquisition, will serve to meet the region’s growing demand for PR, marketing communications, digital, and corporate reputation. “The Middle East is a rapidly developing hub for innovation and economic growth,” Bloomgarden says.

performance, accountability, and transparency on factors such as employee benefits and supply chain practices, among others] will also see us meet

“We are therefore looking forward to expanding our footprint in the UAE and GCC countries and are excited to contribute our skills and insights to firms in the region to help grow their potential. Atteline’s B-Corp certification [a designation deemed by B Lab, a US-based non-profit organization, that a business is meeting high standards of

the highest standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices.”

As Bloomgarden now anticipates a successful run for her firm’s Middle Eastern endeavors, she reiterates that the decision to acquire Atteline has simply been a

continuation of the values with which the company was first established in 1948. “At Ruder Finn, we foster a culture based on our values of individuality, non-hierarchy, hunger, listening, experimentation, and independence that empowers our people to embody the ethos of our founder, David Finn: “Just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean you can’t,’” she shares. “In the 75 years we have been in business, and looking forward to the future of our work, our ‘secret sauce’ comes from partnering with clients on projects we believe in, where we can have real-world impact on the people, communities, and markets we touch. This particular acquisition marks an exciting moment for not only Atteline and Ruder Finn, but also the MENA region, as we come together with shared values and a caring culture. As one united voice, we will champion impactful communications with a localized approach and global capabilities.”

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→ Left to right: Peggy Walsh, Global Chief Operating Officer, Ruder Finn, Sophie Simpson, founder and Managing Director, Atteline, Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO, Ruder Finn, and Atul Sharma, CEO, Ruder Finn India and Head - Middle East ↑ Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden

The Shifting Landscape of Employee Loyalty

As we figure out “the future of jobs,” here’s what employers need to know about keeping their employees

Every employer desires the loyalty of their employees, unequivocally. Employee loyalty for a company is a prudent business strategy. However, what if loyalty, as pre-millennial generations once knew it, is no more?

The question that looms large is whether the “future of jobs” revolves around technology or people. To address this effectively, let’s first examine some figures that provide insights into the emerging trends.

Over two-thirds of individuals are consistently on the lookout for new opportunities. Surprisingly, according to a 2023 Michael Page study, up to 98% of corporate employees are contemplating a

shift to different roles. A comparable 75% of content software engineers, contentedly employed by tech startups, are actively exploring fresh prospects. The advent of the internet and technology has facilitated a rapid and expansive job search process.

Furthermore, the proliferation of success stories on social media adds to the allure of transitioning from a

discontented employee to a triumphant business owner. For many, this perpetual vigilance and continuous exploration of alternative opportunities are responses to economic shocks post-2008, compounded by more recent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freelancing has become the new norm, and it is experiencing a significant upswing. In the United States alone, we have witnessed a growth in the number of freelancers from 57 million people to 64 million people in just the past four years. A recent study conducted by my company, Integra Seven, focusing on the Dubai tech sector sheds light on the “side hustle” mentality among employees, ranking among the top three challenges

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faced by tech founders in the Emirate as they endeavor to build their visionary ventures.

The same report highlights “the rise of freelancing and the emergence of the ‘2nd gig’ work trend post-COVID-19, which present a dichotomy for tech entrepreneurs.” On one hand, the increasing interest in freelancing enriches the talent pool by providing access to a diverse array of specialized skills. However, a

the paradigm, and today, loyalty is measured by a different yardstick- impact.

To navigate this transition, companies must adapt and redefine their understanding of loyalty, as well as explore novel ways to measure it. But before we delve into the strategies for this shift, it’s essential to identify the contributors to the demise of traditional loyalty.

Assigning blame to employees is a common narrative, often depicting the new generation as

is also placed on employers. Corporate mission statements and value lists are criticized as outputs of clever public relations (PR) firms, many of which seem to have been sentences crafted by ChatGPT. Although these statements sound noble, they often lack real-life application in the daily interactions between employees and managers, employees and clients, and among employees themselves.

Market forces also play a pivotal role. The concept of “optimization” is often cited as a justification for companies relentlessly pursuing cost reduction. While it’s acknowledged that the objective of any enterprise is to maximize output and minimize costs, the constant bombardment of messages predicting job displacement due to automation or artificial

intelligence erodes employee confidence and loyalty. The pervasive narrative about jobs disappearing and the imminent threat of robots taking over further compounds the challenge.

