New business setup in the UAE – Facing opposition as an expat

Here at Ma’an, we are dedicated to encouraging innovation, empowering entrepreneurs and helping creative minds, inventors and professionals from across the world make the most of our thriving business market.

So, in order to support and inspire our community’s countless creative and talented individuals, Ma’an runs a number of community initiatives that are designed to help small social businesses setup in the UAE. Over the past few years, we have helped numerous start-ups launch their ventures and make them a great success.

Our Business & Coaching Ambassador, Arsalan Al Hashimi said:

“Abu Dhabi has so many amazing opportunities to offer every sector, and we want each ambitious, intelligent and motivated business owner or freelancer to be able to enjoy them.


Attracting talented entrepreneurs from across the world and host to regular major events in business and innovation, there has never been a more exciting and promising time to expand your career or start a small business in the UAE capital.


If you’re looking for tips on how to choose a career, manage stress at work or generally succeed in your chosen field, just take a browse through through the Let’s Connect social media channels including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and let yourself be inspired by the efforts of the rest of our community.”

One key way that Ma’an is helping Abu Dhabi residents and citizens to set up their own businesses is through the Ma’an Social Incubator (MSI). This social impact incubator encourages innovators to develop solutions to social, cultural, or environmental challenges, and in return MSI provides the most promising setup ideas with the resources and support they need in order to grow and thrive. This includes learning and development materials, mentorship and coaching, and networking and funding opportunities.

The current theme for 2022 is “Entrepreneurship for Social Good” and any entrepreneurs that are developing sustainable solutions in Financial Literacy, Ed-Tech or cutting-edge Social-Tech are encouraged to get involved.

Advice from expat business owners in the UAE

We spoke to the leaders of Nadeera and Bessern, two of the many businesses that Ma’an has helped and supported, about how they found setting up a new business in the UAE.

Rabih, expat business owner of NadeeraRabih El Chaar, Founder of Nadeera, the social enterprise that provides innovative digitally-enabled solutions for solid waste management, said that he had always dreamed of breaking into the UAE market ever since the business launched in Lebanon in 2015.

He said: “The UAE is ranked first globally in entrepreneurship rendering, and that is an opportunity that no startup can overlook.” Thanks to the Ma’an programme, Nadeera was able to hit the ground running, launch its first successful project within the UAE and then expand across the GCC. In the UAE, Nadeera also found its first investor, ADQ, and was able to quickly establish a network of corporate and local partners.”

Ivan Palomino, expat business owner of Bassern

Ivan Palomino, Founder of EdTech business Bessern, also had a positive experience setting up here.

He said: “The UAE is one of the few countries in the world that puts supporting new startups at the heart of its national strategy and it aims to become a global innovation hub. Ma’an supported us as we set up in the ADGM Free Zone and in general, things become a lot easier when the government is directly encouraging the development of entrepreneurial ventures.”

What is the biggest challenge for starting a new business?

Whilst being a very rewarding process, setting up a business can also occasionally be challenging too.

Before you even get onto branding, marketing or actually selling a product or service, you first need to set up with all the required licenses and bank accounts.

The team at Bessern found certain aspects of this step quite difficult.

Ivan said: “Setting up our business bank account took two months and the same happened for the setup of the payment gateway. It was quite frustrating.”

Meanwhile, Rabih found multitasking and working longer hours than the usual 9 to 5 to be quite a big adjustment.

He said: “When you are launching a startup, you are always in survival mode. You have to be flexible, wear multiple hats and take on responsibilities that are well beyond your job description. You have to learn to work outside of your domain of expertise.”

How do you push yourself out of your comfort zone when setting up a business?

Rabih says that surrounding himself with a strong and supportive team was the key to overcoming every challenge.

“Surround yourself with a group of like minded individuals, who are also willing to go above and beyond,” he says.

“That’s how you create a cooperative environment that gives each member of your business a sense of belonging. It will also help your enterprise grow and shape a healthy work ethic and culture.”

Ivan also agrees that nurturing a stable and adaptable team is paramount. “As a general rule, new businesses should live and breathe risk taking and agility. In our specific case, we teach employees in corporate businesses how to embrace change. This has become part of our cultural DNA and we apply the same process that we teach to ourselves,” he explains.

“Our mission is to equip employees with the mindset and processes to be at their best at work. A humble routine of self-awareness is what maintains the continuous reinvention of our business.”

What are the biggest challenges in scaling a business?

Rabih recommends studying your competition and making sure that your business fills a gap in the market.

“Entrepreneurs need to make sure that their product is more than just something nice, it needs to relieve some of the pains that your target audience are experiencing. Without having a service or a commodity that your consumers deem essential, you will not be able to scale the heights you wish to achieve”, he notes.

“Furthermore, you have to keep in mind you are up against pre-established and often much stronger competitors who have access to a larger pool of resources. Your advantage as a startup, however, is that you are much more flexible and agile, and able to pivot your products and business model almost instantly. You have to be able to use that fluidity to create a diverse yet irreplaceable set of offerings that can provide a much more effective alternative to what is available in the market.”

How do I grow my business?

When it comes to expanding your business, Rabih recommends being proactive rather than reactive.

“You should never take a backseat and rely on your passive growth, nor should you shy away from splurging on your marketing whenever it is needed. Sometimes inferior products surpass their competitors just because of the media traction they generate,” he concludes.
Ivan also advises expat entrepreneurs not to be wary of pursuing local customers.

“At the start of Bessern’s growth phase, we wrongly assumed that, because we weren’t an Arab company, we would have a tough time attracting local customers. But today we know that this was all in our head. When you have the results and the passion, you can acquire customers of any nationality.”

Get involved with the community and Let’s Connect business coaching tips.