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Sheraa and Alef Group announce winners of Access Sharjah Challenge spotlighting two innovative entrepreneurial ideas in retail & F&B

Held in the presence of Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sheraa; and HE Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Sheraa and Alef Group announce winners of Access Sharjah Challenge spotlighting two innovative entrepreneurial ideas in retail & F&B  

 The competition, jointly held with UAE property developer Alef Group and Ministry of Culture and Youth had its winners announced at Sheraa’s Ramadan Majlis

  • Sheraa and Alef Group’s Access Sharjah Challenge ‘Al Mamsha’ competition honours winners, turning the spotlight on unique concepts in retail and F&B 
  • Insightful panel discussion on the future of F&B and retail experiences led by Issa Ataya, CEO of Alef Group; and Mouza Al Abbar, CEO, Alabbar Enterprises.
  • Sheraa marks the end of the first year of its Sharjah Startup Studio (S3) programme, showcasing the success stories of the debut edition’s graduates. 

For immediate release
Sharjah, April 26, 2022

In an exciting finale to the fourth iteration of the Access Sharjah Challenge-Al Mamsha organised by Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) and Alef Group, Ahmad Kassem’s ‘Frappy’ café and Yuliya Sukhanova and Gulnar Tyndybaeva’s ‘Nature Hedonist’ clothing grabbed top prizes from among the competition’s 13 finalists.

The awards were announced in the presence of Bodour Al Qasimi, Sheraa Chairperson; HE Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs; HE Mubarak Al Nakhi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Youth; Issa Ataya, CEO, Alef Group; and Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa, at a lively Ramadan Majlis yesterday. The event also celebrated Sheraa’s special milestones in successfully inspiring entrepreneurial innovation in Sharjah and the UAE and deliberated on future strategies to continue mentoring innovative startups in a diversity of sectors.   

Entrepreneurship, a journey of faith

Describing the holy month as a yearly opportunity to make meaningful changes, Bodour Al Qasimi congratulated the winners of the Access Sharjah Challenge for believing in their ideas and courageously undertaking entrepreneurial journeys of solitude into an unknown future.  

Bodour Al Qasimi further described entrepreneurship as “a journey of faith”, adding that the Sheraa Ramadan Majlis brought entrepreneurs a fresh chance to read, reflect, think and learn, and find strength to go with what they truly believe in.  

An insightful take from HE Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi on the future of entrepreneurship came next. “The value of the SMEs sector to our economy cannot be overstated. With 94 percent of the national economy being represented by startups, the sector forms the cornerstone of economic growth and diversity. Going forward, our leadership’s goal for this sector is to contribute over 65 percent to our gross non-oil economy”, the minister told the event’s attendees including leading government and private sector ecosystem players, startups, and Sheraa alumni.

“However, venture-building dreams can only be realised with sufficient access to mentorship, a supportive growth environment and funding, which makes the role of entities like Sheraa critical to not only building and empowering successive generations of entrepreneurs in the UAE, but also to reinforcing the nation’s position as a strong, globally-connected startup hub”, he added.

Ambitions of young entrepreneurs celebrated on the Sheraa stage

Jointly launched earlier in January by Sheraa and Alef Group and held in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, the current edition of Access Sharjah Challenge, titled ‘Al Mamsha’, is a pitching competition to empower innovative entrepreneurs invested in accelerating the development of Sharjah’s and the GCC’s fast-growing food and beverage (F&B) and retail sectors.

While Frappy (Fresh + Happy), dedicated to serving colourful global cuisine in a cheerful atmosphere, won its creator AED 100K along with a rent-free unit in Al Mamsha for a year, Nature Hedonist brought its two founders a AED  25K cash prize, along with a rent-free booth in Sharjah’s Zero6 Mall by Alef Group for a year. Through capsule collections, Nature Hedonist’s founders seek to encourage sustainable and soulful daily wear.

All winners will receive turnkey fit-out services in their retail setups from Alef Group along with setup support from Sheraa.

Congratulating the winners, Mubarak Al Nakhi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Youth, said: “Innovation and entrepreneurship are at the heart of the UAE’s cultural and creative industries, which are key drivers of sustainable development and economic diversity. We are very proud of our partnership with Access Sharjah Challenge and the role it is playing in cultivating the UAE’s creative entrepreneurship and promoting the cultural and creative industries. The completion of the fourth edition of this initiative is testament to the UAE’s thriving start-up ecosystem and the synergy between public and private sectors. I congratulate the winners for their outstanding projects and wish them all the best for the future.”  

Extending a warm welcome to the majlis guests, Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sheraa, said: “Our Sheraa Ramadan Majlis is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our community of startups, and further uphold the faith His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and Her Excellency Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, have in human ingenuity and in our ability to bring about positive change”.

“Tonight, as we honour the entrepreneurial prowess of the winners of Access Sharjah Challenge and turn the spotlight on the passionate ideas of the Sharjah Startup Studio graduates and Sheraa members, we reinforce Sharjah’s and Sheraa’s commitment to continue fostering entrepreneurial excellence by offering a solid foundation on which to build innovative, sustainable, and socially minded ventures,” she added.    

Commenting on the importance of the partnership, Issa Ataya, CEO, Alef Group, said: “Innovative and progressive ideas are essential factors in driving forward a sustainable economy in the UAE.  We truly believe that competition plays a key role in fostering dynamic markets and in stimulating economic growth. We were delighted to partner with Sheraa in this initiative, not least due to its alignment with the Alef Group’s mission to support the community of Sharjah. We are always keen to assist Emirati entrepreneurs and UAE residents in the establishment and expansion of their distinguished businesses; this helps to develop a diverse economy.”

“The Access Sharjah Challenge Al Mamsha was not only an opportunity to encourage our country’s youth to invest in their talents, but also to enhance shopping experiences and lifestyle within the emirate. We congratulate the winners on their well-deserved success, diligent work, and devotion to the project”, added Ataya.

One of the highlights of the evening was a panel discussion titled ‘The Soul of a City: Creating Innovative F&B and Retail Experiences’ featuring Issa Ataya and Mouza Al Abbar, CEO, Alabbar Enterprises. Moderated by Samar Al Shorafa, founder of She Is Arab and Sheraa alumni, the dialogue highlighted how retailers are adapting to changes in the post-pandemic period and personalising shopping experiences for the customer. Al Abbar opined that going digital is a very important tool for restaurants. In response to a query, she said she was looking only at the regional market and not international since home-grown is still young. According to her, “our brands are strong enough, but it is a question of resources.” Both speakers agreed on Sharjah being a responsive destination for entrepreneurs.

Sharjah Startup Studio turns one; graduates pitch fresh ideas 

The Majlis also marked one year since the launch of Sharjah Startup Studio (S3), Sheraa’s unique venture building programme designed to support early-stage entrepreneurs by helping them validate their idea, build their product and take it to the market.

Bodour Al Qasimi, and HE Al Falasi were taken on a tour of the Ramadan Majlis by Najla Al Midfa, during which the two officials visited booths setup by seven startups including KYMA, Jalebi, LIZZOM, Medaf Studio, Palmade, Nature Hedonist, and Fifth Wall Immersive Media Lab, learning more about their products and services and the ideas that inspired them.