By Muhammad Riaz Usman Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Women in the UAE are leading entrepreneurship as more females are coming forward to turn their ideas into successful businesses.
To mentor these passionate females, the Dubai Business Women Council, or DBWC, and MasterCard teamed up to launch the Ro'Ya initiative in 2014.
Concluding its second successful year in November, Ro'Ya, which means "vision" in Arabic, provides coaching to existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as the chances to win funding for their companies.
The overall winner of Ro'Ya 2015 received $50,000 to spend on setting up a business, while the runner-up and second runner-up received $30,000 and $20,000, respectively.
"These amounts are the same as those awarded to the top three winners of Ro'Ya 2014," said Nadin Halabi, manager of business development at the the DBWC.
According to the UAE Ministry of Economy, women in the country contribute to nearly half of the small-and-medium enterprise sector and, interestingly, 48 per cent of female business owners are the sole owners of their firms, she added.
The UAE is ranked as a leader in gender equality in the region, according to the World Economic Forum's 2014 Global Gender Gap report.
"The Ro'Ya programme was launched to mobilise and encourage women to participate in the economic sector by pursuing their goals to own and run their own businesses," Halabi said.
Leyla Lahsini, an MBA graduate of London Business School, grabbed the grand prize of Ro'Ya 2015 for her idea, KenziBox.
Lahsini started her business in partnership with Shirin Benamadi, who is an MBA from Smith School of Business -- University of Maryland. Benamadi has worked on the trading floor at Fannie Mae and spent three-and-a-half years at an investment bank at the Dubai International Financial Centre, before utilising her expertise with KenziBox. Their business provides arts and craft activities specially-designed to stimulate children's learning through creativity and imagination and inspired the judges for its originality and innovative approach to education.
"We provide a box filled with all the materials and instructions the child will need to build and assemble four crafts. We've chosen engaging crafts and quality products so that the finished items are ones that the child can continue to use and play with long after the last dab of glue or paint is dry. The theme changes each month, the crafts are easy to put together, and it is all delivered right to their doors. Hassle-free for the parents, they can just join in the fun. KenziBox transforms quality time with kids," Lahsini explained.
The second-prize winner, Amira Awwad, is a computer science graduate with over eight years of experience in developing, managing and supporting software services and healthcare IT solutions. Awwad established MedsConnect in 2014 with the aim of creating an innovative mobile health solution to improve quality of healthcare across the Arab region.
"MedsConnect is the first Arabic-enabled mobile health manager that's fully-designed for users in Arab countries. It is not only about supporting the Arabic language but also the content as we've built and translated a database of local brands of medications, lab tests and measurements information," said Awwad.
"The team behind MedsConnect is a passionate group of medical and technical experts who harness their diverse expertise to create a platform that adds value to the healthcare ecosystem," she said. "We have ambitious plans to make patients' lives even easier by integrating MedsConnect to their wearable and monitoring devices," she said.
Abir Moussa, a seasoned business development professional with over 15 years of experience, was awarded third prize for her idea OfficeTag.
OfficeTag.com is an online broker service that aims to link serviced office providers with business people who are seeking an office space to work from. "Today, there are about 51 serviced offices companies located in Dubai and over 20 companies in Abu Dhabi. Demand for serviced offices has been on growth trajectory and the clients require access to a corporate platform such as OfficeTag, to provide access to the extensive list of these business centres and help the client to find the right office through a professional and accurate database that would allow them to find the best match for their requirements and budget," she said.
Dr Raja Al Gurg, president of the DBWC, said: "This year's Ro'Ya participants showed more drive, originality and entrepreneurial thinking, reaffirming the importance of this initiative to foster female talent in the UAE. Our winners not only showcased enthusiasm and eagerness in their final presentations, but also combined the right balance between creativity and business acumen -- key ingredients to launch a successful business."
A significant surge in the total number of Ro'Ya applicants, which reached 100 in 2015, highlighted the success of the programme.
"The programme included eight workshops, designed to provide female entrepreneurs with the tools and know-how to convert their business plans from ideas to business ventures, and drive higher contribution to the economy. In addition, due to the overwhelming success of the coaching sessions, two bonus coaching clinics were added for participants over the summer," said Halabi.
"The training sessions led by leading Dubai-based development consultancy Grow.ME, who came on-board as a strategic partner. The organisation spearheads interactive group training sessions for all Ro'Ya participants, providing expert insight on how to plan, build and manage a successful business," she said.
Setting up a successful business is the dream of many. But a blend of innovation, independence and passion is what makes an entrepreneur. Lahsini, Benamadi, Awwad and Moussa and many other passionate females are being encouraged, trained and polished by the Ro'Ya initiatives.