The intertwining of these factors creates a complex operating environment, making it challenging for employees to feel confident about their future job security, for founders to invest in employees engaging in side hustles, and for governments to adapt to the dynamic and structural shifts in the labor market, while ensuring societal cohesiveness and the overall health of a nation. Addressing these multifaceted challenges requires a collective effort from employees, employers, and policymakers alike, fostering an environment that values both individual impact and collective well-being. }}

Founders’ Biggest Challenges

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OVER TWO-THIRDS OF INDIVIDUALS ARE CONSISTENTLY ON THE LOOKOUT FOR NEW OPPORTUNITIES. SURPRISINGLY, ACCORDING TO A 2023 MICHAEL PAGE STUDY, UP TO 98% OF CORPORATE EMPLOYEES ARE CONTEMPLATING A SHIFT TO DIFFERENT ROLES.” Top challenges faced by Dubai’s tech founders (%) 0 5 10 15 20 25 Lack of Specialized Tech Talent Cost of Living Startup Salary Rates Side Hustle / Freelance Culture Talent Expectations Dubai City Brand UAE Labor Laws Others
Within the list of top challenges faced by Dubai entrepreneurs in their pursuit of finding the best tech talent, the following were identified: INDUSTRY


Unlike the implementation of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, where complexities can be systematically addressed, installing a “solution” for human relationships in the workplace is not a straightforward process. However, there are strategies and approaches that companies can adopt to make the leap from measuring loyalty based on longevity, to loyalty defined by impact. This is what I am calling the x2R formula- and it can be explained as follows:

1/THE FIRST “R”: RELATIONSHIPS The first “R” in the transformation from measuring loyalty through longevity to loyalty defined by impact stands for “relationships.” It involves fostering connections that extend beyond the conventional employer-employee dynamic. To achieve this, companies need to focus on building life-long relationships with their employees. Business managers play a crucial role in this endeavor. They should be prepared to engage in open and honest conversations with their employees. This involves expressing expectations for outstanding contributions to the business, while assuring individuals that they will be challenged, supported, treated fairly, and even celebrated if they choose to pursue alternative paths in the future. The emphasis is on creating relationships that extend

Access to Medical Insurance

The top-ranked benefit of working in Dubai was medical insurance coverage for respondents and their families based in Dubai This underscores the importance of comprehensive healthcare offerings in attracting and retaining tech talent

2/3 Look for New Opportunities

Interestingly 2/3 of engaged tech professionals are looking and open for new job opportunities while working for Dubai-based technology companies This suggests a dynamic job market in Dubai's tech sector where tech talent actively explores their options It also might be an indicator of the founders' case against remote by default work arrangement which in the long run deters culture sense of community and shared mission

I don't feel like I am doing the same thing all over again

Variety of Projects and ProblemSolving


beyond the confines of the traditional employer-employee relationship.

Examples from companies putting this into practice abound. For instance, Ahoy, a prominent tech startup from Dubai, besides offering a system of perks and benefits for their dynamic teams, organizes networking and mentorship sessions specifically tailored for its alumni who have moved on to launch their own tech ventures.

Similarly, Deloitte Middle East maintains a strong connection with its former employees through its regular

The opportunity to work on different projects emerged as a common motivation for staying with a company This reflects a preference for dynamic work environments that continuously challenge software engineers' skills Several respondents expressed a genuine passion for problem-solving which keeps them engaged with their work


Employed tech developers are open to new job opportunities

Alumni newsletter, fostering a sense of community among those who have been part of the organization.

By embracing the importance of building life-long relationships, companies can lay the foundation for enduring connections, understanding that the ties they build with their employees are not limited to the duration of their tenure, but are, in fact, for life. This commitment contributes to a workplace culture where individuals feel valued, supported, and empowered to thrive both within and beyond the organization.

2/THE SECOND “R”: RAPID EXPERIMENTATION The second “R” in the evolution of loyalty from longevity to impact represents “rapid experimentation,” a pivotal strategy for both enhancing the impact of employees on a business, and for reducing the cost of investment in new initiatives, programs, products, and services. This involves adopting an open strategy and integrating rapid experimentation into the organizational DNA.

