DUBAI - The Internet, and power in numbers, are helping a new generation of mompreneurs fill the gaps in the Dubai market, as organisers of a local collective try to get more Emirati women involved.
Founder of Mom Souq, an online classified for baby and children’s products, and the ‘Mompreneur’ community, Mona Tavassoli, said the community now had more than 300 UAE members, since launching last September.
“The majority are English-speaking expats. One of our objectives is to change that and have more Emiratis (connecting) with our expats.”
Work is now being done with the Dubai Women Business council to help this happen, she said.
Thankfully for mothers, who can only receive 40 days maternity leave, “Dubai was the land of opportunity for business,” which reflected in the large number of businesses being started.
“A lot of people are not willing to go back to work when their baby is less than two months old.”
Members’ businesses were diverse, with both start-ups and more established companies ranging from wedding planners, to companies which delivered recipes and ingredients weekly to time-poor mothers, and offering adjustable size shoes for young children.v
Many had seen gaps in the market for services or products readily available back in their home countries, but did not have the budget for marketing or promotion.
Being able to work together under one umbrella meant businesses could get a lot more publicity, she said.
“It’s difficult because officially the UAE is a very competitive market, so promoting your product sometimes is very expensive. Amongst big brands, your brand doesn’t show as much. We’re larger as a collective.”
Many also found funding or angel investors one of the biggest challenges, with start-ups often requiring huge investment, she said.
“They have good ideas but not the investment to set up. We have talked to the Chamber of Commerce. One of our goals is to have a special (Chamber of Commerce or government) service for Mompreneurs to get a licence at a lower fee or so they can work from home and be considered as a group that can get extra attention.”
On the positive side, Dubai was like a ‘small community’, which made ‘word-of-mouth’ a powerful marketing tool here.
Women were also getting more opportunities, Tavassoli said.
“Last month I went to three events about empowering women. Dubai is an Arab city, and it’s really encouraging to see there are steps being taken to empower women. I think Dubai’s really taking the lead in this region.”
Moms were also encouraged at an event held on Wednesday, the latest networking event, to delve into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) right from day one.
“As a start-up or medium-size business it is something you can think about from day one and implement in your company no matter how big or small you are.”
Du executive vice-president of brand and communications Hala Badri spoke to the 80 mompreneurs gathered on how sustainability and corporate responsibility should be the core focus of every organisation, implemented at every level.
Businesses of all sizes were an integral part of a healthy community, and must come forward to be actively involved in developing the society they served, rather than confining themselves within the realms of profit creation, she said.
“At du, we are dedicated to playing the role of a CSR activist, by empowering the UAE community in myriad ways. We don’t just invest in initiatives, but we create them, allowing us to better serve the community and its people, while contributing to the development of a knowledge-based economy.”
Other speakers included Google Mena region associate product marketing manager Salma Mohamed, who spoke on the importance of online marketing; Nabbesh founder Loulou Khazen Baz, who explained how to work with freelancers to get the additional skills they needed, Life and Style Show UAE project manager Alex Sworder, and SMEInfo awards manager Jesse Vora.
A new mompreneur website will be launched in September.
French woman Julie Leblan was one of the first Mompreneur members. She arrived in Dubai six-months pregnant, with a 16-month-old son, in late 2010, and launched her online gift registry company early last year.
She and her husband had left successful careers in Paris for a change of lifestyle which they hoped would mean more time to spend with their children, she said.
Previously a finance solicitor, she set up MyList.ue after struggling to find a way for her friends and family in Europe to send her baby shower gifts.
“I saw the prices for shipping, and I just said no, don’t send me anything, it’s too expensive!”
Remembering how she had also used a similar registry for wedding gifts back home, she could not find one here, and decided to give it a go for six months.
Since then, the company has grown from partnering with five stores to 33, and the clientele base has changed from 75 per cent Westerners, to 40 per cent Westerners, 25 per cent Middle East and 25 per cent Asian. “It’s not only for expats, it’s really something any community is interested in, even young Emirati people … they don’t want to waste money, and they want to get something people will like.”
The Mompreneur community was a way to not only get free advertising for her website, but to meet other partners she would later work with, and get help and advice.
“It’s much easier to just be able to ask someone how to do something … and better than working on your own. It facilitates relationships, and you have the same concerns, values, and you’re not wasting your time. Any time you have is for your kids and husband … we don’t have much time so we get straight to the point.”
However, it hadn’t always been easy, and she advised aspiring entrepreneurs they needed to give 100 per cent to both their children and their business, “which (could) be complicated”.
“If you want your business to do well, you need to work a lot, but if you want your kids to be happy and well educated, you need to spend a lot of time with them … the focus is always on the balance between the two. First it’s the kids, then your company.
“But it’s not part-time and part-time … it’s full-time for both. You don’t sleep a lot especially when your children are young.”
Social life and other things generally needed to be put on the backburner — but it was a lot more feasible than trying to work full-time in a normal company setting, she said.
And having the experience of being a mother made it a lot easier to understand, and be passionate about, the needs of other mothers who became your clients, she said.