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Interview: the SME consultant

Interview: the SME consultant

Michael Hasbani of Ernst & Young tells Atique Naqvi how things are changing for SMEs and entrepreneurs in the region, and why there’s a shortage of cash – but not inspiration.

November 17, 2010 11:05 by

Knowledge is power, and nothing is more powerful to the entrepreneur than information. That’s why consultants such as Ernst & Young cater to the rising stars of the business world. The leader of E & Y’s Middle East and North Africa Strategic Growth Markets. Michael Hasbani, tells us how business models are changing for entrepreneurs – especially those running SMEs in the Middle East. It turns out information may even be as valuable as capital…

How has technology influenced business strategies in the region, especially among SMEs?
Well, a lot of previously unexplored avenues opened up. Entrepreneurs, in general, have always been quick adaptors to new trends – including technology.
Technology has driven up efficiency levels of established companies in the region. It has brought costs down and increased productivity levels. It also helped them compete with established players and leveled the playing field – especially sectors and allied industries that have high entry barriers.
If you look at the new entrepreneurs who are making a major impact, you will notice the significant role of technology in their growth. Interesting examples include Naif Al Mutawa’s “The 99” – a comic book series with Islamic superheroes, and the Brownbag online home delivery company launched by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment.

What is the contribution of expatriates in the region?
Expatriates have contributed in many ways to increasing regional wealth. They have established thriving businesses in places such as the G.C.C. as entrepreneurs and they employ thousands of people. On the other hand, they also work as laborers to build up the infrastructure of the region. There is no imminent threat from expatriates to the local communities and both sections pursue a partnership for economic development and personal growth.

Are there enough regional role models to inspire prospective entrepreneurs?
There are many and the list could go on forever. Take, for example, the winners of the Middle East Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Region. Sobhi Batterjee has created a region-wide hospital chain from scratch. Samih Darwazah of Hikma Pharmaceuticals has created one of the largest manufacturing operations in the region. But clearly, the most inspiring example was Nadia Al Dossary, who is a trailblazer in a very male-dominated industry. These are inspiring stories.

What is your opinion about the regional funds that are working to help SMEs?
I see a lot more funds investing in entrepreneurial pursuits. This is a welcome development in many ways – from a micro and macro perspective. The previous option for the SMEs was to tap the financial markets to minimize the cost of capital, but most regional IPO markets are frozen at present. Funds, whether they are angel investors, private equity, or development-oriented, play a major role in scaling up the operations and expanding them into other markets.

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