The open strategy approach, initially articulated by professors from Warwick Business School in 2021, emphasizes the power of crowd-sourced idea

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current companies in Dubai They said:
bored The reported attrition rate of 8 75% among tech companies in Dubai is higher than the national average (6 5%) This notable difference suggests that the technology industry in Dubai experiences a higher degree of talent turnover compared to other sectors within the UAE This phenomenon might be attributed to the rapidly evolving nature of the tech sector, where employees are often drawn by opportunities for innovation, skill enhancement, and career growth 8 75% 6.5% 13.2% Tech Companies in Dubai National Average Tech Companies in USA Attrition Rate (%)

A quarter of Founder's Time Invested in Talent

The fact that on average Dubai tech founders allocate approximately 24% of their monthly time to talent-related matters elucidates the critical role human resources (HR) and talent management play in the success of tech companies within the city's entrepreneurial ecosystem

The statement "There is an HR problem almost every single day" resonates with the reality that managing a workforce particularly in the dynamic tech industry, is a multifaceted challenge The need for constant attention to HR matters emphasizes the complexity of talent management which ranges from recruitment and team dynamics to performance evaluations and employee development

The assertion that "My belief is that for the first 200 people we hire, I should be involved" highlights the critical phase of initial hiring and the founder's hands-on approach during this pivotal period The active involvement of the founders underscores their commitment to ensuring the right cultural fit and skill alignment when hiring for positions within their companies

The awareness that Even one destructive hire could be detrimental to what we are trying to do" showcases the high stakes of talent management

Dubai tech founders are keenly aware that a single hiring mistake could not only disrupt team dynamics but also impede progress and damage the company s reputation and growth trajectory


There is an HR problem almost every single day

tions can discern and filter ideas for further development and piloting.

Contrary to traditional corporate innovation competitions with

My belief is that for the first 200 people we hire I should be involved

Even one destructive hire could be detrimental to what we are trying to do

experimentation is not just tolerated, but celebrated as a key driver of progress.

Now, neither of the solutions outlined -building life-long relationships and adopting rapid experimentation- is inherently easy. Both require a transformative shift in leadership mindset and organizational culture, whether for small enterprises or large corporations. The challenges lie in navigating uncharted territory, breaking away from traditional norms, and embracing a mindset that values adaptability and continuous improvement.

But in the context of employers and employees in Dubai, the city itself serves as an inspiring role model. Dubai has consistently demonstrated a remarkable ability to experiment, pivot to what works best, and continually innovate. By drawing inspiration from the city’s success, enterprises in Dubai -and elsewherecan learn to embrace change, and pave the way for a future where loyalty is defined not just by longevity, but by the lasting impact and meaningful relationships forged between employers, employees, and the broader community.

more efficient allocation of resources. This agile approach enables organizations to navigate the evolving landscape of business challenges, fostering a culture where

Natalia Sycheva is the founder and Managing Director of Integra Seven, an enterprise that helps large and legacy organizations with the evolution and revolution of their business models, by creating new services, establishing new units, and building human capacity to run business efficiently. The company believes in public-private partnerships, and considers it a privilege to work with governmental organizations on public policy advancement through research and program management. Integra Seven is also passionate about nurturing entrepreneurship ecosystems around the world through our work with private and public sector initiatives, universities, venture capitalists, and, of cause, entrepreneurs. integraseven.com

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8 h
Founder's allocated time in a month


A roundup of the up-and-coming startups in the Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program that you should be keeping an eye on

Customer onboarding at corporate banks can be tedious- and one doesn’t necessarily need to read up on the latest studies to understand this somewhat globally shared experience! But this is indeed what research shows as well- as per a 2022 report by McKinsey & Co., more than 40% of the time a customer spends onboarding at a bank is consumed by know your customer (KYC) due diligence and account opening alone. It was thus to address this issue of customer onboarding at banks in the UAE that fintech startup Appro was created.

