Celebrating the true culture of entrepreneurship - GulfToday

Celebrating the true culture of entrepreneurship

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During the annual two-day Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF), attendees are introduced to innovators from around the globe.

by Manjula Ramakrishnan

Heading into its impressive third edition, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) will be taking place on Nov.25 and Nov.26 this year. Organised by Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa), the event will be held at the Expo Centre, Sharjah.

“The festival is a celebration of the power of entrepreneurship, bringing members of the ecosystem together in order to foster a collaborative spirit and leave an impact that extends far beyond the two days,” says Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center – Sheraa.

Following is a conversation with Najla.

How did the concept of SEF evolve?

Integral to any entrepreneurship ecosystem is a culture that promotes creativity, critical thinking, and the willingness to venture into the unexplored. Sheraa seeks to instill this mindset and break down cultural barriers towards entrepreneurship with a series of events throughout the year, including the annual SEF.

Launched in 2017, our mission is to inspire the next generation of global change makers, instilling in them the courage and confidence to take charge of their future and reach their full potential. Across the two-day event, attendees are introduced to innovators from around the globe, who share their stories and showcase the incredible potential entrepreneurship has to impact the world. And as a result, they are empowered to join our growing entrepreneurship community, armed with the determination and know-how to solve local and global challenges.

 

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Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center – Sheraa.

What will be on the agenda for this year’s edition?

The underlining theme for this year is to guide attendees on their inner quest, focusing on the journey of transformation and personal growth we all must embark on in order to achieve our full potential. SEF 2019 will feature an inspirational line-up that includes Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, founder and CEO of Alliances for Global Sustainability and Founder of Circle of Hope Foundation, Prince Khaled Bin Alwaleed Bin Talal Al Saud, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, and Grammy award-winning artist and entrepreneur, Akon, who will take main-stage as speakers at the event.

How has this platform evolved since its inception? 

I am proud to say that the first two years of the festival has seen over 5000 community members attend, 200 startups exhibit, and 140 locally and internationally acclaimed speakers share their insights. However, we are not done yet; we aim to outdo ourselves each year, and make SEF a landmark event to remember.

How does SEF help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams?

In a way, SEF replicates what Sheraa offers to our startups on a larger scale. Aside from funding incentives through the Dhs100,000 prize to competing startups, the festival introduces networking opportunities, motivational meet-and-greets, and an opportunity to participate in an immersive experience that will accelerate personal growth, overcome limitations, and shift mindsets towards success.

Additionally, Sheraa’s support does not stop at SEF. All startups and entrepreneurs who attend the festival are encouraged to apply to Sheraa’s programmes, with the winner of the pitch competition directly accepted into the programme. The startup then receives business support, mentorship, and coaching to help take them to the next level.

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SEF’s mission is to inspire the next generation of global change makers.

How should an entrepreneur handle the initial period of struggle?

There are three key pieces of advice we give our startups who may be struggling to gain traction with their startup: Take a step back and spend time identifying your value proposition, because it forms the basis for developing the right product, and targeting the right market. Secondly, if something isn’t working, change it. Don’t fall in love with a specific iteration of your project, or feel the need to stick to a single market. Finally, remember that setbacks are inevitable, but the difference between failure and growth is how you respond. Challenges can make for excellent learning opportunities, so don’t give up.

What is the road map for SEF and Sheraa?

At Sheraa, we are continuously seeking to improve our offerings and ensure founders receive the support they need to take their startups to the next level. We emphasise individualised mentorship and personalised action plans for every startup in our programmes, helping them optimise their marketing and sales funnels and achieve product-market fit.

In honour of Sharjah being named the UNESCO World Book Capital for 2019, we have also launched Access Sharjah, a soft-landing offering to established tech startups in the publishing and content industries that want access to the Sharjah market, with applications open through to December. Our goals are, as ever, a moving goalpost, and we look forward to sharing what we have in store with time.