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You’re reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

This article is a part of the 2022 edition of Entrepreneur Middle East’s annual Follow The Leader series, in which enterprise head honchos from the region talk strategy, industry-specific tactics, and professional challenges as they lead their respective businesses to success.

Dubai Cultiv8
Arif Alawi, CEO, Dubai Cultiv8

“Do they have a vision, or is money the only interest?” In his role as the CEO of Dubai Cultiv8, this is one of the questions that Arif Alawi likes to ask entrepreneurs that seek support from the Dubai-based investment fund. Evaluating a startup’s founding team on everything from their vision and passion to their experience and skills, Alawi and his team at Dubai Cultiv8 also consider a bunch of other factors. Those include the solution’s differentiating factor in a competitive market, revenues and earnings, client acquisition costs, or its lifetime value (“How much can the company expect to profit from a customer?”). Also, the Dubai Cultiv8 team looks at the company’s business plan, growth strategy (“We project five years into the future- when will this project hit break even and become profitable, and how much time will it take?”), scalability, and exit plans.

The questions Alawi poses offer a glimpse into the mindset with which he leads the charge at Dubai Cultiv8, an initiative of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SMEs, an entity established by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, in 2012. Dubai Cultiv8 itself was launched in 2018, and has been chaired by H.E. Abdulbaset Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME, an integrated division of the Emirate’s Department of Economic Development. Alawi describes Dubai Cultiv8 as a Shariah-compliant investment firm that offers “cutting-edge solutions for investors,” all of which is regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority. “We define ourselves as an investment arm providing two services: advisory services (providing expert advice, structuring the company, raising capital, formulating business plans and financial models, and guiding through each stage), and investing in companies through fund creation,” he explains.

Alawi also adds that his enterprise is behind the Dubai Cultiv8 Technology Fund, a US$100 million fund focusing on investing in growth-stage technology companies, either located in the UAE or abroad, that aim to shift their operation wholly or partially in the country. As the UAE’s first public-private partnership in the venture capital sector, Alawi points it to being a key advantage for the firm. “Most companies are privately owned by families, individuals, offices, or ex-bankers, but we are differentiating and positioning ourselves as a niche incubator,” he notes. “We clear the way for SMEs to enter and grow in the UAE market without financial pressure.”

For Alawi, whose career trajectory has seen him launch multiple investment and asset management firms across the GCC, as well as play leadership roles at various financial enterprises in the region, he seems to be especially well-suited for his role at Dubai Cultiv8- and we can confirm this as he tells the story of how he came to be associated with the enterprise. It started with a conversation he had with Dubai SME’s Al Janahi in 2017, when he was engaged with the latter’s enterprise as a strategic advisor for special projects and startups. “My thoughts were that if the initiative wants to support SMEs that are contributing to the UAE economy, we have to focus on local as well as international startups,” he recalls.

“Local SMEs already form around 90% of companies, especially in Dubai. Out of 100 ideas, there are only two or three ideas being acquired by venture capitalists or angel investors. After presenting the idea, we established an investment arm- any concept with a potential for growth, we would support and invest in, rather than just financing it. This way, we also got transparency of the cash flow. This is where the idea for Dubai Cultiv8 came from. Local SMEs who need financing go to Dubai SME, and those who need investment and business advice come to Dubai Cultiv8, so, we complement each other, and, together, we don’t miss out on any SME that needs help.”

As the CEO of Dubai Cultiv8, Alawi is responsible for developing the entity’s overarching business plan, while also ensuring it encourages and attracts international entrepreneurs to set up and expand their businesses in the Emirate by offering relevant funding and services. Of course, along with that, his role also includes recruiting talent across the world to position Dubai and the UAE as the go-to hub for investors and entrepreneurs. “Contributing to the UAE government’s goal of launching and assisting companies to stimulate economic growth has been a highlight of my career at Dubai Cultiv8,” Alawi states.

But what does it take to be part of Dubai Cultiv8’s portfolio? “Our investment philosophy is to focus on companies established in the UAE and have plans to expand worldwide, as well as companies who are based elsewhere, but wish to expand into the GCC, notably the UAE, with operational branches,” replies Alawi. The overall aim eventually, Alawi states, is to attract more businesses to develop in the region and attract talent globally, while creating job opportunities for both locals and expats in the UAE. And Dubai Cultiv8 is certainly doing its part- the firm has so far invested in seven different companies, with two headquartered in the US and having a base in the UAE, while the other five are based in Dubai. Its portfolio includes startups like UAE-based car sharing company Udrive, New York-headquartered online ethical investment platform Wahed Invest, and Dubai-based last-mile delivery startup Fodel.

Looking at the current state of the MENA entrepreneurial ecosystem, Alawi believes that the UAE has definitely emerged as a preferred location for new businesses in the MENA region. According to him, the sectors that have potential for further investment include e-commerce, fintech, healthcare and wellness, payment gateways and wallet solutions, and gaming platforms. Alawi adds that he and the Dubai Cultiv8 team are also considering nascent industries, and says “We have our eye on crypto, which is growing fast, and has many platforms here for it to grow. The NFT business is [also] just growing here; we started with digital artists, but in the future, it will take over the world.”

And for those of you seeking guidance to grow your respective businesses, Alawi has plenty of practical advice to share as well. First off, he says, develop a clear marketing and sales strategy. Plus, he tells entrepreneurs to ask themselves, “If you’re thinking of expanding and selling the company one day, there should be exponential growth in clients. Is the product scalable overseas?”

Other tips include attempting to increase customer retention through after-sales support and loyalty programs, as well as to develop strategic partnerships with service providers. Seek like-minded people around you, he adds- participating in networking events is a good way to do that, for instance. “Founders should look for guidance right from the set-up,” he says. “Once you have an idea, meet with an expert for guidance on how to develop the business. Often, I’ve seen people develop ideas and pitch them, but there are several gaps.” At the end of it all, he says entrepreneurs should just remember one thing: “Start small, and grow slowly.”

Related: Follow The Leader: Dima Ayad, Founder, Dima Ayad, And DAC Communications

The Not-To-Do List: Dubai Cultiv8 CEO Arif Alawi lists mistakes entrepreneurs make when approaching investors

1. Overvaluation according to market trends “An investor is not just looking at market trends, but also at the startup’s growth possibility. Some SMEs state that the company will grow 1,000% in one year, but this isn’t possible in every market and industry and for certain products.”

2. Lack of a clear vision “Bringing in funding involves many people. Without a plan of how many people a company needs during different periods, one runs out of cash fast, and in future rounds, the investors will see the cash flow and refuse to invest.”

3. No clear market understanding “People come in with a great idea, but they don’t know who their clients are. Are they focusing on B2B or B2C? Everybody cannot be your target market. Hence, without the client base, an accurate valuation cannot be formed either.”

4. Selecting wrong partners “Many tend to focus on capital only, without considering the ramifications of the wrong investment. Nowadays, companies don’t need $1 million in funding; $200,000-500,000 is enough to grow until the next round.”