} “Typically, customer onboarding at banks is a very long complicated process with a lot of documentation, manual analytics, and approvals, which makes it a very expensive process from not just the bank’s point of view, but also an extremely unpleasant customer experience,” says Iftekhar Salim, co-founder and CEO of Appro. “Having worked for a bank in the past, my

co-founders and I saw the opportunity to create a solution that would solve it for the whole industry. The Appro platform offers the ability to provide instant approval for banking clients with zero documentation and/ or manual activities.”

Officially launched in March 2022, Appro went live with the first iteration of its application in December of the same year. In its current iteration, the platform is able to help its users find for themselves the right credit cards, home loans, personal loans, as well as car loans. “For a user to find the best financial product in town, they must come to appro.ae, and submit an application, following which, instantly, Appro will identify what are the products that best fit their profile, and maximize the benefits,” Salim says. “The Appro software then helps banks by automating the approval process, hence improving conversion and operational efficiency.”

} When it comes to matching users with the right banks, the Appro model also allows users to choose and compare the

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Appro appro.ae/
↑ TAREK OSMAN, IFTEKHAR SALIM, and ANTOFELIX RAJAN are the co-founders of APPRO, a UAE-based startup that helps alleviate issues related to customer onboarding for banks.

additional rewards that come with each of the above services. For example, when it comes to credit cards, features such as cash back deals, air miles and discounts can be compared against each other to choose the best credit card for one’s needs and requirements. On the other hand, the personal loan services from Appro -which, as per Salim, require only five minutes to complete the initial application- offer competitive pre-approved loan offers from multiple lenders within 24 hours, so that users can select the right loan package.

} But Appro’s final model is far from done, and according to Salim, the startup’s participation in the MBRIF Accelerator Program has ensured that he and his team stay committed to their offering’s continued improvement. “This is an

→ Appro offers a totally paperless, easy, and quick credit application process that makes the customer on-boarding journey easy and efficient. The platform helps its users find for themselves the right credit cards, home loans, personal loans as well as car loans.

ever-evolving product,” he says. “There is an ongoing loop of iterations on new features and functionalities to ensure that the user is getting the maximum out of the experience. And so, for us, the mentoring and support to reach out to subject matter experts in different fields to close any knowledge gap we have is one of the main reasons we choose to join the MBRIF program.”

} Already, Appro’s services have found favor among nine entities -including banks, financial institutions, and startups- in Dubai. And the startup’s growth in the Emirate so far has set the template for its future endeavors as well, says Salim. “At Appro, all of this started with a team of three co-founders, and now, we are a team of over 15,” Salim says. “A unique benefit about operating in Dubai, and the UAE in general, is having a supportive ecosystem that is built to drive innovation, and supporting ventures to disrupt the status quo. It is clearly visible when dealing with the government or private sector, the openness and the willingness to experiment and change is special to the UAE. And that is certainly what will play a key role in our journey ahead!”

For many in the world today, there is a considerable level of fear or anxiety associated with even the utterance of the word ‘cancer.’ But that needn’t necessarily be the case, according to Arman Vali, co-founder of UAE-headquartered precision cancer screening platform Detectiome, who says that there is a way to ensure that the ruthless disease is nipped in the bud- or, at least, managed better. “The advent of multi cancer early detection (MCED), powered by cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) and liquid biopsy technologies, offers a promising solution,” Vali explains. “A cancer super test that can detect most cancers at the earliest stage with just a blood test- this is the magic of precision diagnostic testing, which is a branch of precision medicine that designs tests based on the genetic and epigenetic [changes in gene function or activity that don’t involve changes in one’s DNA sequence] codes of each individual.”

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→ Arman Vali is the co-founder of Detectiome, a UAE-based precision cancer screening platform



Detectiome has thus come up with its own flagship MCED tool, Revonco, specifically for the UAE population. “Our product, a highly accurate blood test, can detect multiple cancers simultaneously and is aimed to be available through clinics, hospitals, and concierge medicine services,” Vali explains. “It is designed to be easily performed -as just a blood test- and scalable to the whole population to improve patient outcomes and change the cancer journey. It empowers healthcare providers to expand their offerings with advanced, yet affordable, cost-effective services. Our test presents remarkable value, especially when compared to performing multiple single cancer tests, which are invasive and expensive and only cover four types of cancer, as opposed to our test, Revonco, that can detect the

top 15 most prevalent cancers.”

