According to statistics from a 2017 research, the percentage of female entrepreneurs in the UAE is 33 per cent. This contrasts with the 13 percent female entrepreneurs in the US. It goes further to say that 8 out of ten of these entrepreneurs have very ambitious plans to expand operations beyond their local areas.
Dunia Othman is one of Middle East female entrepreneurs; she co-founded MrUsta (an online marketplace that connects customers to trusted service providers) with her husband Ibrahim Colak, in January 2014, in a bid to promote better services for UAE residents.
The MrUsta platform rests on a win-win model for all stakeholders involved; small service providers struggling to reach more customers and UAE residents in desperate need of their services. The platform lists a few thousand home service providers – described by the co-founders as ‘Ustas’ – in various categories, with each profile containing not only the contact information and location but also the reviews and ratings posted by previous customers.
The platform creates a meeting point for service providers and their clients in different regions. MrUsta has been well received in the UAE, with the number of users increasing by over 200 percent in 2015. The platform has since then, recorded a steady month-on-month increase of 96 percent in terms of jobs posted.
Othman saw a need to fill the gap in service as she explains that experiencing difficulties in finding quality service providers used to be a common thread connecting almost everyone living in the UAE. Their business was created as a highly-localized solution to the service gap.
MrUsta was conceptualized a few years before its inception when the air conditioner at the Othman’s home broke down in the middle of the UAE’s hot summer. After countless phone calls that yielded no results, and what seemed like hundreds of broken promises, they came to the realization that there was a need to connect customers in need directly with service providers in a convenient manner, to avoid a repeat of such experiences. This idea – what is now MrUsta – was so compelling that her husband resigned from his job to focus on the business full-time alongside his wife. Othman’s husband who quit a promising career with Nokia to launch mrUsta with his wife has not had a single regret since he made that decision.
Othman who is making a difference in the lives of UAE residents by bringing services closer to the consumers summarizes the major challenges facing women doing businesses in her region as:
Learning financial management skills as is required of corporate executives, finding and keeping the right employees in a firm, access to capital, and high cost of public services.
She has a B.Eng. from the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Management from the Institute of Management New Zealand.
In her words, “Don’t let anyone make you feel that being a female is a disadvantage in the business world. An entrepreneur is as good as their skills and abilities gender has nothing to do with it.”