5. Giving away too much of their company “If a founder doesn’t have anyone to support the business, they may give up 60-70% of the company, and once they progress to the next round of funding, they end up with 2-3%, and then, they won’t have enough power to direct the company based on the initial vision.”

6. Running a one-person-show “Some projects are started by a single person who believes in their product, but doesn’t believe in the people around them. The founder may not be recruiting the right people, and they are doing everything from marketing and sales to pitching to investors themselves. They don’t know when to bring in investors and at what valuation.”

7. Not having an advisory board “Often, technical experts who have little to no knowledge of business create a business, but they don’t know how to sell it and at what price, or how to effectively sell shares of the company. They don’t have financial or investment advisors or experts to guide them on the strategy around them, and they are also unwilling to give outsiders a stake. You need an advisory board to guide you, and enhance the value of the company and brand.

Related: Follow The Leader: Pallavi Dean, Founder, Roar

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You’re reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

This article is a part of the 2022 edition of Entrepreneur Middle East’s annual Follow The Leader series, in which enterprise head honchos from the region talk strategy, industry-specific tactics, and professional challenges as they lead their respective businesses to success.

Maqsam
Sinan Taifour, co-founder and CEO, Maqsam

One business idea can lead to another, and another, and another again, and that seems to be the story of how Sinan Taifour and his team developed Maqsam, a cloud communication suite for MENA-based SMEs that gives them an alternative to traditional, more expensive hardware-based solutions.

Now, if you read that Maqsam recently won the first place at the Leap tech expo in Saudi Arabia, or that Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan recently visited Maqsam’s office in Amman to learn more about this promising MENA startup, you would think that the co-founders Sinan Taifour and Fouad Jeryes hit the jackpot with this business idea from the get-go. However, the truth is that it was a process of the two entrepreneurs discovering and solving a series of problems in the region’s complex market that brought them to conceptualize Maqsam. “We founded our first product together called Payhyper, a cash collection network that solves the problems companies faced with cash on delivery by introducing cash before delivery,” Taifour explains.

“The merchant works with Payhyper as if it is any other payment method, so through API (Application Programming Interfaces), and we collect cash on behalf of the merchant from the customer, and inform the merchant when the payment is made. However, a lot of merchants were interested but not fast enough to act, so we ended up eating our own dog food and building a merchant on top of our service.” That experience led to Taifour and Jeryes’ second startup CashBasha, an e-commerce website allowing MENA buyers to buy from international merchants, even when the items cannot be shipped directly to the region. “They would pay us with cash, and so, they did not have to worry about all the logistics and complications of regulations and customs,” explains Taifour. At the time, while Jeryes was building the business on the ground, Taifour was committed to CashBasha and was planning his exit from his Senior Software Engineering post at Google in Munich to join the growing team.

“While working on CashBasha, we ourselves suffered from the gap in infrastructure in the MENA region, such as in communication, payments, and logistics,” he explains. “We filled those gaps by developing a number of internal products. The communications solution we created caught the eyes of startup founders that were facing the same exact challenges we were facing, and that became Maqsam, dubbed the friendliest cloud communication suite in MENA.” In 2019, Taifour left his role at Google and came back to lead Maqsam as its CEO which he describes as “turning our company into a well-oiled machine.” He adds, “The part I like the most about my job is instilling a culture that empowers the individual to grow and contribute in their own way. We often find this is a part of our company the team really appreciates.”

The Maqsam team is currently 70-person strong and spread out between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Jordan. “We started Maqsam from a need we had inside CashBasha to connect with our customers in a region that is wider than where we were physically located, and we found out traditional legacy systems were very costly and not flexible, and so, we built this for ourselves,” Taifour explains. “We understand our clients needs, so we are continuously improving our software with our clients’ input.”

Sinan Taifour and Fouad Jeryes, co-founders, Maqsam

Going forward, he aims to focus on natural language processing technologies in order to help Maqsam clients to better interact with their customers. “Particularly, we’re working on making leadership and management teams in a client’s company better informed by allowing them to learn what their customers are explicitly saying in existing conversations; it is achieved by transcribing the calls (which is challenging in Arabic), and exporting relevant information to the management and leadership teams,” Taifour says. “Our second goal is to turn our clients’ agents into super agents by shortening training time, easing evaluation, and providing real-time feedback to the agent while on a call.”

Once our conversation turned to assessing the current opportunities available to MENA-based entrepreneurs in their own region, Taifour gives an interesting insight into this area. “While there are many startups whose products purely exists in the virtual world, most startups have a leg in reality or require strong local cultural relevance, like a car hailing app or an e-commerce website that builds software, but also have a lot of operations on the ground,” he says. “Such companies typically cannot launch all over the world at once, which leaves a big opportunity for regional startups in the MENA, and examples of successes that covered such cases would be Maktoob, Souq, Careem, Anghami, and Jawaker.”

Another of Taifour’s tips for MENA-based entrepreneurs is to find a way to operate in multiple markets in order to enlarge their business opportunities. “It’s important to have a sizable market when you start your business, so you can grow fast and avoid a plateau, but in our region, we lack such huge single markets, like the European Union or the US, and the closest we have are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (with a lot of buying power) and Egypt (with a huge population),” Taifour explains. “Part of what Maqsam is doing is to help achieve the benefits of such single markets in terms of communication. Your company can be in any place in the region, and you can serve your clients all at once, without having to worry about creating different setups for different countries. This allows you to unlock economic opportunity within a complex region, accelerate growth and reach new frontiers more effectively.”

Source: Maqsam

Before I ask him to share more of his tips for MENA entrepreneurs, I’m eager to hear Taifour’s opinion on the region’s tech talent. “Studying electrical engineering [Taifour holds a bachelor’s degree in the subject from Jordan University, and a master’s degree from the Technical University of Munich] was useful in building sound thinking, but I learned software outside of my formal education through self-learning, and by surrounding myself with people I could learn from,” he says.

“The internet helps you to get halfway, but you need to be part of a team to unlock the next level. We try, at Maqsam, to provide such internships, but also, we see ourselves as hiring great talent, and helping them become world-class. As rarely as it happens, when someone leaves us to a more prestigious or ambitious role, we consider this a win, unlike many companies that feel hurt- we see it as a win since we were able to act as a springboard for that person. Some people leave the region for opportunities, but end up mentoring others or coming back later, which is a win for the ecosystem.”

Taifour adds that in his opinion, the MENA region’s problem is not in having enough tech talent, but in retaining it. “For that reason, regional tech companies should create more interesting opportunities for people to come back,” Taifour says. “Really good technical talent typically evaluate opportunities on two parameters: whether it provides interesting technical problems, and whether their technical skills will grow with time. To attract and retain technical talent, a company has to try to hit both those points.”