} Now, with Revonco, Detectiome aims to address a number of issues. The first of these is the late detection of cancers, which is often when the disease has reached a terminal stage. “We aim to change the course of cancer care by detecting cancer at its earliest stage, when the treatments are more

efficacious, and less invasive,” Vali says. “The primary challenge in cancer care is late detection, which significantly contributes to the disease’s mortality rate. Treating cancer at advanced stages -stage 3 or 4- is not only costly and painful, but also often not as effective, with around an 80% mortality rate. Compare that with the mortality rate of just around 11% when cancer is detected at early stages. Despite these statistics, cancer is usually detected at a late stage, since not all cancers have screening tools available, and traditional single cancer tests, like colonoscopies, are limited in scope, invasive, expensive, and difficult to scale, making a comprehensive approach to cancer detection nearly unattainable.”

} Vali’s claims, of course, are backed by hard data. A June 2022 paper released by the

American Association for Cancer Research shows that more than 75% of cancerrelated deaths occur from cancers that are not screened for. But while MCED products have been a welcome innovation in the field of healthcare, there also exists an innate challenge in how it can be used- or rather who it can be used for.

“Precision medicine provides a far superior performance compared to traditional approaches; however, the curse and the blessing of precision medicine -both therapeutics and diagnosticsis that it is precise!” Vali elaborates. “If you develop it for a population, it works great for that particular population, but not so much for others. The reality is that today, all precision diagnostics are being developed in the US and Europe and work for those genetic populations for practical and financial reasons. We changed that paradigm at Detectiome, and have developed our proprietary AI systems, which are an order of magnitude more efficient than traditional precision diagnostics and liquid biopsy leaders. With this breakthrough AI innovation, we developed and tailored our liquid biopsy product for smaller populations, such as the UAE, much faster, and with much less cost. In fact, Detectiome is the only company in the world that makes precision diagnostics and liquid biopsy solutions specifically for the genetic population of the Middle East.”

} Detectiome’s entry in the UAE market in 2022 thus marked an important step towards creating an MCED roster specifically for the

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→ Dr. Soheil Damangir is the co-founder of Detectiome, a UAE-based precision cancer screening platform → Detectiome offers the first multiomics precision diagnostic test that is specifically designed and optimized for the unique genetic population of the Middle East.

people in this country.

Which is why Vali notes that the official launch of his startup’s flagship MCED, Revonco, during the 2023 edition of GITEX Global -a global tech and startup event held annually in Dubai- was a significant milestone. “The efficacy of liquid biopsy precision diagnostic products, which are primarily developed based on the US and European populations, is considerably reduced in the Middle East, due to differences in genetic background, with their performance dropping by up to 50%,” Vali continues. “This gap in the healthcare landscape motivated us to start Detectiome. We’ve developed the first UAE-born liquid biopsy product, and the first ever precision diagnostic tool tailored for the genetic population of the Middle East. Our goal now is to enable all regions, including the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and India, to gain access to the life-saving technology of precision diagnostics regardless of their genetic background, addressing a critical need in global health equity.”

} To reach such lofty goals, Vali and his team are currently engaged in discussions with different government and private stakeholders in the UAE to initiate a number of pilot studies, as well as to launch pivotal clinical trials. And along the way, the startup has been able to find its footing in the market owing to the help it’s received from accelerator programs such as that of the MBRIF.

“As a deep tech startup, we

recognize the importance of accelerators that not only support innovation, but also contribute to future advancements within the UAE,” Vali says. “The MBRIF Innovation Accelerator Program stood out to us because of its commitment to fostering innovative startups, and its focus on introducing solutions and products that align with the nation’s forward-looking vision. The alignment of their experience in relevant fields, along with their values and objectives, with our mission was almost a perfect match. Our experience with the MBRIF has only reinforced our initial impression, and even though we are still in the middle of their program, the support we’ve received so far has been immensely beneficial.”

} Having thus quietly nestled itself amid the UAE’s innovative healthcare landscape, Vali now hopes that his startup’s values will continue to guide its path forward. “Innovation is at the core of our startup,” he declares. “We have made a number of innovations from day one, and we see innovation as the heartbeat of our company. Our commitment to innovation is embedded in every facet of our product. This dedication to progress and innovation is directly manifested in the superior test performance, while simultaneously reducing the cost of population screening, positioning our technology at the cutting edge of early cancer detection, and, of course, saving as many lives as possible!”


