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Zayed University’s Award-Winning Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center is Transforming Young Student Entrepreneurs within the University and Throughout the UAE into Successful Business Owners

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“The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center is able to “graduate” students by providing a free business license in addition to receiving advanced go-to-market and/or operations training for running their businesses.”

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Zayed University was established in 2018 to promote Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the University and throughout the UAE. The Center provides a great deal of resources and opportunities for its student entrepreneurs along with the best possible tools and intangible resources to help them attain success. It is an agent of transformation supporting innovative student ideas and translating them into action, growing businesses from idea to profitability.

A Flashback on How the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center Came into Force

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder of the United Arab Emirates, had a vision of educational equality and the development of future generations of women with the expectation of excellence and civic responsibility as the core foundation of any society. As he once said, “A country’s greatest investment lies in building generations of educated and knowledgeable youth.”

With this vision, Zayed University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center was created to help its students reach their full potential. Since its founding, the Center has strived to build and develop the country’s economic foundation through innovation and entrepreneurship. It further aims to provide more opportunities for its students’ personal and professional development while also developing the country’s economy by creating more job opportunities.

Grooming the Student Entrepreneurs of the Region

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center prepares qualified students in an innovative and supportive educational environment who demonstrate academic excellence, entrepreneurial spirit and leadership qualities, helping them develop independence, confidence, and decision-making abilities.

Additionally, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center focuses on Social Innovation. This taps into the use of business as an agent of positive benefit for societies and the environment. This focus is the leading source of success and sustainability for young startups. As such, the Center creates an ecosystem of learning that uses sustainability as a source for innovative business ideas and students’ visions and passion as inspiration for the good they want to do in the world.

On top of the above, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center also provides professional management and administration training for the community with its partner—Truvian Partners. Through an exclusive licensing agreement, Truvian has access to The Ken Blanchard Institute suite of executive training programs whereby the Center provides marketing and logistic solutions for their implementation, further improving the innovation and economic development of the country. This program is open to executives, new and seasoned managers as well as University alumni.

Exceptional Programs Offered to Budding Entrepreneurs

The flagship program of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center called the “Founders” offers students the opportunity to create a business from idea to funding in as little as 6 months. The Founders focuses on building strengths and driving factors for success rather than focusing on learning from failure as most programs do. Thus, this innovative program accelerates the business development process while also developing the entrepreneur as a person. As an add-on to the Founders, a program called the “Advisors” provides one-on-one mentorship for each entrepreneur through a matching program. The Center asks Advisors for their areas of expertise and matches them with the needs of each Entrepreneur. In this way, they can start the mentor/mentee relationship knowing exactly where to begin from the first interaction.

Another great opportunity the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center provides is a “pitch night” at the end of each Founders cohort. The pitch night is an opportunity for the student entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to a “room” full of potential partners and investors. This is meant to be one big push for early-stage seed funders. The Center solicits the investors on their behalf and then facilitates the meeting and negotiations afterward. In addition, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center participates in a Demo Day competition through the Dubai Future Foundation that is limited to just 12 Universities. This event grants winners with up to 50,000 AED provided by the Mohammed bin Rashed Innovation Fund. In the first competition, one of the Center’s incubated companies won one of 5 awards granted.

A feather to its cap is the creation of an on-campus licensed incubator. Through this, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center is able to “graduate” students by providing a free business license in addition to receiving advanced go-to-market and/or operations training for running their businesses. This is only for advanced companies and is provided at a discount fee. The state-of-the-art incubator space includes private access, video conferencing capabilities, meeting room access, advanced training through partners, storage space, and a phone line all included in a lower than market price plus free internet access and utilities.

Driving Innovation and Entrepreneurship through World-Class Technology

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center provides many resources and opportunities for its student entrepreneurs by adopting advanced technology whenever possible. It has implemented a four-panel touch screen at its entrance and installed new software provided by Panoscape (http://www.PanoScape.com) based in Chicago, IL. It is an advanced touchscreen software that allows multiple options in the same package, including profiles, quizzes, website access, 4000K videos on single or multiple panels, integrated content between panels, information sharing, recruitment, and even more. The University privileges itself to be the first organization in the entire Middle East to adopt this technology.

In addition to Panoscape, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center has installed interactive screens in every workshop room with Virtual Conferencing capabilities that provide hybrid in-person and virtual workshops. The use of this technology will be starting this fall with the launch of an international program with a University in the US. Each breakout space has a mobile screen so that students can collaborate when in conference setup and can be moved for a larger multi-use space. All of its incubator offices have a private VC and collaboration capable screen so that companies have their own screens included in their package. Each interactive screen uses Cisco Webex for VC and Oblong software (www.oblong.com), advanced interactive software for live screen manipulation that can be used as a digital whiteboard, camera, and computer software platform all in one.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center’s Collaboration with the UAE Government

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center has an agreement with several Government agencies and collaborates with several others. The Center is the founding member of the Dubai Future Foundation’s University Entrepreneurship Program. This program has been implemented in 12 Universities and provides tools for developing student entrepreneurs. Additionally, the Center has an agreement with the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprises, locally known as DubaiSME, a division of the Dubai Department of Economic Development. This agreement provides its incubator a license to act as a satellite location, allowing the University to issue business licenses directly to its students.

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center also collaborates with several other government agencies, such as the Khalifa Fund in Abu Dhabi. Recently, the Center sent one of its students to them to get hands-on training specific to her business. Here, she was introduced to a large local company, which was impressed by her novel and innovative idea and fully funded it while allowing her to use their facilities for product development.

Currently, the Center is seeking official agreements with divisions of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development and works on several projects, locally and internationally, through the Ministry of Education.

The Visionary Leader at the Helm of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center

Dr. Wasseem Abaza is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Zayed University and the Director of the University’s Award-Winning Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center where he manages the University’s initiatives and programming related to Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship as well as coaching entrepreneurs on strategic business development. He also serves as the University’s representative to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and was the chair for the 2018 Annual PRME Conference for the Middle East and Africa Chapter.

He has provided various consulting services on Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation and Positive Organizational Development for SME’s and organizations such as the Dubai Police, Emirates Foundation, Kuwait University and the Al Ahli Holding Group among others. Additionally, he worked directly with the Dubai Executive Office and the Dubai Future Foundation to develop the University Entrepreneurship Program currently operating in 12 Universities.

In 2019, Dr. Abaza was voted one of the Top 100 Leaders in Education by the Global Forum for Education and Learning. He holds a Doctorate degree in Organizational Development from Case Western Reserve University where he studied Strategy and Sustainability and became a certified practitioner and researcher in the Appreciative Inquiry methodology for Organizational Development and Change. He holds a master’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Toledo. Additionally, he operated two successful businesses in the US over the course of 17 years and continues to start new businesses while also an Angel Investor.

“Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center seeks to be an agent of transformation, supporting innovative student ideas and translating them into action by emphasizing their potential impact on society and connecting youth with community expertise to grow their businesses from idea to profitability."