In addition to keeping local talent at home, Taifour and the Maqsam team are also working on building bridges with MENA tech experts who live abroad. “We work a lot with our advisors who left the region and have gained knowledge elsewhere, and now act as advisors to us in Maqsam,” he explains. “This is one way we can utilize talents that left the region, and we should also design easy ways for people to contribute back; often, these expats want to contribute, but don’t know how.” MENA governments, Taifour adds, should work together on mitigating the risk of coming back to the region, or not leaving it. “They should lower the risk of starting a company by creating more stable regulations and concepts that are closer to single markets,” he concludes.

Related: Follow The Leader: Natasha Sideris, Founder And CEO, Tashas Group

‘TREP TALK: Maqsam CEO Sinan Taifour shares his tips for entrepreneurs, aspiring and otherwise

1. Don’t delay, do it now. Don’t accept mediocrity “If you find that your job or employer is not up to par, there are a lot of companies out there that are, and if you are good in your field, they will be happy to have you, so never stay in a place that isn’t helping you grow. The culture of a company is as important as what they do, and pay attention to their culture.

2. You don’t need to start a company to have the experience of a founder. “If you join a company early enough, your experience will be similar, and you will wear many hats, and get to contribute to the future of that company and grow with it. Many companies these days offer stocks for employees, so you will likely do very well. This will also help you if you plan to start a business in the future.”

3. Become a T-shaped person. “Have depth in a few things, but also have some breadth. If you have a lot of breadth and you do not have any depth, you are easily replaceable. If you have a lot of depth in something and not enough breadth, you are not seeing the big picture. You have to try to combine both. If you have a bit of breadth across non technical topics and depth in something technical, you’ll be a desired part of any organization.”

4. Join communities to learn and get motivated. “Figure out which communities you want to be part of, whether online or offline, as being part of them will open your eyes, and will help you realize the available opportunities you could join. You can also create your own community of similar people. Look for mentors, people willing to help, and if you find a good mentor, it makes a big difference in your life.”

5. As The Legend of Zelda put it, “it’s dangerous to go alone!” Take a co-founder with you “If you are starting a tech company, consider having a co-founder. It’s full of ups and downs; you’ll need someone to help you, and by doing it alone, you are less likely to succeed. Starting a company requires a skillset that is unlikely to be in a single person, so look for someone who has a complimentary skillset or a willingness to learn.”

Related: Seafood Souq Co-Founder Fahim Al Qasimi Is Building “A UAE-Born Business That Will Change The World”

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You’re reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

This article is a part of the 2022 edition of Entrepreneur Middle East’s annual Follow The Leader series, in which enterprise head honchos from the region talk strategy, industry-specific tactics, and professional challenges as they lead their respective businesses to success.

Seafood Souq
Seafood Souq co-founder Fahim Al Qasimi

When Fahim Al Qasimi was a boy of about 11 years of age, he was cast in his school’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s acclaimed musical, Cats.

At the time, he was studying at the Emirates International School in Dubai, and in a bid to adapt Cats better to the UAE, his music and drama teacher then, Jenny Wilson, decided to include locally relevant feline roles in her version of the show, and Al Qasimi was invited to come up with a character true to himself that could be a part of this performance.

That’s how Al Qasimi ended up essaying the part of FisherCat, which he recalls as being a heroic Emirati moggy living by the harbors of Deira Creek that wanted to unite all of the region’s fishermen with the aim “to get better fish.” Now, Al Qasimi may have not known it then, but the mission he chose for his FisherCat persona was a harbinger of what he would get up to in his adult life- after all, getting better fish on all of our plates is a good enough summation of what his enterprise, Seafood Souq, has set out to accomplish with the digital ecosystem it has built for the global seafood industry. And given that the Dubai-headquartered startup’s annual recurring revenue for this year is forecasted to be US$100 million, it’s fair to say that Al Qasimi and his team are well on their way toward realizing that goal, and, in the process, make their impact felt on the international stage as well. “At Seafood Souq today, about 80-90% of our business is global,” Al Qasimi reveals. “This is a UAE-born business that will change the world.”

Seafood Souq came into being in the UAE in 2018 after co-founders Al Qasimi (who, by the way, is a member of the Sharjah royal family) and Sean Dennis (the company’s CEO now) spotted the opportunity in creating a digital B2B marketplace that could connect fish buyers and sellers from all over the world. The appeal of this solution from Seafood Souq can be seen in the fact that just a few months after it was launched, the startup was able to ink a partnership with Emirates SkyCargo, the freight division of Emirates (aka the world’s largest international airline) to transport seafood from countries like Norway, Cyprus, Chile, Scotland, and the USA to customers in the UAE and the wider Middle East.

But this was just the start for Seafood Souq- in building its e-commerce offering, Al Qasimi and Dennis also realized that they had an opportunity to trace the supply chains of all the products hosted on their platform. As it so happens, this relates to a major problem being faced by the global seafood industry- in 2021, The Guardian conducted an analysis of 44 studies of more than 9,000 seafood samples from restaurants, fishmongers, and supermarkets in more than 30 nations around the world that found 36% of these products were mislabeled.

“Unfortunately, seafood supply chains are wrought with fraud,” Al Qasimi adds. “People swap products in and out. They will sell you something, and give you something else.” For instance, you could have been told the fish you’ve bought in a fine dining restaurant to be, say, responsibly farmed salmon, but there was no way for you to confirm if that actually was the case- at least not until Seafood Souq Trace (SFS Trace) came along.

Source: Seafood Souq Trace

SFS Trace is a digital tool that allows one to confirm the provenance of the fish they buy, and one of its first applications was in 2021 when Seafood Souq got to ink a partnership with Dubai-based Jumeirah Restaurants whereby the latter’s customers at Rockfish, the Mediterranean F&B concept located at the Jumeriah Al Naseem hotel, could simply scan a QR code on their smartphones and learn about the journey -from sea to plate- of their chosen seafood. But while SFS Trace -which is now available in supermarkets in Europe as wellmay have been initially rolled out in this consumer-oriented manner, Al Qasimi points out that its ability to provide traceability found itself help solve other issues within the ecosystem as well. “Distributors told us that SFS Trace is great for supply chain visibility,” he explains. “They can now, using SFS Trace, have access to all the details of their shipments, who the providers are, where it is in the supply chain, which flight it was on, which ship it was on, and so forth.”

Distributors could thus make use of SFS Trace to prove to their buyers that whatever they are buying is exactly what they are getting- and this led to a new use case for the company’s offering. Al Qasimi reveals that Seafood Souq has been approached by the Mandarin Oriental and Atlantis hotel groups to aid with their efforts at realizing their sustainability targets by ensuring the traceability of the seafood they serve. “We’ve thus created a dashboard that now lets leading hotels look at it and say, for instance, ‘In this quarter, 60% of our fish is 100% traceable,'” Al Qasimi says. “They can say that this is the carbon cost of the fish that we’ve brought in, this is where it’s come from, this is the amount that have got certification, and this is how much can be classified as sustainable. So, it’s become like the lifting of a lid on this previously very opaque supply chain.”

