Revealed: Top 10 entrepreneurs in the GCC 2017

For centuries the Gulf region and entrepreneurship have gone hand in hand. We take a look at some of today’s entrepreneurs who are making waves in the business world



Gulf Business has put together a list of the region’s most talented entrepreneurs for our 2017 awards. Our selection is now open to public voting and the winner will walk away with the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Scroll down for more information on all our nominees and to vote for your favourite go to our awards page.


JOY AJLOUNY & IDRISS AL RIFAI – FETCHR

The dynamic duo behind delivery app Fetchr enjoyed a landmark year, having raised $41m in Series B funding to help the country’s expansion into new markets. Billed as the next ‘desert unicorn’ (a Middle Eastern start-up worth $1bn or more), the tech company aims to solve the problem of unlisted addresses in emerging markets by providing a GPS-based delivery service that uses customers’ smartphones to pinpoint their location. With staff numbers growing by 100 per cent so far this year, and a range of new services launched, the co-founders have stated that the company could grow to 50 times bigger than it is today.


GEET BHALLA & DIGVIJAY PRATAP – HOLIDAYME

In a bid to take the hassle out of booking a holiday, tech professionals Geet Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap launched HolidayMe in 2014, helping ease the entire process for travelers within – and to – the region. Investments of more than $11m have helped the online platform to develop its offering, providing users with the option to customise their own holidays with packages or bundle deals, or selecting the most appropriate activities, tours, transport and hotels for them. The website offers 300,000 hotels and 8,000 activities across 300 cities globally, and the company has offices in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and India, with plans to expand across the Middle East.


KATHARINE BUDD & IAN DILLON – NOW MONEY

Finance professionals Katharine Budd and Ian Dillon launched NOW Money – one of a new breed of ‘challenger banks’ that offer smartphone-only banking to people in the region who can’t afford the minimum deposit of Dhs5,000 to open a traditional bank account. With 26 million such people across the GCC, NOW Money’s potential customer base is huge. The mobile banking app offers direct access to a current account, debit card and remittance services, bringing financial inclusion to low income workers and empowerment to the unbanked. Not even two years old, the company has already won numerous titles at some of the region’s leading start-up competitions.


IBRAHIM COLAK & DUNIA OTHMAN – MRUSTA

Over the course of the past four years, Ibrahim Colak and Dunia Othman have changed the face of home services with their company MrUsta. Founded by the duo after a frustrating experience with a faulty air conditioning unit, MrUsta is a platform for finding home service providers. Helping customers find the right people for their various jobs, and giving providers a means of pitching for particular work, the website features around 6,000 tradespeople across 250 categories, with jobs totaling a reported Dhs30m ($8.2m) happening through the portal per year – growing at 20 per cent per month.


QAIS AL KHONJI – QAIS UNITED ENTERPRISE TRADING / GENESIS INTERNATIONAL

Omani businessman Qais Al Khonji has been a central figure in the sultanate’s entrepreneurial scene for several years. He launched his first company Qais United Enterprises Trading in 2010, followed by IT solutions firm Genesis International in 2012. A year later he established an enhanced oil recovery business, Genesis Projects and Investments ¬LLC – EOR Lab Services. Working across fields including energy, smart technology, medical education and trading, Al Khonji also gives fellow entrepreneurs the benefit of his experience, helping Omani citizens set up their own start-ups. The businessman is also an angel investor, has represented his country as part of a team discussing Indian-Omani business relations, and helped introduce entrepreneurship into the country’s schools.


HUDA KATTAN – HUDA BEAUTY

With almost 21 million Instagram followers, and the title of the world’s most influential beauty blogger, Huda Kattan is a force to be reckoned with. The social media star started blogging in 2010 and has since built a beauty empire that not only attracts vast numbers of fans to her online tutorials, but has spawned a makeup line that is sold in Sephora, where it is one of the store’s biggest sellers and favoured by the likes of Kim Kardashian. So popular is the Dubai-based businesswoman that she was forced to cancel at appearance at Dubai Mall when huge crowds gathering some five hours before the event created a major security risk.


BONG GUERRERO & RAMZI NAKAD – FASHION FORWARD DUBAI

After launching successful events marketing agency Brag in 2009, Bong Guerrero and Ramzi Nakad saw a gap in Dubai’s emerging local fashion scene, and moved to fill it. The resulting Fashion Forward Dubai has become one of the most anticipated events in the emirate’s – and the region’s – calendar, bringing together all aspects of the local fashion industry and showcasing the best emerging regional designers since 2013. Held bi-annually, Fashion Forward Dubai features runway shows, presentations, seminars, panel discussions and more – helping to build Dubai as the couture capital of the Middle East, and put the region’s talent in front of a global audience.


HELEN MCGUIRE – HOPSCOTCH.AE

Helen McGuire launched Hopscotch.ae in April 2016 when she was seven months pregnant with her second child. Her aim was to create a regional first: a platform that would source flexible work, free training and career support for professional women – specifically those who have children or family commitments. A year in, the company has placed and trained more than 400 women, worked with more than 65 global brands, hosted its own Women’s Empowerment Conference, and partnered at numerous events – some of which McGuire has spoken at. The founder has also been invited by the United Nations to join the UN Global Compact Taskforce in Dubai.


JON RICHARDS – COMPAREIT4ME

Comparison site compareit4me.com has gone from strength to strength this year, led by its charismatic co-founder and CEO Jon Richards. Another successful fundraising round in may added $3.5m to the $5.5m investment it had already raised since launching in 2011, and according to reports, the website has seen organic traffic rise by more than 400 per cent since the start of 2015. This year’s revenue is also expected to be more than double that of 2016, and the company also hopes to close a Series B round of funding worth $10m soon.


NAYLA AL KHAJA – D-SEVEN / THE SCENE

The prominent film director, screenwriter and producer has long been an advocate for the UAE’s cinema industry, founding film and television production company D-Seven Motion Pictures, and launching Dubai’s first film club, The Scene. Since 2005, D-Seven has worked with global brands including Samsung, BMW, Nike, Nivea, Vogue, and others, while The Scene – launched two years later – has gone from strength to strength. This year it secured a partnership with Roxy Cinemas to show the independent movies from across the world, and introduced Made in the UAE – a film production series offering insights, tips, tricks and hacks to locally-based filmmakers and actors. Both initiatives aim to boost the UAE’s nascent but growing film industry.

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