Interview with the Founder

For Bushra Ezzeddine, the owner of a small event management company, Dubai’s Startup Weekend provided an opportunity to soak up mentoring on entrepreneurship that could have taken three months in a school. She came away with more than that. The 33-year-old from Lebanon and mother of two was part of a team that got the nod for the best business idea developed over a marathon 54-hour session of pitching and brainstorming. On the final day, the idea transformed into a mobile-phone application for a rewards system for children for doing their chores. Called KidzWeekend, the app will soon have a new name to reflect its purpose. The idea has gathered interest, and Ms Ezzeddine says three investors have approached them. “We are enforcing good behaviour by helping parents,” says Ms Ezzeddine, the managing director of Boutique Events, which she started last year. KidzWeekend was among 17 ideas pitched on the final day of the latest edition of Startup Weekend, organised by a group of entrepreneurs, called Young Arab Leaders (Yal), with support from Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Fund. Given the UAE’s expanding start up base despite funds crunch for small to medium businesses, events such as these help the start up ecosystem, say budding entrepreneurs.

This year, 120 people signed up for the event, and almost half of them pitched their ideas on the first day. The delegates got 60 seconds to present, the best ideas were selected, and those attending were grouped around one of the ideas they liked, and came up with the final pitches. “Startup Weekend is a global success story and will have a great influence on people here, besides young entrepreneurs get an opportunity to get one-on-one feedback from mentors,” says Muna Easa Al Gurg, the director of retail at Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group and chairwoman of Yal UAE. The winning teams received prizes and packages worth Dh500,000 in total. A mobile-phone application renamed Loopd won second prize. The app helps delegates at an event meet relevant people by checking their profiles and connecting with them. It expects to launch in the middle of next month in Dubai. Networking at events is about being well-informed and being in the right place at the right time, says Emad Khan, who is responsible for branding and design of the app. “While taking juice from the lunch counter at Startup Weekend, I started a conversation with a gentleman who was standing next to me and he turned out to be someone who I had been trying to get in touch with ever since I came to Dubai in October,” he said. The 23-year-old from Pakistan had been looking for a job before Startup Weekend.

“It is this information gap which we’re trying to solve. Of course, we want the process to be streamlined so that no one is abusing another person’s time and peace of mind by badgering them.” The winning Emirati idea was GaraJack, an app that helps motorists to find the right service garage according to reviews and their needs. The availability of talented professionals and tax-free income are among the attractions of starting a business in the Emirates. For John Power those were reasons enough to choose Dubai as the launchpad for his idea, Rent a Local, despite a funds crunch for small enterprises here. Rent a Local won third prize. “The idea is to provide visitors with locals who are able to take them around, show the local restaurants and sites of historical interest,” says Mr Power, a 41-year-old British national.
“And local is a loose term and could be any person living and residing in a town or city.” Visitors would need to pay Dh60 an hour, of which 15 per cent would go to Rent a Local. Recruitment of the “locals” will be done through contacts and Facebook, and there are plans to launch in Paris, London and New York. For all the winners, including Ms Ezzeddine, it is time to give shape to the business model and develop their ideas into an enterprise.

Aimed at children aged five to 15, KidzWeekend functions much like a game, where a child can progress by doing more chores, or by doing something extra, such as spending more free time doing maths. “We have four mums in our team of six, and this really touches our lives,” she says. “I am already asking my children on their feedback, and how to make it attractive.”