And this is where the impact of what Seafood Souq is doing comes into play. “Seafood is a multi-billion-dollar industry,” Al Qasimi states. “About 200 to 300 billion dollars of that is just the production of seafood, I’d say. About 50% of the seafood we eat today is thanks to aquaculture- but the other 50% is the only food source that we extract from the earth and not farm. So, it’s more like mining- we go to the ocean each time with only the hope that there will be fish there to harvest again.” Now, this is clearly a perilous approach to take, especially when you consider that approximately three billion people around the world rely on seafood as a primary source of protein, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The oceans are thus in danger of seeing their seafood stocks depleted, and this could have far-reaching consequences on humanity- and yet, solutions being proposed and developed for this problem have been few and far between.

Related: Cleantech Startup BluePhin Technologies Is On A Mission To Battle The Global Problem Of Water Pollution

Fahim Al Qasimi, co-founder, Seafood Souq

“One of our investors helped me realize this the other day- if you look at venture capital funds across the world, I think you can count them probably on two hands, maybe three hands, the number of them that are solely focused on the blue economy,” Al Qasimi notes. “And we have, in the world today, put such a focus on carbon that anybody interested in safeguarding our environment is focused on energy, and specifically on carbon. Well, the ocean covers 70% of our globe- there’s a disconnect between that and the number of people actually investing in solutions for the ocean.” This would also explain why one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is centered on “conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas, and marine resources”- and it is one that Seafood Souq has taken to heart by building tech to solve problems inherent in the seafood industry.

An example of the kind of impact Seafood Souq can have on the world at large can be seen in a collaborative endeavor it has engineered with the International Pole And Line Foundation (IPNLF) and fishermen in Oman. “These Omani fishermen used to go out to sea and catch yellowfin tuna in nets,” Al Qasimi explains. “Now, what happens when you catch fish in nets is that they get degraded, since they aren’t treated properly. By the time they arrived on a boat, put on ice, and got to the factory, they were able to sell it only for about about 75 cents a kilo. That’s tuna that’s good enough for pet food, maybe fish food, maybe canning, but these Omani fishermen were not making any real money off the trade, and so, they were catching as many tuna as they could to try to make some money.”

Enter the IPNLF, which argues that the only way to sustainably catch tuna is “one-by-one,” a collective term that incorporates pole-and-line, handline, and troll line fishing methods, which are regarded as being both environmentally and socially responsible- Al Qasimi points out that once Omani fishermen started making use of this methodology, the quality of the tuna they caught rose so much that they were now able to sell it for up to $14 a kilo. These fishermen thus stood to gain more income by catching less fish and being more mindful about how they harvest the oceans; however, the challenge that remained was that once their tuna left Oman, it’d get lost in the opaque supply chain- but Seafood Souq’s SFS Trace can allow for that to not happen.

Related: The Need For Innovation In The Middle East’s Food Supply Chain

The Seafood Souq team participating in an Adidas: Run For the Oceans event in Dubai.

“SFS Trace allows us to sell the product with full traceability of the supply chain, and the stamp to say that this is pole-and-line-caught tuna, that it is sustainable, and therefore is worth the money it is,” Al Qasimi says. “The value transfer is higher to the fishermen (the people that need it the most), and the consumers also have full traceability on where the fish is coming from, and that it is what it says it is.”

Seafood Souq’s work with fishermen in Oman and other emerging markets like it have also allowed the startup -whose offerings are now used in 25 countries around the world- to explore a new avenue for business that is centered on filling the trade financing gap that currently exists in the seafood industry. “Buyers in more developed markets ask for payment terms, and they basically want to only pay when they see the product and so forthbut fishermen in emerging markets, they need cash today,” Al Qasimi explains.

“Seafood Souq Pay (SFS Pay) is thus the next product that we’re building, which will be a trade financing arm of the business that will fund or provide financing for only sustainable seafood sellers with full visibility in the supply chain.” SFS Pay is therefore set to be the “blue financing” arm of the Seafood Souq enterprise, and Al Qasimi adds that much like all of the company’s other undertakings, this too is aimed at balancing profit with impact in the seafood industry.

“When we’re building SFS Pay, we’re not making any less of a return by funding what is sustainable- all we’re doing is making sure that the value transfer within the system is fair,” he says. “We are ensuring that people who are making use of sustainable practices in emerging markets of the world, who previously couldn’t get access to financing, now get to sell their products on a global scale. For instance, a Bangladeshi prawn farmer that we work with never had the opportunity to have their product end up in a Carrefour supermarket in France- now, they do. And that’s thanks to Seafood Souq- and that, for us, is what impact is.”

Seafood Souq co-founder Fahim Al Qasimi

Impact often requires investment, and Al Qasimi says that he and his team at Seafood Souq have been lucky to rally partners and investors who share the same value systems as they do. While the startup’s initial funding rounds were led by angel investors mostly based in the UAE, Seafood Souq has since received support from investment firms like VentureSouq and Global Ventures, and Al Qasimi reveals that it was recently able to secure Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative Institute as a partner as well. He also adds that the groundwork is also being laid for a $30 million Series B funding round to be launched in the last quarter of this year, which is set to fuel Seafood Souq’s further growth.

“We’re setting up our European and Asian headquarters now, because the business is now large enough to warrant having that global presence,” Al Qasimi says. “And that, for us, is a super exciting step, because a company called Seafood Souq, born out of the UAE, is now operating on a global scale. For me, as an Emirati founder, this is something I am super proud to showcase, not just for this country, but also for the Arab region, in that that you can come up with innovative ideas for the world from here, and not the other way around.” But when I note that Seafood Souq has been relatively quiet about its funding rounds so far, Al Qasimi replies that that’s the case simply because it’s not something he and his team are excited by.

“When you find partners and investors that have the same value systems, that honestly do care on the impact that you’re making, then you’re not excited by how much money you raised,” he says. “You’re also not excited necessarily by how much money you’ve made, but you’re really excited when you find out how much of an impact you’ve created for the world, whether that’s jobs created for Omani fishermen, whether that’s helping solve food security issues for the UAE, whether that’s reducing the carbon cost of the seafood trade in the UAE, or whether that’s ensuring the value transfer of people eating wonderful prawns in Europe is going effectively and efficiently to the Bangladeshi farmers that harvested them. That’s impact.”

Incidentally, this is the mindset that also governs Al Qasimi’s dreams for Seafood Souq in the long term, which includes an initial public offering (IPO) for the startup in a couple of years’ time. “I’ve always wanted to be a tech IPO in the region that ‘keeps the dirham in the room,’ as they say, bolsters our capital markets, and proves that we can have technology in the market cap of our local stock markets,” Al Qasimi says.

