Thought Leader Interview: Dr. Naveed Yasin

Dr. Naveed Yasin, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Canadian University Of Dubai

Tell Us About Yourself And Your Background

I am a Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Canadian University Dubai (CUD), UAE. I specialize in teaching Design Thinking approaches in Entrepreneurship Education and publish in entrepreneurship and SME (Small to Medium Enterprises) contexts in the areas of business incubators, enterprise education, and migrant entrepreneurship.

I have received numerous international awards in higher education for teaching, enterprise, and research, including the highly-acclaimed “Outstanding All-Round Academic Award” and, more recently, a finalist of the UAE Innovation in Education Award. Before joining academia, I gained experience founding and managing two start-up enterprises in the e-commerce and the health and fitness industries.

Tell us about the entrepreneur ecosystem in MENA.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is an exciting and fertile region for entrepreneurial activities and start-up businesses. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) reported almost three-quarters of people in the MENA region perceive entrepreneurship as an ideal career choice, with approximately 38% expressing their intention to start a business, which is one of the higher averages amongst all world regions.

Over the last few decades, the UAE government has exhibited remarkable support for advancing entrepreneurial culture through knowledge transfer and training programs, financial and legal assistance, and access to required social capital. The impressive economic revolution from 1971 has brought a transformation that has resulted in 35% of MENA start-ups being based here – the largest share within the region. The Khalifa Fund is one of many notable initiatives in the UAE that proactively boosts entrepreneurship. Since 2019, the Fund has invested 1.32 billion AED in loans and has offered over 900+ workshops to promote entrepreneurship.

What obstacles are entrepreneurs facing right now in the region, and how can we help solve them?

Generally, most entrepreneurs worldwide experience similar barriers in terms of lack of finance, inadequate business support, human resourcing problems, lack of strategic planning, lack of practical knowledge, lack of experience. The list is endless. However, in the MENA region, entrepreneurs can benefit from being well equipped with a sound understanding of the business processes, regulations, and legalities.

Also, good working knowledge about cultural sensitivities is needed. This is particularly important for transnational and migrant entrepreneurs where basic language training both in Arabic and English should be an essential requirement. More people also need to be aware of the government support schemes for entrepreneurs, considering the UAE hosts one of the best entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world.

There is a boom in start-ups in the region; how do you contribute to this?

At CUD, we adopt a proactive approach to embed creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation across all aspects of our curriculum, operations, engagement, and outlook. As a modern university, we nurture the entrepreneurial talents of all students, regardless of their degree specialism, by equipping them with compulsory courses in social innovation and commercial entrepreneurship. These courses develop the “hands-on” knowledge required to develop new products and services effectively.

CUD students are well prepared to initiate a start-up or be employed in one. In 2021, our students competed against 36 universities across the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) and succeeded against the top 13 teams for the “best business idea for social impact”. We have also developed a University-based Business Incubator (UBI) that ignites the entrepreneurial flair of our talented students for the commercialization of their business ideas.

Has it become easier for entrepreneurs to launch businesses in the UAE?

Yes, it certainly has over the past decade. The introduction of Free Zones in the UAE as a strategy has engaged international entrepreneurship by providing convenient locations and offering entrepreneurs a more streamlined set-up process, customizable and flexible working environments, tax exemptions, and 100% business ownership.

What are your three top tips for entrepreneurs getting ready to launch their first start-up?

Firstly, entrepreneurs must extensively research the marketplace and understand the target consumer before developing their product or service. They must test and validate their business model before operationalizing their enterprise.

Secondly, entrepreneurs should be creative in all forms of their enterprise and move away from simply replicating or engaging in duplicative forms of their enterprise.

Last but not least, budding entrepreneurs should not develop a new product or service in isolation and then search for a market – but instead, understand the current market and its offerings, co-create with key stakeholders and be receptive to new information.

What exciting start-ups should we be watching out for right now?

I believe MAXPRO Fitness in the U.S. is undoubtedly an exciting start-up that we should be watching out for! Especially for its rapid success, revolutionizing the health and fitness market through product innovation. There are exciting start-ups based in Dubai that are also worth looking out for, such as Arabia Startzplay, Repeat, Careem, Noon, and Souqalmal.

Editor-In-Chief of Bizpreneur Middle East