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Study reveals UAE’s growing student entrepreneurial ecosystem
A recent study by American University of Sharjah (AUS) and Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center - Sheraa reveals there is a growing tendency towards entrepreneurship among the UAE’s university students.
The extensive study conducted by Dr. Rodrigo Basco, Chairholder of the Sheikh Saoud bin Khalid bin Khalid Al-Qassimi Chair in Family Business at AUS’ School of Business Administration (SBA), included interviews with 208,000 university students from across the world. The intent was to gauge the extent of UAE students’ entrepreneurial mindset. The study found a growing demand for courses that provide students with the soft skills needed to become successful entrepreneurs.
Dr. Basco said the research presents opportunities for universities like AUS to extend their offering of academic courses and extracurricular activities that will further support students as future entrepreneurs.
“Certainly, the university context plays an important role in developing entrepreneurial intentions, and there is a growing need for the UAE university system to tailor specific paths to develop this behavior,” said Dr. Basco.
“The study draws from interviews with students across the UAE, contrasting their responses with those from students from more than 50 countries”, he said.
“What we discovered is that while only five percent of the respondents who are current students in the UAE intend to become entrepreneurs right after graduation, within five years their intentions increase to 41 percent,” he said.
“Our research also revealed the reason for this shift is the growing support from family and friends in shaping students’ entrepreneurial intentions. In other words, the more supported students and graduates feel, the more confident they are to take a risk,” he said.
To date, universities across the region have offered few courses in entrepreneurship. AUS, however, offers three primary courses in entrepreneurship through SBA, and curricula across all business programs are designed to provide students with skills in critical thinking and innovation. These courses are available to students from all majors across AUS, in keeping with the university’s liberal arts tradition, which allows students to be exposed to a wide range of subject areas while pursuing their major of choice.
Ranked as number one in the Arab region by U.S. News for its undergraduate and graduate business programs, AUS will also introduce a new mandatory general requirement course in entrepreneurship and innovation for all AUS students starting in Fall 2020.
Dr. Narjess Boubakri, Dean of SBA, said the report has direct policy implications for SBA that have led to tangible actions on behalf of the school.
“Dr. Basco’s report confirms the market demand for professionals who are adaptable, forward-thinking, innovative and willing to take risks. We offer a growing number of entrepreneurship learning opportunities at SBA that ensure our students can meet this demand as they join the workforce,” said Dr. Boubakri.
“In addition to our academic programs in entrepreneurship, we recently launched Start-up SBA, the first chapter of the US-based Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization to open outside of North America and the UK. The chapter is in the process of setting up activities designed to help university students take business ideas from concept through to commercialization,” she said.
“In only a few months, the group (comprised of both SBA students and students from other majors across AUS) has hosted a panel discussion on Blockchain technology, developed an Idea Lab in which students can discuss and seek advice about business ideas, and started a podcast series that features the stories of young entrepreneurs. There is much more to come from this effort as there is a great deal of enthusiasm about the group,” she said.
AUS Career Services recently collaborated with Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) to hold an innovation day. The event provided an opportunity for AUS students and alumni to meet with recruiters from 17 companies operating under SRTIP.
Charles A. Diab, Executive Director of Advancement and Alumni Affairs at AUS, said events like these demonstrate the value of a degree from AUS.
“Our students and alumni are sought after by some of the most innovative companies in the UAE, and we are committed to providing platforms like Innovation Day to advance the success of our graduates,” said Diab.
AUS students also benefit from direct access to Sheraa’s co-working space on campus. Sheraa brings together the community of entrepreneurs from across the UAE to facilitate knowledge sharing, idea generation, mentorship and startup scaling. AUS students are among the first to benefit from the center’s support services including developing the soft skills and hard skills needed to build a business, one-to-one business mentoring sessions, research and development of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and scaling a startup into the Sharjah market and beyond. Young entrepreneurs can also compete for grants from Sheraa to launch their new start-ups.
SBA is working towards a business start-up competition for UAE-based university students in Fall 2020. This follows the success of the 2019 AUS New Venture Challenge, which saw students from 17 universities from around the world pitch their business plans to a panel of industry professionals for a grand prize of US$50,000. The business ideas pitched crossed a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, healthcare, cyber security and sustainable energy.
“This study found that 28 percent of active entrepreneurs in the UAE have opened a business in the advertising or marketing sectors. As we see more students engage in activities like these, I am eager to see them venture into other sectors,” said Dr. Basco.
Dr. Basco’s research continues as he delves deeper into understanding the behaviors of UAE entrepreneurs. In the meantime, AUS continues to work to attract the best of the UAE’s future entrepreneurs.
“The high standard of students enrolled at AUS continues to impress, with SBA students securing internships and employment after graduation at some of the region’s top business institutions,” said Dr. Boubakri.
“I am confident that our commitment to providing students with the academic foundation, practical skills and support they need to be successful entrepreneurs is making a difference,” she said.
“In short, our students can expect to be future-ready with a degree from AUS,” said Dr. Boubakri.
Download the ‘Student Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in the United Arab Emirates’ survey report here.