“What that will take is continued commitment from our fantastic team and our great investors; above and beyond that, excitement and commitment from investors in the local capital market.” As for Al Qasimi himself, he’s clearly in it for the long haul, and he remains excited about the promise Seafood Souq holds. “You know, when you are passionate about something, when you really care about something, you’re going to stick it out,” he says. “And that is something I’m very excited about, in that Seafood Souq is going to be a story that will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Related: Changing The Narrative: Touch Co-Founders Jean Winter And Jessica Smith Are “Pushing For An Inclusive Paradigm Shift”

Source: Seafood Souq

Ongoing controversies in the seafood sector

Some of the seafood sector’s issues were brought to the mainstream thanks to Ali Tabrizi’s 2021 film, Seaspiracy, which had shed light on the global overfishing problem with some critics claiming it was one-sided. One of the solutions Tabrizi proposed at the end of that documentary was that we either need to reduce the amount of seafood we eat, or replace it with plant-based alternatives, but Seafood Souq’s Fahim Al Qasimi is not too sure if this is a really sustainable resolution to the problem at hand.

“My personal viewpoint on this is that while some people like Ali have suggested eating less seafood and looking for a substitution to it, there is a carbon cost on that, which is why I challenge that hypothesis,” he explains. “Another solution being proposed is lab-grown meats, which people like KBW Ventures’ Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed have been extremely active in investing in, and I commend them for those efforts. But I believe that the problems that we have today in the seafood industry were created by business- and as such, they need to be solved by business as well.”

According to Al Qasimi, the old ethos of ‘you can’t improve what you can’t measure’ is what one needs to keep in mind when talking about problems in the seafood industry, and that, in effect, explains how Seafood Souq’s digitization of this ecosystem -which allows for everything to be traceable and transparent- allows for sustainable harvesting of the world’s oceans. “If Seafood Souq -hypothetically- was adopted in every fishery and fish farm around the world, traded on our platform, or used SFS Trace, we could reach a point where we could aggregate enough data to really understand whether fish has been sustainably caught,” Al Qasimi says. “We’d have data telling us whether the catches have been registered by the environmental agencies or the fishery management organizations of the countries where it happened.”

Related: Get In The Zone: DUQE Free Zone Aims To Be The New Home For Disruptors In Dubai

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“I would describe the early days of the company, knowing what I know now, as a HOT mess! I had eyes bigger than my belly, so I would say yes to everything and work it out later. My solution to being too busy was to hire people like me, which was a BIG mistake”

Kiani Mills

At age 35, Kiani Mills is the co-founder of Edwards Mills, a buyers advocacy company, as well as the creator of Imperiale, a real estate conveyancing firm which she co-founded in 2021 with MAFS graduate Jake Edwards.

But getting to the top of the ladder wasn’t easy. Kiani, one of six children born and raised in Frankston, lacked structure as a child and teen.

After leaving school to pursue a career in law, she landed a job as a legal trainee when she was 18 earning $14,000/year. She commuted daily from Frankston, eating sausage rolls from 7/11 on the train, as that was all her budget would allow. 

She was promoted to a Paralegal in the property law department, and that’s where she fell in love with conveyancing. Kiani spent the next few years raising her son, pursuing her passion for property law and conveyancing as a Paralegal, paying expenses, and managing her personal life. 

However, despite working the whole three months of her maternity leave while caring for a newborn and a toddler, she returned to work only to be told she no longer had a job.

“Working in a law firm under the protection of 15 lawyers doesn’t set you up to run a new business. However, I did it anyway and loved (and hated) every minute of it,” Kiani recalls.

Kiani started her conveyancing business out of her house, set up on her kitchen bench, having clients come over for a cup of tea whilst she printed their documents on her $100 printer. 

“From there, six months passed, and myself and my first employee moved into our Collins St Office, in the Paris end, I was very proud. Here we gained two more staff, then moved to Level 10, 525 Flinders St, with a perfect glass office overlooking the Yarra River and Nobu at Crown Casino. 

“The real-life version of Suits! We grew to six before moving to our long-term home leasing at 70 Bridport St, Albert Park. Having a whole building not even two years into running a new business was surreal and brought new challenges and triumphs.

“We opened further offices in Mornington, Glen Waverley, Ballarat and Port Melbourne, adopting the digital world of PEXA and deeming ourselves a paperless office… We were up to 9 staff, a BDM and myself before the global pandemic decided to pounce whilst I was mid-holiday in Bali… Lucky for us, we escaped in the nick of time and got on the last plane! 

“This saw us close all of our offices and announce to the world that we had gone digital.  This also led to the launch into Queensland and NSW, with Queensland taking off instantly thanks to a couple of big referral partners.

“This financial year has seen us with 56 per cent growth in profit and exceeding our expected targets and milestones. However, as they say, it isn’t all roses and rainbows. There have been massive hurdles to jump, trials and tribulations and painful moments where the thought of giving up crept in. I am and always will be fighting the silent battle in business and wondering, ‘will this all be taken away. 

“This lights the fire inside of me, which gives me drive and commitment to myself, my family, my staff and the whole Imperiale family, our clients and referral partners. I do it every day because I want to, but more importantly, I get to. I am privileged to be in this position where I get to help, give back, and run a business the way I do.”

The beginning

Kiani remembers the company’s early years as being complete chaos.

“Well… I would describe the company’s early days, knowing what I know now, as a hot mess! I had eyes bigger than my belly, so I would say yes to everything and work it out later, or just work later. My solution to being too busy was to hire people like me, which was a BIG mistake. People like me had the social skills but didn’t have the work dedication skills to keep them at their desks.” 

Kiani notes that getting into real estate was a by-product of property law. Until she left working in Law Firms, she wasn’t really aware of how much of an influence the Real Estate Industry had as she wasn’t exposed to that world until she left the big city. Then very quickly, Real Estate became her passion/obsession. 

“The personable nature of it, the fluctuation in the market, every day was different, different values, interest rates, people, rules, everything. It was a wonder to me, and I fell deeply in love with it. 

“There is still a lot of an ‘a grey area’ in the Real Estate industry, which baffles me at times; however, for the most part, it is exciting and does sit in line with my desire to help others make their dreams come true, and this just happens to be a very sought after vehicle. So hence starting a Conveyancing company was a no-brainer for me. I had the skills to be forged in an industry that I loved.

“We were never short on clients, which was a relief; however, as most small business owners, I was wearing every hat, controlling the flow of everything and still trying to do most things myself, even though I had support. 

“Starry-eyed but determined, I loved the challenge, the fast pace, the thrill of it all. Help as many people as possible, say yes and deliver, even if it meant sacrificing time with the kids, eating and/or sleeping!” 

Why we need conveyancers like Impériale

Impériale Conveyancing is a professional property concierge and advisor who connects the dots for individuals at every stage of the property journey.

Kiani explains that the most common mistake she finds, even with Google, is that consumers do not have their Contract of Sale examined before signing. She also notes that so many things could be wrong with a property/contract, and Solicitors/Conveyancers provide this service for free. 

Conveyancers provide knowledgeable advice and personalised service when buying, selling, subdividing, transferring, or developing real estate. They also produce and manage all necessary paperwork throughout the transaction.

She encourages everyone to use this service. “Another issue is that people bid at auctions when they shouldn’t or don’t fully comprehend the implications of doing so. Buying at auction has stringent guidelines, and it is not for everyone,” she adds.