As the UAE and wider parts of the MENA region find ways to strengthen their agricultural ecosystems, there has been one area that has required added attention: detection of crop diseases. Enter Egrobots, a UAE-based agritech startup that leverages robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to offer farmers data-driven solutions that can enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability.

} “Egrobots is based on the key belief that efficient data collection and analysis are crucial for advancing the farming sector,” explains Akhlad Alabhar, co-founder and CEO of Egrobots. “We are thus tackling the significant problem of undetected diseases in agriculture, which, as reported by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, cost the global economy approximately US$220 billion annually. Our innovative use of robots and AI provides a solution that detects diseases early, improves crop yields, and reduces losses, contributing to a more sustainable and economically viable agriculture sector.”

} Launched in 2022 by Alabhar along with co-founders Hanan Sabry and Ahmed Thabet, Egrobots has come up with three }}

↓ AKHLAD ALABHAR is the co-founder and CEO of Egrobots, a UAE-based agritech startup that leverages robotics and artificial intelligence to offer farmers data-driven solutions.

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distinct services to realize its underlying vision. These include: Egro Scout, a robotics scouting service that employs autonomous robots to collect data from various farms; Egro Scan, a mobile application designed to offer small farmers instant crop disease detection and personalized recommendations; and Egro Care, an all-in-one farm management application.

} “With Egro Scout, the data is analyzed using advanced AI models, generating detailed per-tree reports, detecting diseases, and providing recommendations,” Alabhar elaborates.

“Unique identifications are then assigned to each tree, allowing for the storage of historical data and facilitating informed decision-making. This service, having successfully scanned 300 acres of farmland, offers comprehensive farm analysis, disease detection, and precise recommendations, enhancing agricultural efficiency. Egro Scan, on the other hand, plays a crucial role in helping farmers promptly identify and address plant diseases, leading to healthier crops and reduced losses. The app has gained significant traction, boasting over 13,000 users across seven different countries. And finally, having garnered over 500 users, Egro Care’s robust platform streamlines farm operations and data analysis, contributing to improved agricultural efficiency.”

} With a revenue model that includes subscription-based services, one-time service


fees, as well as licensing arrangements tailored to the specific needs of clients, Egrobots has ensured that its advanced farming technologies have been made more accessible to farmers. And it is precisely in the tech that it adopts that Egrobots’ key differentiating factor lies, Alabhar says. “Our robots adeptly navigate complex terrain and confined spaces, ensuring access to hard-toreach areas, and are equipped with sensors for comprehensive data collection including high-resolution images and real-time analysis,” he explains. “Capable of operating at night or in low-light conditions, our robots function for extended periods and in challenging environments. Unlike drones

and satellites, they can manipulate objects and perform physical tasks, significantly enhancing their utility in agriculture. Furthermore, Egrobots is notable for being the first native Arabic system using local products for recommendations in each country, catering specifically to regional agricultural needs.”

} Equipped with a sense of purpose, Alabhar and his team believe their startup has what it takes to create a significant shift within the regional agricultural sector. And that belief only seems to have strengthened through Egrobots’ participation in the MBRIF Innovation Accelerator Program. “Our journey as a startup in Dubai has been significantly

← Whether creating zones, prescriptions or recommendations, Egrobots makes it seamless for advisors and growers to engage, immerse and collaborate on insight-inspired actions to improve crop performance.

enhanced with the support of the MBRIF program,” Alabhar shares. “This backing was instrumental in forming a partnership with one of the leaders in the agriculture market in the GCC, Greener Crop [a farm management firm located in Dubai Science Park]. This collaboration has enabled us to distribute Egrobots’ products in the UAE and the KSA, significantly expanding our reach and impact in these key markets. The partnership with Greener Crop underlines our commitment to revolutionizing agriculture through technology and innovation, facilitated by strategic alliances and support from forwardthinking programs like the MBRIF’s.”

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As pivotal as it is to any given business, the task of accounting can often be quite mundane and time-consuming.

