Sheraa’s virtual forum maps out the future of startups in Sharjah, Mena

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Ihab Fikry, Jumana Al Darwish, Sarmad Al-Zadjaly and students from the IESE Business school during the second panel discussion.

The Sharjah Entrepreneurship centre (Sheraa) hosted a group of students from the IESE Business School in Spain on a virtual forum organised under the theme, ‘Framing the Future of Entrepreneurship in the Middle East’. The forum provided unique insights into Sharjah’s stature as a vibrant startup hub and Sheraa’s founder-focused approach in cultivating a world-class entrepreneurship ecosystem in the emirate.

Two panel discussions were held at the forum on January 20th with students of the graduate business school at the University of Navarra from Spain. They discussed challenges and opportunities for early and growth-stage companies in key markets in the Mena region and drew attention to Sharjah’s success in attracting several high-impact ventures

Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sharjah Entrepreneurship centre (Sheraa); Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO, Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP); Mohamad Juma Al Musharrakh, CEO, Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah); and Housam Raydan, Director of Corporate Communications and Customer Experience, Air Arabia Group, participated in the first panel discussion that focused on Sharjah’s reputation as an ideal market to serve as a launchpad for startups.

The session, moderated by Lina Hamdan, Director of Partnerships, Sheraa, also outlined the innovative sectors and services driving Sharjah’s transformation into an entrepreneur-friendly and impact-driven entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Expanding on the role of Sheraa in successfully offering support to entrepreneurs since 2016, Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sheraa, shed light on how the founder-friendly policies and regulations in the emirate are attracting fledgling and established startups and SMEs to Sharjah and helping them gain access to new markets.

Al Midfa said: “Sheraa is on a mission to build an ecosystem that harnesses the potential of the region’s exceptional talent and strengthen Sharjah’s status as a leading destination for startups.”

“In Sharjah, young entrepreneurs have access to a wide variety of resources, accelerators, incubators, infrastructural facilities and mentors. Sheraa connects and creates opportunities to empower the region’s youth and foster an entrepreneurial mindset to grow the next generation of passionate innovators and changemakers.”

Outlining the importance of future-based technology projects undertaken at the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park, Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO, SRTIP, said, “The UAE government has prioritised innovation as the way forward for creating a knowledge economy. SRTIP plays a pivotal role in accelerating the move towards supporting the growth of entrepreneurship and the commercialisation of advanced technologies. We do this by building a holistic innovation ecosystem, strengthening our focus on developing talents and human capital, and onboarding students from around the region to support their enterprise activities by enabling access to a host of programmes.”

Mohamad Juma Al Musharrakh, CEO, Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah), credited the UAE as a key player in creating an exponential growth in opportunities for startups and investors worldwide. “Last year, despite the pandemic, we managed to attract investments worth $800 million in Sharjah and more than 1,800 businesses set up operations in the emirate in 2021.”

Lauding the high-impact and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in the emirate, he said: “Startups wishing to set base in Sharjah can take advantage of the extensive range of cost-effective services and facilities offered in the emirate, including licensing and setting up a business in just under 60 minutes.”

Air Arabia Group’s Housam Raydan highlighted the ease of doing business, and the inclusive and diverse startup culture in the emirate. He said: “18 years ago, we were a startup too, before we became a global airline – and it all started here in Sharjah. The emirate had been serving as an entrepreneurial launchpad even then.”

Calling on the students from IESE to reach out to Sheraa “for all the knowledge and validation you need”, Raydan added: “Sharjah’s ecosystem is conducive for the private sector and especially with Sheraa’s support, there is greater opportunity to expand and scale. “

The second panel discussion at the virtual forum delved into the key aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset and outlined the practical challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the emirate. Leading the panel were Ihab Fikry, CEO, Al Mentor; Sarmad Al-Zadjaly, Co-founder, Mughamer; and Jumana Al Darwish, Co-founder, Made for You Global. At the discussion, moderated by Sajiv Srivastava, Co-founder and Board Member, CMU Tech, panel members spoke about the effectiveness of incubators such as Sheraa in accelerating the launch and scaling up of startups, with well-informed strategies in place for long-term growth and profits.




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