The UAE was a very different place to launch a venture a decade ago, say business owners. That is when Azza Al Qubaisi was looking to become a designer of jewellery and corporate gifts.She struggled to get the correct licence to suit her profession. She wanted a licence for a craft person and silversmith, "but they didn't have anything like that", Ms Al Qubaisi says.
"I basically needed to get a goldsmith or trade licence, like other jewellery production shops - not as an individual, so I had to pay as much as [them]."
It also took time to establish her name. "Such a field was not available locally at the time," she says. "It took time for people to accept me in my profession."
When Ms Al Qubaisi received her first corporate gifts order in 2005, requesting 500 handmade coffee cups priced at Dh1,000 (US$272) each, she ran into numerous challenges and missed the initial delivery deadline.
The client was nevertheless impressed with the end result and she discovered a largely untapped demand where companies wanted someone to design and produce corporate gifts.
Today, the business is "doing very, very well," she says. "Most corporate gifts are bought from abroad so I make a unique product. Most of my designs capture the culture locally."
With the emergence of different government initiatives that fund entrepreneurs in the region, Ms Al Qubaisi says it has become easier for aspiring business owners to get started today. But plenty of challenges still remain for those who want to start a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME). Some local experts weigh in with their thoughts on how this sector of the economy is changing.
Which elements have become harder when starting a new venture in the Emirates?
Satyajeet Roy, the head of commercial banking for Citibank in the UAE: Although the environment is still very conducive for business growth and starting ventures, the cost of setting up a business has gone up to an extent. While some banks are ready to lend to existing steady business houses, very few will provide facilities to start-ups. Additionally, getting credit from suppliers has become challenging in the past 12 to 24 months.
What aspects have become easier when launching a new business?
Mr Roy: The cost of leasing office premises as well as residential rents have come down in recent times. This is a huge saving for an SME as it reduces office expenses as well as employee housing costs.
What else has become better for those wanting to start a new firm?
Jitendra Gianchandani, the chairman and managing partner of the business advisory company Jitendra Consulting: It is easier to access free-zone and government officials. [More] online services have been introduced. Rent outside free zones has come down drastically due to abundance of office space.
What are some of the major costs businesses face when starting up?
Essam Al Tamimi, the founder of the law firm Al Tamimi & Co and author of a book series on setting up business in different emirates:There is schooling, health care, visas. These are normally, and have been over recent history, the cost that basically some of the businesses are suffering from.
From / The National