Add to this the fact that, despite being one of the oldest facets of business operations, the accounting space hasn’t made major strides in automation. It is therefore to solve problems central to this issue -and specifically for small and medium enterprises (SMEs)- that UAE-based fintech startup Finanshels came into being.

}“At Finanshels, there are three problems we are trying to solve, the first being the high cost of hiring and training in-house finance experts that SMEs are often burdened with,” explains Muhammad Shafeekh, founder and CEO of Finanshels. “We thus plan to offer a dedicated finance team at affordable cost, and access to skilled finance professionals on demand. The second problem is that accounting requires sheer volume of data and paperwork, and it is human-intensive and error-prone with spreadsheets flying back and forth. This, we plan to solve by automating repetitive tasks, using application program interface (APIs) and machine learning (ML) that we built from the ground up. And finally, the third problem is that bookkeeping doesn’t start until the end of a month, with no real-time insights for founders to make decisions. Therefore, we offer integration with

multiple data points and and daily bookkeeping, which provides real time insights to founders to make informed decisions.”

} Launched in September 2022, Finanshels currently has over 200 customers, with this figure growing at a rate of 30% per month. “We have secured over 200 early adopters, and our minimum viable product (MVP) has been released, and it is being tested by enthusiastic customers,” Shafeekh says.

“We also realize the digital revolution is in full swing, and SMEs in the MENA region are leading the charge. In fact, a staggering 87% of SMEs in MENA are already embracing digital technologies to accelerate their growth. This presents a significant opportunity for our startup, as there are 1.39 million SMEs in the GCC alone, representing a market worth over US$9.4 billion. Our startup is thus wellpositioned to take advantage of this trend, and help SMEs

succeed in the digital age.” Aiming to position itself as the go-to all-in-one financial management platform for SMEs in the region, Finanshels is hoping to make the most of the digital shifts taking place within the ecosystem. “Our competitive advantage lies in offering automation, seamless integrations, and real-time data, which streamline financial management for SMEs,” Shafeekh says.

“Coupled with a strong focus on innovation and exceptional customer service, we differentiate ourselves from traditional accounting solutions. The fundamentals of Finanshels is the rapid digital transformation, and the adoption of technology and innovation in the financial services sector, particularly in the GCC region. Based on the insights and feedback we gather from our initial UAE customer base, we will continue to refine and expand our product offerings.”

} And in its journey towards achieving growth, Finanshels has found the right kind of support through its participation in the MBRIF Innovation Accelerator program. “The biggest advantage was the MBRIF’s capacity to develop and enhance the startup community comprehensive-

ly,” Shafeekh reveals. “It has not only provided us access to funding, but also facilitated engagement with industry experts, allowing continuous learning and utilization of their insights. Also, we got access to flexible funding options including equity investments, loans, and grants catering to diverse needs. The MBRIF acted like a platform for us that facilitates collaboration and partnerships with government entities and corporate organizations, creating opportunities for startups like ours to scale and thrive.”

} Equipped with the support of the MBRIF, as well as with its own set of goals to work towards, Shafeekh says that his startup is gearing up for a promising journey ahead.

“Despite the challenges we’ve faced, we remain fully committed to delivering a superior product and providing value to our customers,” he declares. “With the right team in place, we can optimize our product, develop new features, and stay ahead of the competition. Most importantly, we believe that by prioritizing product development, and pursuing strategic growth opportunities, we can overcome any obstacle, and achieve our vision for success.”

↓ Muhammad Shafeekh is the founder and CEO of UAE-based fintech startup, Finanshels.


The story behind the recent fundraising success seen by MENA-born startup,



→ Launched in December 2023 by Saad Khan, GameCentric was created as a platform that can be used by gamers across age groups and skill levels, within the competitive as well as casual gaming space.

GameCentric, a UAE-based gaming platform that is committed to connecting brands with gamers, has raised US$1.5 million in an angel investment round led by UAE-based angel investor Bilal Merchant.

Launched in December 2023 by Saad Khan,

GameCentric was created as a platform that can be used by gamers across age groups and skill levels, within the competitive as well as casual gaming space. “The vision of GameCentric revolves around redefining the gaming experience by creating a gaming platform that

78 / ENTREPRENEUR.COM / March 2024
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