All startups can become great companies: Seed Group CEO

Muhammad Riaz Usman, Khaleej Times

Turning an idea into a profitable business needs perseverance, patience, hard work and some degree of financial risk. A perfect combination of innovation, independence and a little bit craziness make an entrepreneur, who dares to face the challenges without the fear of failure. There are few entrepreneurs, who sail through the adversaries to reach the shores of success, turning their dreams into realities.

“More than 90 per cent of startups fail within the first three years of their operation because their concepts lack innovative ideas to stand for competitions in their industries,” said Hisham Al Gurg, chief executive officer of the Seed Group.

On the other hand, he added, there are many great success stories of startups that grew to become profitable organisations in the UAE.
“If you take a look at the Dubai SME 100 list you will find many examples, such as OnTime Group,, Lunatus, The Blossom Nursery and Merlin… the list is endless,” Al Gurg told Khaleej Times.

Al Gurg is a pioneer for his visionary approach, high-profile networking and for concluding and managing large regional projects and investments worth more than $1 billion.

He believes that proper support, skill development, mentorship, appropriate advice and ample availability of finances can change an idea into a successful business model. He said that many of the owners of these SMEs are mentors for the Seed Entrepreneurship Centre, or SEC.

“These mentors were hand-picked by us, because we strongly believe that no one can teach entrepreneurship better than experienced entrepreneurs. That’s why we have more than 23 mentors who are owners of some of the top SMEs in Dubai.”

To help startups, aspiring entrepreneurs and university graduates, the SEC is offering the Steve Blank Lean Launchpad course from today.

“The most innovative business idea stands a chance of receiving an investment of up to Dh3 million by the end of the course,” said Al Gurg, who is managing eight growing companies in six diversified industries.

With over 18 years of experience in setting up and running new ventures in the Middle East and North Africa region, Al Gurg is optimistic about the outlook of SMEs and startups.

“I definitely see an upward trend, as more banks, venture capitals and angel investors allocate more budgets to invest in SMEs and startups.”

“There is more Seed money available for startups than there used to be five years ago. So clearly the Seed money is not a problem as it used to be. It’s available and in abundance,” he said.

However, he said, what are not available in abundance are the high quality startups opportunities that are “investment ready” due to the high risk and failure rate startups have.

“Now, this is where the Seed Entrepreneurship Centre comes in to play a vital role, which is to educate, train and make startup ideas and business models more investable and more ‘investor ready’,” he said.

According to a survey published by Dubai Silicon Oasis and Google Mena in October 2014, technology startups were estimated to have increased by 45 per cent in 2012 across Mena — more than double the global average — and continue to take business from the traditional offline retailers in a number of sectors/products and service categories.

The UAE leads the technology startup revolution with more than 60 per cent of total sales (estimated at $2 billion in 2010).

“The main sectors which we have noticed significant growth in startups and SMEs in the past 12 months are mobile apps, online services, digital advertising and media,” said Al Gurg. “We are seeing more and more SMEs entering the business world via the web and online channel due to the low cost of setting up a website and using a payment gateway to start generating revenue,” he said.

“Unlike the traditional channel, startups can start a business and start to sell their products and services in less than 24 hours with less than $1,000. And if they fail in their business, the cost of failure is much lower than the traditional brick and mortar store,” he concluded.