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SEF opens with powerful encouragement by region’s top leaders

In the presence of Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), thousands of curious changemakers have joined a galaxy of pioneers, founders, leaders and visionaries from around the world at the 7th annual Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF 2024), which has opened with high-caliber keynotes and insights from extraordinary individuals who are shaping the future of the business and entrepreneurship ecosystem of the UAE and beyond.

Themed ‘Our Shared Canvas’, the two-day event is taking place at the iconic Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP), and hosting expert-led masterclasses, pitch competitions, workshops, talks, and other events designed to foster collaboration and empower  entrepreneurs in the region.

The opening ceremony was attended by HRH Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, Dr. Sultan Al Neyadi, UAE minister of youth, Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa; Mohammed Al Abbar, founder of EMAAR Properties, in addition to public and private sector representatives, business leaders, venture capitalists, university students, artists, academia, and members of the community.

Unveiling of ‘Innovation Avenue’, the street behind Sheraa HQ
The SEF 2024 opening ceremony witnessed an exciting new development; the unveiling of the ‘Innovation Avenue’ street, which has been renamed under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. Located behind the Sheraa HQ in SRTIP, the Innovation Avenue street runs between the University City of Sharjah and the iconic House of Wisdom. This symbolic renaming showcases Sharjah’s commitment to the future and to creating pathways that will set successive generations on the road to success and creativity.

A short film was played to unveil the Innovation Avenue, and featured an inspiring message from His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, which said: “Our key goal has been and will always be to provide sound foundations for a society where everyone can participate in shaping the future.”

Sheraa CEO: ‘The most important step towards a dream is to just start’
Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa, delivered an inspirational keynote speech, welcoming the edition’s guests and attendees. Her message spoke of the empowering vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the commitment to forging a bridge between the world of theory and the world of practice, as well as the incredible support that the festival has received from Sheraa Chairperson Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi. The CEO’s speech also emphasised the value in asserting one’s self and not delaying in the pursuit of one’s dreams.

Inspiring the audience, Najla remarked: “Today I want to share one of the lessons that I have learnt from over 10,000 hours of conversations with entrepreneurs. The most successful entrepreneurs that I have met all have one trait in common. Their ability to start. Not just once, but time and time again, they consistently choose courage over comfort, and they consistently choose action over complacency. So if I could give you only one piece of advice, it would be this: just start.”

Plethora of opportunities for the youth to lead the region’s gaming and Esports sectors
Following Najla’s speech, HRH Prince Faisal Bin Bandar Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, shared insights in his talk titled ‘The Next Level: Inspiring a New Generation of Entrepreneurs’.

He said: “It is clear that our youth is the driving force behind the region’s progress. In the context of the gaming and Esports sectors, the youth’s contribution is particularly profound. In the Middle East, it is heartening to see the vibrant adoption of gaming. The cultural richness of our region is seen in the cultural diversity of our region’s gamers. The Saudi Esports Federation is proud to shape and nurture the gaming and Esports sector in the region and enable collaborations, business and investments globally. It is a multifaceted industry that presents a plethora of opportunities for gamers, founders and investors alike. Join us in a sector that we are shaping together and that is driven by the energy of our youth.”

UAE’s federal national methodology boasts over 300 youth empowerment programmes
Dr. Sultan Al Neyadi, UAE Minister of Youth, took the stage with his talk titled ‘Stories from Space: Inspiring the Human Spirit’, exploring the intersection of space exploration, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.

He said: “I thank His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Muhammad Al Qasimi, UAE SUpreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah; his wife Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Sultan Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF); and Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi,  for creating such incredible opportunities for our youth in entrepreneurship”.

“Supporting young entrepreneurs is not just a moral duty, but an investment in the future of our nation and the world. This is why the UAE’s leadership has designed a national methodology at the federal level that has over 300 initiatives and national youth empowerment programmes, which support and guide them to hone their skills in a realistic manner. A festival like SEF further enhances the opportunities for our nation’s youth, and bolsters national efforts to create top opportunities for them to succeed and contribute to a shared future”, he further added.

Mohammad Al Abbar: ‘The tech business upgrades human minds; keeps us on our toes’
The inaugural proceedings also witnessed a dialogue ‘Towering Success: What it Takes to Build a Business Empire’, featuring H.E. Mohammad AlAbbar, Founder of Emaar Properties. The session was moderated by content creator, Ahmed Al Marzooqi.

When asked about his experience of creating Noon.com, Al Abbar noted: “One of the most difficult challenges of my life was Noon. I started at the age of 60 – I was not a tech-savvy 19 year old, and did not even know the difference between a Samsung or iPhone! Today, Noon is probably one of the youngest eCommerce companies in the world that has become profitable within five years”.

When asked the difference between his two businesses operating in real estate and eCommerce, he said: “For 29 years, EMAAR has been selling a total of 4 products; 1 – 3 bedroom apartments, and 4-bed villas. EMAAR gets 500 customer service calls a day. Noon, on the other hand, sells over a million products and receives 80,000 calls a day. Noon grows 30% every year. The difference between the two is that the tech business constantly upgrades the human mind, and technology keeps us on our toes. This is what I want to share with the youth”.

Travel and financial services, Al Abbar noted, were two sectors of future interest and possible expansion for Noon.

Talking about the upcoming Dubai Creek development, he said: “It is going to be 6,000 sq kms, which is twice the area size of Downtown Dubai. The Creek Tower will not be the tallest building in the UAE. Why? Because while reassessing a few aspects of the new development, I realised we really need to pay careful attention to elegance when we plan cities. We have to beautify our cities, and Sharjah is the greatest example of that. Creating a balance between Islamic design and aesthetic and harmonsing it with modern architecture is a big challenge, and the way the emirate has done it under the guidance of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah is truly remarkable”.

Al Abbar concluded his insights with the following advice to youth: “When you are in trouble, who is one wise person you call? I want that person’s number. So, my advice is: seek intelligent people and do what you love. Find what you love and turn your passion into your career.”

To conclude the opening ceremony, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi and Najla Al Midfa led the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Partners Awarding Ceremony, thanking the invaluable contributions of partners, whose support was instrumental in making SEF 2024 a reality. Notable awards were presented to key entities, including Emaar Properties, Arada Group, Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP),  Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC), Sharjah Media City (Shams), Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA), Sharjah Economic Development Department (SEDD) & Ruwad, Sharjah Roads and Transport Authority, Sharjah Airport Authority, Sharjah City Municipality, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), Beeah Group, Invest In Sharjah, SAEED Center, Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI), Tijarah 101, Sharjah Asset Management, du, Alef Group, Al Marwan Group, Invest Bank, Sharjah Islamic Bank, Sharjah Retail, Emirates Development Bank, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, Crescent Enterprises,
Microsoft UAE, National Paints. These awards served as a testament to the collaborative efforts that were instrumental in making SEF 2024 a reality.

Upon the conclusion of the opening ceremony, Sheikha Boudour Al Qasimi, led a tour of the festival, and was briefed on the four dedicated zones and stages SEF 2024 has designed this year to lead a specialised content and training programme focused on its key sub-themes of ‘Impact’, ‘Founder’, ‘Creative’, and ‘Community’. With zones and stages dedicated to each theme, SEF 2024 creates a unique opportunity to learn, network, collaborate and connect with peers, pioneers and mentors.

About Latifa Al Ali

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