“Finally, not doing thorough due diligence into the local area, planning approvals, etc., you can find most things on the internet or with a quick call to Council, so please don’t assume all is rosy. 

“There may be a Department of Housing Development pinned to be built across the street, a giant freeway earmarked to be built, you may be within an ineligible zoning area, and your lender will not accept. Please google the heck out of any property you look at and be smart.” 

“I believe that the easiest way to make Real Estate a fairer game is for all buyers to utilise the resources of a Buyers Advocate. Sellers can allow a professional to manage the game to ensure the best result. I strongly believe having the buyer represented by a professional also means it is a LOT more of a fair game. 

“Buyers really are at a disadvantage. I started Edwards & Mills Buyers Advocacy with my business partner Jake Edwards to help assist my clients and give them a leg up in the buying game.

“Understanding the value of a good buyer’s advocate can be the difference in winning at auction, finding out about an off-market, savings 6 months of your life from weekend inspections, saving you money, and peace of mind that the due diligence has been completed correctly.” 

‘Imperiale’ is the feminine equivalent of ’empire’, as Kiani’s mission is not just to establish her own business but also to assist others in building theirs.

Learn more about Imperiale Conveyancing at https://imperiale.com.au/

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Few things are better for than heading an that’s always at the cutting edge of innovation. Being responsible for a breakthrough won’t just mean more revenue by selling the innovative product or service you’re offering — it will also cement you as a thought leader in the eyes of your customers. When you think of innovative phones, don’t you think of ?

Yet, innovation isn’t just about a company’s products and services. It’s about what’s going on internally behind the scenes, which arguably lies at the heart of everything else.

Related: 4 Ways to Drive Internal Innovation and Unleash Employees’ Entrepreneurial Side

Why internal innovation matters

You probably don’t need us to tell you why innovation matters. According to the Boston Consulting Group in 2015, 79% of respondents thought innovation was one of their three biggest priorities. Likewise, a 2014 survey of 500 senior leaders by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that 94% of organizations believe innovation is crucial for success. Yet, although 77% of these firms were trying to improve innovation, just 14% felt they were achieving success.

Often, companies put too much focus on making changes to their products or services, which are sources of external innovation. But what about internal innovation, which can be defined as changes made within an organization (e.g., adapting the hierarchical structure)? It’s often overlooked.

Both types of innovation can help companies grow, avoid getting behind the times, and carve out a niche. However, internal innovation can be a more affordable and accessible solution since changes with more long-lasting changes. Once the people in a have the tools they need to succeed, you free them up to create breakthrough after breakthrough.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff. Innovation is all about taking action, so here are four of the best ways to drive it forward:

1. Create a culture of experimentation

By definition, innovation involves trying new things that may not have much precedence. But when you do something for the first time, there’s a significant chance of you getting it wrong or failing. Combine this with an organizational structure where individuals are trying to climb the ladder by succeeding consistently, and the natural result is that most people will shy away from innovation in the fear it will hinder rather than help them. It’s the responsibility of leaders to create a culture where the opposite happens, and everyone in an organization feels actively encouraged to experiment.

One way you can do this is leading by example. If the leaders in a company share their attempts and failures explicitly, it makes it clearer that trying and failing is accepted as normal in the organization. You can also make an effort to celebrate small successes along the way if they involve experimentation.

Related: Creating a Culture of Innovation Starts With the Leader

2. Use data to detect inefficiencies

Innovation typically involves finding something that isn’t working, then implementing a solution. What’s the most foolproof way to identify these problems? Data.

Collect data on your current processes, such as what happens in your meetings, how long different processes take, or what exactly different team members spend their time doing. Are there any areas that stand out as being particularly inefficient? If so, figure out how to address them.

Naturally, this analysis will involve some degree of data literacy, so you may need to train your team for the best results.

3. Encourage bottom-up ideas

When we hear about a huge innovation that’s taken place in a company, we usually imagine the CEO or other executives are responsible, and they’re often the people shown on billboards. In reality, though, the people who are best at coming up with solutions are those who are the most familiar with the problems — and that can mean low-level employees.

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t provide any kind of opportunity for these people to share their ideas, never mind making them feel valued when they do so.

Once again, leaders have the responsibility for creating the kind of culture that encourages this. Why not make it part of your standard business meetings to leave some time at the end for people to give their own suggestions? You could also consider some kind of always-open form online for people to leave their ideas to be discussed in the next meeting.

Related: 9 Ways Your Company Can Encourage Innovation

4. Don’t be afraid of new technologies

When you’re familiar with a technology and can’t imagine life without it, looking at someone who refuses to use it is painful. Imagine speaking to someone from the year 1990 who was reluctant to use Excel and favored pen and paper — you’d almost certainly feel frustrated. Yet, when we’re on the other end of the change and are faced with a technology we don’t understand, it’s tempting to run.

On an organizational level, this can feel particularly daunting, since adopting new technologies could result in weeks of disruption as staff are trained and new equipment is installed. But ultimately, embracing technology will prevent you from getting left behind.

And on another note: If individuals in your organization feel scared of the new technology, be patient with them. They may be technophobic, especially if they’re not in a technology-centric position. Do you need to provide extra training?

Innovation is yours for the taking. No two organizations are exactly the same, so you may have to adapt the four strategies above to your unique circumstances. However, one cornerstone principle remains: We’re better off embracing change than shying away, and your organizational structure is the perfect means to do exactly that.

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Innovation isn’t pulled out of thin air; instead, it’s born when independent thought meets considered collaboration during the brainstorming process. A good group brainstorming session can help you start working on the business, not just in it. This gives you the opportunity to consider how you can help your company operate better, faster and cheaper than the competition.

Related: 4 Ways Market Leaders Use Innovation to Foster Business Growth

Developing ideas is essential to improving company operations, so you need to consider how to promote innovation in a team environment. Often, when business leaders picture a brainstorming session, they envision a room full of colleagues shouting ideas and writing them on a whiteboard. In these scenarios, typically, the loudest get heard, and the most popular ideas are agreed upon with little to no regard for the measured impact. Authors with McKinsey recently wrote about a similar situation with a large U.S. cosmetics company.

When it comes to workplace interactions, such as brainstorming sessions, employees often feel that they need to conform. According to a five-part model created by Paul Nail, Geoff MacDonald and David Levy, people conform to avoid rejection and conflict, accomplish group goals or establish their own identity. In other words, why would someone disagree with their boss if it would put their own authority at risk? If you want to find and refine valuable ideas, you’ll need to adopt more productive brainstorming methods.

Rethinking your brainstorming

To better identify opportunities for innovation (and avoid moving forward with an idea that could harm your business), you need to start structuring your brainstorming sessions differently.

First, set a general topic and have your team begin developing ideas individually on their own sticky notes. Then, have everyone put their sticky notes on the board and briefly explain their thoughts. Try to group similar ideas to get a better sense of what themes are developing. Next, allow the group to vote on which ideas are strongest. If you can, vote using a digital option. Many interfaces hide voting results until all votes are in, helping to remove bias.

