Starting your entrepreneurial journey in Middle East and North Africa? Here’s what you need to know

Megha Raizada


Every year thousands of students across the Middle East graduate from colleges with dreams of starting successful careers in their eyes. The dynamic job market has put MENA region on the world map and that’s why it attracts talent from all over the world. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Middle East and North Africa is indeed a tough place for job seekers. Professionals are available in abundance but the jobs are limited. Ask any fresh graduate and s/he will tell how big a challenge it is to start a successful career in the region as employers tend to prefer experienced candidates over them.

The decline in the job prospects has encouraged youngsters to turn into entrepreneurs and create jobs themselves. Yes, the people in the MENA region have also been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug. Today, more and more individuals are interested in running their businesses. Call it a millennials thing, but climbing up the corporate ladder is something not many professionals struggle for anymore. They are more inclined towards being their own boss and creating something concrete from ground zero.

mena entrepreneurship

Source: Pixabay

If you have the same aspirations, here are few things you should know and be prepared for before wearing the entrepreneur’s hat in the MENA region. Take a look:

  1. Place of incorporation is vital:
    Deciding your place of incorporation is the first and the most vital step entrepreneurs in the MENA region have to take. Every country in the Middle East and the North African region has different governments offering different incentives to entrepreneurs. For example, the UAE offers more than 40 free trade zones where you are entitled to 100% ownership of assets, exemption on tax income, 100% tax exemption on trade, exemption of corporate tax for 50 years, and 100% repatriation of capital.* On the other hand, Egypt has a bigger consumer market to offer. Study all these factors in depth, see what fits best for your business idea and then decide your place of incorporation.
    *Source: Doing Business in the United Arab Emirates – Grant Thornton
  2. Choose your market wisely:
    Most entrepreneurs, especially those who are not natives of the Arab nations commit the mistake of considering the entire Arab region as one big borderless economy. Different Arab countries have different governments, laws, and regulations. The consumer base also varies as people speak in different dialects and come from different income groups and cultural backgrounds, and may adopt new trends at varying speeds. It would be better to understand one region perfectly and target it. Once you have established a stronghold in one region, you can think about expanding to other regions.
  3. Staying focused will bring rewards:
    Being an entrepreneur, you will come up with various ideas at every stage of your entrepreneurial journey. What’s important is to not lose focus while implementing your ideas even if it means rejecting some ideas that does match with your original market strategy. For example, if your primary focus is to serve customers first, implement only those ideas that are in line with this. It is important to gain the trust of your market first to grow your roots strong in the market. A stronghold on the market and a financially secure primary business will give you the freedom to further diversify your business over a period of time.
  4. Be prepared for the challenges:
    Despite all the encouragement being poured to entrepreneurs, the fact remains that there are still areas which pose challenges. This is especially true for non-native entrepreneurs. The biggest challenge like we said in the second point is to understand the Arab market and the culture. The second most difficult challenge inexperienced and young entrepreneurs face is to build trust amongst the customers and stakeholders.
  5. Find the right team:
    Entrepreneurs are superheroes but one superhero cannot be at all the places to save the day. Since one entrepreneur cannot do it all, it needs a team of superheroes to make a business successful. However, it is very difficult to find the right people to help you out. Not everybody will share the same kind of passion that you share for your business for it is just another job for them. Most startups fail at the hands of a wrong team. Don’t rush into hiring just anybody. Take time to evaluate your candidates. Once you have found the right people, make them see the vision you have for your company. When good employees feel involved in your business they feel more responsible towards turning your vision into a reality.
  6. Taking tough decisions comes in handy:
    There is no place for sentiments in business. Most young entrepreneurs dream of starting their business with their close friends or family members. It might work out in your favor because you have a basic understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The problem starts when one of you loses interest, have a difference of opinions or one / both of you have a problem with the way the other works. All this can really test the relationship you share with your co-founder and chances are that you might have to take some tough decisions in the future.
  7. The time is right:
    For entrepreneurs thinking of starting their business in the MENA region, this is the right time to do so. Not only will you be able to generate a steady wealth for yourself, but also assist in economic regeneration with your innovative business offering by creating numerous job opportunities for people. All these benefits have encouraged regional governments, corporate and international government donors to support the incubation and proliferation of entrepreneurship in the region. Numerous programs and events are now organized by schools and businesses with a focus to encourage the development of an entrepreneurial mindset. Many events are being organized across the region solely to encourage funding for startups through angel investing, etc.


Preparing yourself before testing the entrepreneurial waters will not only save a lot of time and effort but also help grow your business much quicker.


Megha Raizada is a professional writer working with the premium job portal She has a keen interest in the global job market, but also loves to keep a track of everything interesting happening around the globe. You can reach her at Twitter and Google+.


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