Business Councils Vital Lifeline for New Entrepreneurs

Foreigners wishing to set up a business here can feel daunted. This is where business councils representing their country of origin can help. “In a country where a support network is so important, no small or medium enterprise can succeed without the help of others to understand the environment, local customs, and for contacts with private or governmental, French or local entities,” said Fabienne Lucas, director at the French Business Council, Dubai and the Northern Emirates. “Nothing is more precious than having someone who understands the situation explain to you the do’s and don’t’s as seen through French culture before starting [a business here].” Initially, language can also seem an insurmountable barrier. When you have difficulty understanding Arabic, translating written materials like contracts can get tricky. Here too, a business council can help as the FBC does by providing a low-cost service to translate official documents for its members.

Business councils representing various countries help newcomers to the UAE set up businesses. Almost all major communities represented in the country have business councils that assist them in the initial days.

Specialised knowledge
The specialised knowledge provided by the business councils about the local market and practices can point entrepreneurs on to the right track. “The business council can direct them to the right people or institutions,” said Lucas. “We benefit from our privileged relations with lawyers, free zones, official representatives and a lot of professionals specialising in setting up businesses in the UAE, and we share all our contacts with members.” The strengthening economic recovery will create more business opportunities in the region. New players find depend more on such support networks than established businesses. More so as many of them are small or medium businesses.

The FBC has recorded increases in the number of its member enterprises each year since 2002, with the proportion of SMEs in their ranks always being the largest. Moreover, its 2010 membership survey showed the UAE was the preferred base from which to do business across the region. “Connectivity is the major reason why SMEs look to Dubai as a base,” Prashant Gulati, secretary-general of the Indian Business & Professional Council (IBPC) told Gulf News. “It does however lack support in the setting up and the financial support required to set up and encourage small businesses, especially for expatriate-owned companies.”

Major presence
For every nationality that has a major presence in the country, there is a business council. “It is important that the business council provides whatever support it can to its countrymen, who are planning to set up, and assist in developing and enhancing the local economy,” Gulati said. Entrepreneurs who are starting up should inquire with their local business council about the services on offer for start-ups. The FBC can provide for a business centre, shared assistants and recruitment services. Another benefit to being a member is the opportunity to network. For instance, The IBPC regularly organises dedicated events where speakers are invited to provide specialised information to members of the network. “The biggest support SMEs can find is a chance to interact with their peers, especially the successful ones who have been here and are leaders in their line of business,” Gulati said.

The FBC recently created ‘Club Synergie’ dedicated to SMEs. Every two weeks, 12 to 15 SMEs interact over a three-month period. At the end of the sessions, they get to know each other better and are able to find and refer business opportunities amongst themselves. In other words, a re-run of the ‘One for all, all for one’ maxim.

The benefits to being a member of a business council:

  • The member can get help in conducting market surveys, find distributors, understand the best way to set up the firm and assistance in tapping human resources or hiring staff
  • An opportunity to network with potential clients, partners, distributors, other businesses from the same sector. To get in touch with all those potential contacts on your own will take years!
  • Knowledge of the market through experts in different fields
  • Benefit from the solidarity of the different business communities in a global network
  • To create awareness of SMEs by listing in the directory of the business council

This article originally appeared on Gulf News