Just because one idea has the most votes doesn’t mean it should be your company’s top priority. This is where making an old-fashioned pros and cons list can be helpful. Ask everyone in the room what they feel would be the positives and challenges of the idea. This gives underrepresented departments the opportunity to express concerns that the rest of the group may not have considered. These groups should have a voice throughout the entire idea evaluation process.

Outside of a pros and cons list, a few other indicators can reveal whether you have a good idea on your hands. For starters, if the idea has collective backing across teams through the initial voting process and ongoing dialogue, you likely have something impactful. Additionally, you need to consider the value-to-effort ratio. Ideas with a high value-to-effort ratio are more likely to survive the vetting stages, while more complex initiatives will take more rigor to vet. Most importantly, does this idea align with your company’s core values? Consider the ways it gives you a competitive advantage. Does this evoke excitement, or does it feel foreign?

Related: Brainstorm Anywhere with This Reusable Scanning Whiteboard

Assessing, refining and implementing ideas

Brainstorming can feel like a tidal wave of creativity, but assessing and refining ideas that come from those sessions takes time. Use the following steps throughout the idea evaluation process to identify which ones work best for your organization.

1. Define the innovation goal

Often, when people think of innovation, their minds jump to the development of new products using the latest technologies. However, new products are only a small piece of the full innovation picture.

Instead of thinking only about your company’s next hot item, consider the Ten Types of Innovation framework. This model explores three main areas of innovation in your business: configuration, offering and experience. By considering each area and how your company might improve across them through better processes and tools, you can avoid the pitfalls of chasing new technology.

2. Ideate and investigate

Not every idea is a golden ticket, so it’s important to generate multiple concepts for possible innovation in your desired space. Moreover, you should refine these concepts and ultimately investigate them with some rigor before making substantial investments.

Consider frameworks such as the innovation funnel to create and screen ideas inspiring innovation. You can use the funnel to prioritize and evaluate the best ideas, shrinking the overall number of innovations and creating the funnel-like shape.

About 80 percent of projects should die during the discovery phase. As you make your way down the funnel, another 80 percent should die during the validation phase. This rule isn’t absolute, but it keeps your idea portfolio from getting bogged down with less-than-stellar innovations.

3. Test your ideas

Testing innovation ideas that make it past the ideation stage can help you determine whether they’re worth pursuing. As you begin outlining the test, spend time identifying your key metrics so you know how to measure results.

Your test can take many forms depending on what you are looking to validate, but the core objective is to build a lightweight way of verifying your assumptions. As a consumer, you are subject to this all the time as providers A/B test their webpages, ads and even packaging.

When it comes to internal innovation, consider specific employees to whom you can roll out a new process before pursuing wider adoption or low-code ways to validate potential software rollouts ahead of investing time and money in custom solutions.

Related: 3 Ways to Be Technologically Innovative on a Budget

If you want your business to continue pushing toward a better model, promoting business innovation is key. However, not all ideas will work for your company, and that’s OK. Learning how to run a brainstorming session and evaluate business ideas will bring your company one step closer to executing truly impactful innovation.

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While Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, he was passionate and vocal in his dislike for jazz. He was famously quoted for saying the music sounded better when it was played backward. Ironically, it was his most-prized invention, the phonograph, that enabled the newly-created musical art form to reach a wide audience quickly. The anomaly of contradiction continues to grow as there is now a coveted Dutch music award known as the ‘Edison Award’ that acknowledges personal contribution and advances in music. Many of the recipients have been significant contributors to Jazz.

Edison ignored the musical art form by not considering that Jazz might have any beneficial contribution at all. A very powerful and well-known man at the time, Edison used his power to shame anyone who might consider Jazz music by mocking the music and saying it sounded better by being played backward. As with most disruptive innovations, even the force of disapproval from someone influential like Thomas Edison could not squash the momentum that was being built as musicians filled with hope and possibility began to explore and experiment.

Related: Listen to Music All Day, Get More Done

While not directly regulated, Jazz was subject to the regulation of prohibition. Jazz flourished in Speakeasies where people congregated in the underground to drink alcohol, profess their anger against the establishment and dance. In this free and alcohol-influenced environment, Jazz musicians were not constrained by “official” culture from exploring and experimenting. The guitarist could lead, a flute could be played and themes were toyed with as what would become a renowned American art form evolved.

Edison’s refusal to entertain or even spend a moment considering that Jazz might be a viable musical art form is a clear example of two of the three of the worst responses to change: ignoring, shaming and regulating. The same process occurs when a new or innovative idea is introduced in the workplace. The best of us will fall into the dangerous ignoring, shaming and in the most extreme cases, wonder where the regulation is to contain the emerging chaos. 

I am reluctant to admit that sometimes I am not a fan of the new music I am hearing, but I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is somewhat bothered by it. The same goes for the workplace. There is often an extreme resistance to new ideas that don’t come from the senior leadership team, and of course, there is equal resistance to ideas that do come from them. When all employees ⁠— without reference to title or power ⁠— can’t explore new ideas, the business always suffers. After all, the organization is leaving the untapped potential of the people closest to the work stagnant.

Related: When Keith Jarrett Played on a Very Broken Piano…and Then Sold 3.5 Million Albums?

The danger of ignoring, shaming and over-regulating

Unfortunately, when ideas become mainstream and mature, they can suffer the same barriers they initially overcame. Ignoring, shaming and over-regulating is dangerous to the future of any organization because they distract employees, leaders and investors from understanding and embracing innovation.

To stay relevant, we must meet challenges, trends and new realities head-on, no matter how uncomfortable they might make us or how skeptical we are. If you find yourself embracing any of the debilitating three qualities that squelch innovation, challenge yourself to embrace a new idea or concept. Evaluate the idea through a balanced lens considering what could happen, versus creating barriers to protect the current system. There is no risk in exploring ideas.

The world is small and accessible, and available knowledge is limitless. Our business ecosystems ⁠—which include our suppliers, partners, employees, customers and surrounding community ⁠— contain unlimited resources that are available if we are willing to look beyond false barriers and become open to using what is readily available. Title and hierarchy are not important when creating and innovating. Ideas can come from the top, the bottom and the middle.

We all have to be ready when the spotlight shines on us. The guitarist or the drummer may lead in a jazz ensemble, and when the light shines on them they know it’s their turn to shine and show what they have. The music they create at that moment will be unique to them and never repeated in quite the same way.

Miles Davis said, “Time isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing.” Time is our only resource. We have more freedom and flexibility in the workplace than ever. We cannot even imagine what is possible with individual contribution and boundless collaboration. Alternatively, we will never know what we could have contributed individually if we don’t fully show up and use the time and resources we have to the fullest extent.

