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The SME Business Made Easy Summit, held on the morning of our awards, was an event that helped forge relationships, exchange knowledge, and open doors for business. Attendees ranged from entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts to directors and C-level executives. Our charming moderator, Dave Crane set the pace for a very engaging event. Through our talks, panel discussion, workshops and one-on-one consultations, the day was packed with information on how to initiate, maintain and fuel growth for business. Mike Byrne reports.

International Keynote speaker
In 2006, Jeff met his N_K_DPizza business partner, Randy Crochet, and their idea of developing a healthy fast food concept was born. Through N_K_DPizza, Jeff has been able to utilise his expertise of health and nutrition by building a business model centred on changing the nutritional profile of takeout and delivery options.

To read more about Jeff and his entrepreneur story see https://smeadvisor.com/2011/01/jeff-leach-co-founder-of-n_k_dpizza-bares-it-all/

Entrepreneur’s Perspectives

Ashraf Ghori, Dubai based filmmaker and Founder, Xpanse CGI

Ashraf Ghori is an Indian-born artist and filmmaker based in Dubai since 1975. At age 14, Ashraf gained early recognition in the UAE as a regular illustrator for Young Times. In 1993 he created original comic characters Shane & Talia and UAE’s first English superhero comic strip Voyager X.

As a student of Graphic Design in Houston, Texas, Ashraf worked as an artist for Six Flags Astroworld and co-founded Tempest Comics. He produced artwork for independent national comic publications in the US, such as London Night Studios and Titus Press. Ashraf was regularly featured at comic book conventions in Texas as well as the prestigious Dallas Fantasy Fair in 1994.

Returning to the UAE, in late 1994, Ashraf worked as a laser shows animator in Abu Dhabi before moving on to independent 3D animation work. In 2007, he launched Xpanse CGI, a specialist design and animation studio producing films, TV commercials, branding and online presence.

Ashraf’s message from the outset was to keep the faith and keep believing. He noted that throughout his journey he had many rejections, knock downs but kept going with the belief that his hard work and ideas would pay dividends. “One thing that marks entrepreneurs out from a crowd is their inability in accept no for an answer and to give up after initial rejection. I started off my journey back in 1987 when I was a student. The little mountains of expectation I had were quashed on several occasions; I was told by one editor of a newspaper during a job interview to come back when I got better! I was a little annoyed but not disillusioned and didn’t give up hope.”

Ashraf Ghori, Dubai-based filmmaker and founder of Xpanse CGI

One of the recurring ideas circulating in the business community in the region is the return to customer satisfaction. Ashraf reiterated this when he talked about the reasons for setting up his own company in 2007. “One of my main motives for forming this company was because I recognised that the industry here was very restrictive – there was no flexibility with other design companies and for me the quality of work was not personal – no-one was willing to go that extra bit. At the time I was working with a lot of people who wouldn’t really go beyond the remit of their basic duties – wouldn’t go out of their way for the client. With Xpanse I wanted to give it the personal attention with an ambition to concentrate more on the quality of my work and the satisfaction of customers. I wanted to keep the work very small and manageable and not go out of bounds. For me the most important thing is that you have a happy client.”

Claire Fenner, Co-Founder, Heels & Deals

After studying Leisure Management at university, Claire moved to Dubai in 1997 and spent six years working in retail operations management between the UAE, UK and Hong Kong for UK high-street retailers Next and River Island, then over four years as PR & Internal Communications Manager for home fashion brand THE One.

After becoming a parent, Claire saw an opportunity and launched Easy Living – The Parent’s Guide to Dubai in March 2008. It is the city’s only free news and listings magazine for families as well as the most widely available resource for parent’s living in the city.

With friend Georgie Hearson, Claire then co-founded Heels & Deals – the ultimate network for female entrepreneurs’ in April 2009. Their entrepreneurial journeys and passion united them with the goal of helping other women business owners. Determined not to allow the recession to get the better of them, they created a platform which enables like-minded women entrepreneurs to network online and offline, locally and globally. The launch event of Heels & Deals was attended by 185 women and in the 17 months since they have a community of over 175 members, in terms of their events and networking opportunities and have recorded over 1,700 women attend their events.

Claire’s main message was surrounded by the notion that starting and maintaining your own business was a matter of vision and hard work. Claire reiterated a theme that was present throughout the day – that background knowledge of business and finance practices were important. “During my employment in Dubai I was constantly researching and looking for ideas that might lead me into a real entrepreneurial life. I’ve got binders of folders and notebooks full of this different research and gathered together just in case one day I could do something with it.

“Many people feel that they are not big enough to become an entrepreneur or that their business is insignificant in comparison to all the talk about global economies, but in the words of the late Dame Anita Roddick: “If you feel that you’re not big enough to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito!” There is one thing that unites entrepreneurs and makes them different: a lot of people have ideas but never actually do anything about it. With entrepreneurs there is a magical trait of this can do attitude, a belief in themselves and stubbornness not to settle for anything less than reaching for the stars.”

Claire Fenner, Co-Founder, Heels & Deals

Claire also pointed out the need to establish contacts through extensive networking, she was very forward with her view that initiating relationships with like-minded business individuals was of paramount importance. “As an entrepreneur you need employees, you need IT and you need funding. And believe me the list can go on and on and on! But one of the most important things is your professional network – a network of people who you can call up for help and advice, people who can refer you and your business. And there are lots of networks in the region, both online and on a day-to-day practical level. Also, look for trusted partners, strategic advisors – surround yourself with people who want to help and support you. Basically learn to attach to people who are working with you and for you and not against you.”

Claire finished her address to the summit with a reminder that business in the region was not just about survival. “Figures show that between 40-60% of the UAE’s GDP comes from the SME sector. We all need to work together to help fill this huge gap – remember it’s not just about helping SMEs survive but, importantly, to thrive.”

To view the participants presentations during the SME Advisor Summit please visit https://smeadvisor.com/2010/12/sme-advisor-summit-2010-presentations/

Rushika Bhatia

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.