My trip to the UAE or how I’d like to meet the Middle East entrepreneurs

I have just returned from a three day trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi where I met prospective MBA candidates and representatives from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).

It was my first trip to the Middle East in five years and much has changed since. Dubai’s reputation as a financial centre took a serious knock in the early days of the global financial crisis and it is still unclear how events following the Arab Spring of a year ago would continue to play out. Nonetheless, one does not have to go to the top of the Burj Kalifa to be impressed by Dubai’s stunning transformation in such a short period of time.

By sheer coincidence, I had brought my lovefilm DVD selection for the month with me, and it turned out to be Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol. It was a surreal experience watching the movie in my Dubai hotel room, especially the sequences set in Dubai itself. If you’ve never been to Dubai, you would think from the movie that the city was just one very tall building surrounded by a warren of narrow alleys, and devoid of any people because of the regular sandstorms that hit the city. But there is a vibrancy to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. From the cab driver who moved to Dubai from India on the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, to the Swiss receptionist at the hotel who had moved to Dubai to gain valuable work experience, to the American working in Abu Dhabi to improve the international educational prospects of Emiratis.

I also saw this vibrancy at the MBA fair. However, while I met people from many different nationalities and backgrounds, there was one demographic that was missing. I did not meet any entrepreneurs, nor people who were working for Middle East startup companies. I recognise that the economic development paths will be different, and I am not as familiar with the Middle East as other regions and hence I could just have missed the right forums but I would like to meet more people who are entrepreneurs in the Middle East, or working in Middle East companies that are at the forefront of innovation, whether it be in terms of innovating in products or business models. Just this week, a HBR article was published that suggested the Middle East could be a cradle of innovation and I would like our students to be plugged into that space. Any suggestions of how we could do so are most welcome.

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