Collaboration with universities can drive innovation in SMEs
The success of the SME sector in the UAE has in a way fuelled fiercer competition, prompting many entrepreneurs to increasingly focus on innovation to enhance their competitiveness.
“Innovation can help propel SMEs into a new level of growth. Those that innovate are in a much better position to adapt to changing competition, technologies and consumer preferences,” said Dr. Karim El Solh, Chief Executive Officer, Gulf Capital, headline sponsors of the annual Gulf Capital SMEinfo Awards, a programme which recognises successful SMEs, business leaders and entrepreneurs.
For many entrepreneurs, innovating can be resource-intensive. One ‘innovative’ solution is to collaborate with universities. “By collaborating with universities, entrepreneurs can help drive innovation in their company and help fuel a knowledge-based economy,” said AbdulRahman Badwan, founder and COO of RJA Consultant.
According to Badwan, universities play a significant role in creating new knowledge which can support entrepreneurs in introducing and implementing alternative strategies and ideas that expand business activity. “Gathering and analysing current data, to forecast upcoming trends is becoming an old fashioned process. Using detailed information from universities’ research efforts to create new knowledge is what will transform an entrepreneur’s strategic approach, and existing products and services, into innovative ones,” Badwan explained.
Entrepreneurs can turn the insights they learn from collaborating with universities, into practical and profitable applications. The university community is a powerful platform through which young people can be encouraged to become more entrepreneurial. In fact, there have been a number of initiatives launched by private companies and organisations to encourage young people to become entrepreneurs, beginning as early as the high school level. Such collaboration could have a far-reaching impact – it is not only SMEs that benefit, but society in general as well in that it helps foster a knowledge-based economy.
Gulf Capital, for one, has an existing partnership with Emirates Foundation which focuses on the development of youth through education, entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer. “As part of our corporate responsibility initiatives, we have partnered with the Emirates Foundation to reach out to young people in the UAE through entrepreneurship, among other programmes, to enable them to become more productive and active partners in the building of a nation,” El Solh added. Clare Woodcraft, CEO of the Emirates Foundation is on the judging panel for this year’s awards programme.
Another educational programme that takes high school and university students through the process of starting a business, INJAZ Company initiative, recently published a report – Unlocking Arab Youth Entrepreneurship Potential – in which it found that over 63% of students who have gone through the training programme said they now know more about entrepreneurship, and over 60% said they are now more interested in starting their own business.
“A younger, tech savvy generation could help further boost innovation among existing SMEs as many of them turn their passion for technology into potentially powerful business enterprises,” said Becky Crayman, Head of Awards, Gulf Capital SMEinfo Awards, which has early on recognised the importance of innovation in driving SME success by including Business Innovation of the Year as one of the categories in its recognition programme. The other categories SMEs compete in include Gulf Capital Business of the Year, MasterCard Small Business of the Year, Emirati Business of the Year, Online Business of the Year, RSA Start-Up Business of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Business Leader of the Year, Sustainable Initiative of the Year, Customer Focus of the Year, and People & Culture of the Year.
Entrants must hold a valid trade license in the UAE, have been trading for two years (with exception of the RSA Start-up Business of the Year), have a turnover of AED 250 million or less (with exception of the MasterCard Small Business of the Year) and fewer than 250 employees. Entries will not be accepted from branches of international subsidiaries.