UAE SMEs defy slowdown, report triple digit average growth rate

  • 104 small- and medium-sized businesses compete for honours at 2017 Gulf Capital SME Awards
  • Four out of 10 finalists in the Business Leader of the Year category are women
  • Spotlight on rise of micro-enterprises as entrepreneurs find niche markets to serve

Small businesses in the UAE seem to be defying economic odds, as 104 of the best performing SMEs in the country reported an average growth rate of slightly over 150% in 2016.

These high-octane growth businesses were recently shortlisted as finalists of the 2017 Gulf Capital SME Awards; a programme launched 5 years ago by MEED, that celebrates the success, growth and innovation of SMEs as well as entrepreneurs and business leaders in the UAE.

This year, there are 57 more finalists compared with 2016, when 47 were shortlisted in various categories. “This means more and more SMEs are reporting growth and are getting on the radar for their business accomplishments and growth. The current crop of finalists has a combined turnover of AED2.1bn, higher than the AED1.9bn total of the previous batch of finalists,” said Dr Karim El Solh, co-founder and CEO of Gulf Capital, one of the largest alternative asset management firms in the Middle East and the headline sponsor of the awards. “What these figures show us is the continued resilience of the SME sector in the UAE, and offers confidence that this inspiring performance of small businesses will have a ripple effect on the economy of the Emirates as a whole.”

With 12 finalists, there are five more SMEs competing this year for the award programme’s highest honour – the Gulf Capital Business of the Year. These include Arabian Child, Bin Touq Fire and Safety, Emitech Technical Services, Hira Industries, Linkviva, Phanes Group, Q Communications, Raw Coffee Company, RSA Logistics, SamTech Middle East, The Blossom Nursery/Blossom Early Learning Centre and The Box Self Storage Services.

Women business leaders are continuing to make their mark in the SME landscape in the UAE with four competing for the Business Leader of the Year award, against six men who qualified for the category. The finalists are Aziz Abbas (A.F. Husain), Arif Akhtar (Emirates Pearl General Trading), Nadeer Ali (Himatrix Middle East), Fadi Jean Baaklini (MEPCO Gulf Co), Manoj Shroff (Niti Group), Paula Bellamy (Ocean Wide Logistics), Abhishek Ajay Shah (RSA Logistics), Zaida Van Der Byl (Senses Salon), Nathalie Haddad (The Right Bite Nutrition and Catering Services) and Zahra Hamirani (The Blossom Nursery/Blossom Early Learning Centre).

The competition is equally tough in the Entrepreneur of the Year category, in partnership with Ccerebrate Business Consulting, with familiar names such as Dhirendra Gupta (4C Mortgages Consultancy), Shane Curran (Interact Group), Amiri Gandhi (Kidz Factory), Sanuj Kohli (LEME Group), Anilesh Kumar (Levtech Consulting), Furqan Athar (McArthur+Company), Rahul Sajnani (Moshi-Momo & Sushi), Nicolas Standaert (nearbuy), Stuart Curtis (Synergy Group) and Stevi Lowmass (The Camel Soap Factory) aiming to win one of this year’s highest individual honours.

Innovation continues to be one of the biggest buzz words in this part of the world. Some of the SMEs competing for the Business Innovation of the Year award include Health Gate, nearbuy, Orion Systems, PROTRAINING, Savant Data System, Shawarma Time, TagStone Technologies and Taqado Restaurants.

‘’With the government’s unrelenting drive to encourage entrepreneurship among its citizens, the Emirati Business of the Year category received a higher number of entrants this year. A total of nine finalists are competing for the award, up from five in 2016,’’ commented Becky Crayman, Programme Director, Awards and Managed Events, MEED. The shortlist includes 3Dimension Engineering Services, Ayjaal Media, Bait Al Kandora Gents Tailoring, Bin Touq Transport, Forceis Integrated Security Systems, Jalila Chocolates, Khalid Alghaith General Trading, Mashal Al Zarooni Chartered Accountants and MASSAED Installation of Elevators and Escalators.

First-time entrepreneurs who have taken the bold step to owning a business will be recognised through the Start-up Business of the Year award, with the following businesses qualifying as finalists: Caramel and Sun, Deborah Henning, Fruitful Day, Hale Education Group, SMART Shelter, insydo, Liquorice Productions, New Shifts, Nomadic Capital Limited, Richmond Works, Seez and Smart Navigation Systems.

A total of eight SMEs, such as Bait Al Kandora Gents Tailoring, ISS Middle East, LivingBrands (Lemongrass Thai Restaurant/Asian5 Restaurant), Momentum Dubai, Mosaic Live Communications, Rapid Cool Trading, Time House Company Trading and Time Lapse Middle East, have been shortlisted for the Small Business of the Year category.

The Online Business of the Year award has three finalists – Holidayme, Beehive Group, and compareit4me.com; while the RSA Customer Focus of the Year category has eight, including Brave, Carlease Rent A Car, E Walls Studio, Innovative HR Solutions, Kazema Portable Toilets, PROTRAINING, The Box Self Storage Services and Urbanbuz.

SMEs with outstanding initiatives that help improve performance and inspire employees will be honoured with the People and Culture of the Year award. The shortlisted companies for this category are Bodysmart, GPK Businessmen Services, Innovative HR Solutions, Linkviva, MASSAED Installation of Elevators and Escalators, Matrix Public Relations, Savant Data System, SPF Realty, The Blossom Nursery/Blossom Early Learning Center, TIME Hotels, Unique Group and younoh Media.

Sustainable practices are critical to an SME’s long-term success and the company that has the most initiatives in this business aspect will take home the Sustainable Business of the Year trophy. Among those competing for the honour include Charicycles, Cyber Gear, Ecocoast Contracting, German Imaging Technologies (GIT), Liquid of Life, Non-Toxic Source, Place Dynamix, The Blossom Nursery/Blossom Early Learning Centre, The Camel Soap Factory, and TIME Hotels.

The rise of micro-entrepreneurs The Gulf Capital SME Awards has two new categories this year to reflect the dynamic changes impacting the SME sector locally and internationally. The rise of micro-entrepreneurs has led to the growth of the SME sector in many developing countries, as entrepreneurs create businesses that fill very niched needs or prove their ability to thrive even with the smallest and initial capital. This category recognises enterprises with a turnover value of AED40mn or less.

Some of these micro-enterprises have now sprouted in the UAE, and will be recognised with the Micro Business of the Year award. The finalists are Absolute Communications Group, ActionCOACH, Carfax Education, Engage ME, Ethics Plus Public Accountants, Iconic Fitness, Intuit Management Consultancy, Jalboot Marine Network, Klug Toys, Omasi, Papabubble Caramels Artesans and The Camel Soap Factory.

Finally, the Disruption of the Year trophy will be given to an SME that has created a product or service that has dramatically changed the industry in which it operates. The shortlisted SMEs include ProTenders, Hopscotch.ae, Souqalmal.com, Support Legal Limited and The Box Self Storage Services.

MEED’s SME awards programme is supported by endorsing partners Dubai SME and the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development as well as headline sponsors Gulf Capital, and category sponsors, RSA Insurance and Ccerebrate Business Consulting.

The full list of finalists is available online at www.meedsmeawards.com. The shortlisted SMEs will go through another round of evaluation by our judging panel after which the final set of winners will be announced on 11 October 2017 at The Westin Mina Seyahi, Dubai.