Related: How Software Teams Can Learn to Make Beautiful Music Together

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Fifteen years ago, I had an idea that took hold. Over the course of several sleepless nights, this seedling blossomed into a fully-fledged concept for a product I wanted to build. As an experienced software engineer, I’d never considered myself a creative — much less an entrepreneur. But for some mysterious reason, the energy and confidence I had in my idea let me see possibilities rather than dead ends.

That’s the power of innovating.

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Innovation is the key to a successful business, but it shouldn’t be the responsibility of a specific individual or group. Every team member has the potential to become an entrepreneur, after all, and it’s up to their employers to fuel this ambition. The payoff of this startup mindset will almost inevitably be new products and services that drive incremental revenue, and can even disrupt an entire industry, as well as an enhanced company culture.

This requires, however, offering the space and time for teams and individuals to innovate, along with an environment in which they’re free to fail as well as succeed. Here are four ways businesses can create it:

1. Hire lifelong learners

A culture of invention starts with the hiring process. Organizations should look to hire individuals who not only excel in skills that will directly impact their success in a specific role, but who also have an inherent desire to learn and grow. So, ask questions beyond the norm, such as,  “What have you recently learned that’s outside of your day-to-day work?” or “What is your favorite podcast?” These give insight into level of curiosity and the drive to absorb new information, and can help you understand what they’re passionate about beyond what they do professionally.

2. Encourage the sharing of new ideas 

Team members need a platform to share thoughts with the wider organization, otherwise they’ll keep potentially valuable contributions to themselves. And even if an offered idea isn’t “the one”, it can still set off a search journey for another one that is.

Company leaders can encourage a regular stream of insights through weekly brainstorms, an ongoing email thread or even a Slack channel. And while some staff members might be eager to share them with a larger group, others may respond better to one-on-ones, so it’s important to cater to what works for each individual. For example, at my company we established The Innovation Fund and Lab, which allows internal inventors to experiment, to develop ideas beyond our core products, without the need to generate immediate revenue.

Related: 4 Ways You Can Create a Culture of Ownership

3. Create a workplace that people love

A space where people work in an environment without judgement or fear is one where innovation thrives. One way to create that is to build bonds among employees through activities both inside and out of the office, such as eating together or playing a game of pool. These moments can also occur remotely with virtual happy hours and game nights. Another way of building connections is by integrating personal conversations into meetings. At the beginning of one, each team member could, for example, share a personal note with the team, which could be about weekend plans, or simply that they cooked a new meal for dinner.

Another part of creating a place where people love to work is making sure employees are recognized when they do good work. They’ll not only feel appreciated, but gain confidence in their role, which will inspire them to work (and innovate) even harder. 

 4. Offer innovation autonomy

Invention is often born out of giving people the freedom to reach a goal on their own; when they are given a problem with little to no direction on how to solve it, I’ve found that they come up with innovative solutions. And what they discover along the way might inspire new processes or products. 

Company-led events like hackathons also provide employees with an opportunity to push the envelope and innovate, either by themselves or with a team. Even if this turns out to be a time for them to focus on passion projects of their own, it might also get them thinking creatively about ways to approach internal issues, which turns into company-focused innovation.

Related: If You Want More Lasting Creativity on Your Team, You Need to Rethink Your Approach

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Every businessperson understands that innovation is essential. In commercial real estate, however, this principle is especially true. Since early 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic rocked the commercial real estate world, professionals in the industry came up with innovative ideas for not only surviving, but thriving. That kind of cutting-edge innovation will become more and more necessary in the future of the industry.

Real-estate professionals who want to thrive in the long term will have to become the most innovative in their field. Each year, the need for innovation only grows stronger. Luckily, the commercial real estate industry is capable of keeping up.

Sustainability needs will increase every year

As climate change causes harsher weather and the world races to become more and more sustainable, the commercial real estate industry will have to do its part. Both investors and tenants will be looking for companies with strong sustainability metrics.

Real-estate professionals will also need to find ways to keep up with new sustainability initiatives to remain profitable. A 2020 study found 40 percent of real-estate professionals saw increasing demand for sustainability among tenants, while 47 percent had seen increasing sustainability demand among investors.

As advancements in sustainability technology improve, real-estate professionals are likely to lose both investors and tenants to their competitors if they can’t quickly implement the latest tech.

Additionally, the requirements for sustainability may increase over time. Many U.S. states have implemented laws requiring commercial buildings to meet certain standards. California passed a law requiring new buildings to operate through solar power.

If you’re operating an older building that does not use solar power, you’ll soon be competing with solar-powered buildings, as consumer trends suggest that tenants will be more likely to choose the solar-powered options.

Other sustainability initiatives require companies to pay large fines if they do not meet certain standards. Failure to keep up with these standards could have a huge impact on the profitability of your investment. As the world’s goals for sustainability become more and more ambitious, real-estate professionals will have to become ambitious as well.

Related: Build Sustainability Around Your People, Not Just Your Office

The cultural shifts from the pandemic require

A 2020 report from commercial real estate company JLL found four main factors are impacting the change in need for office space: remote work, office design, commuting patterns and technology.

Many people expected remote work to change the commercial real estate industry — however, some of the changes are unexpected. Rather than everyone working at home, many companies are only partially remote. This requires office space to be optimized for video calls. The traditional open floor plan makes video calls more difficult, so office spaces will require more enclosed space than before.

Additionally, there will be greater demand for smaller offices, as companies have fewer employees on site. This allows commercial real estate investors to divide up their buildings and provide smaller spaces to a greater number of tenants.

Commuting patterns are also shifting. During the pandemic, many people moved away from cities and toward more suburban or rural areas. This means there will be more demand for office space in these areas.  Commercial real estate investors should look at less centralized locations for their new investments.

Demand for multi-functional places will require creativity

One of the largest upcoming trends in the commercial real-estate industry is the need for multifunctional buildings. As consumer trends shift, real-estate professionals will have to be creative to create buildings that can operate in many ways.

Coworking spaces will be especially popular as remote work continues, but remote workers will also want to be near others during the workday. It’s not enough to simply call a former traditional office space a coworking space and expect customers to come flocking.

To be profitable, you must take into consideration the interests of workers. They’re looking to be social, but not distracted. Unlike in traditional office spaces, employees don’t have to be in coworking spaces, so your space must be enticing enough that people choose to be.

Successful commercial real estate buildings of the future will likely have the capability for tenants to rent office space, retail stores, yoga studios, salons and any other type of business. Often these buildings may even include residential living. Real-estate investors should look at investing in properties where mixed-use is an option because it will be the most profitable.

Related: The Emerging Trend of Smart Home Technology in Real Estate

Automation technology will be a requirement

Automation technology will continue to advance in the coming years. It’s not enough to adopt technology that is already available and stop paying attention as new technology enters the market. Commercial real estate professionals will have to remain ahead of the curve in adopting new advancements in automation technology to compete.

The most successful real-estate companies to date have implemented new technology before their competitors. As the rate of advancement in technology speeds up, those in the CRE industry should become well-versed in the new tech tools available so they can advertise the upcoming possibilities to customers.

Related: How To Get Started in Passive Real Estate Investing

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