Abu Dhabi : Funding, banking laws, and legal issues remain some of the biggest challenges facing Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the UAE , experts said on Monday on the sidelines of the SME Congress and Expo . The three-day event at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) is aimed at bringing together more than 50 experts to discuss the potential of SMEs in the region. The absence of a bankruptcy law, in particular, is a hurdle facing entrepreneurs looking to start a new business. The law would provide support in case their business fails and they are unable to pay back creditors. Christopher Thomas , CEO and co-founder of Eureeca, a company that helps businesses find funding, said the lack of access to capital was a global issue facing SMEs. "Unfortunately, there's a cultural restriction given to entrepreneurs in the UAE . People think it's shameful to fail or ask for money, but it's not. There's also the issue of labour laws because as you know, you need someone to sponsor you in order to work here. This is not possible in the case of SMEs who are trying to employ people. So there should be ways to make it easy to employ on a temporary basis," Thomas said. With almost 300,000 businesses, SMEs currently account for 92 per cent of UAE companies, and employ 86 per cent of the private sector workforce, according to the Ministry of Economy . Among the speakers was Dr Basel Roshdy, managing director and chief investment officer at Nile Capital and IT Ventures , an investment company in technology. He added that entrepreneurs also face the challenge of access to external markets; having a unique and competitive advantage over competitors; and having a sustainable business model. "Entrepreneurs who are just starting up a business should have funding for the first few years rather than just the first few months. So it would be a good idea to have more than one source of funding," Roshdy said. Alongside seminars and workshops, the conference included a competition for entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to a panel of experts. One of the 10 entrepreneurs was Anwar Imam , co-founder of Tawilati, an online service for restaurant reservations. Imam described the conference as a "great forum", saying it is important for entrepreneurs to see success stories and bounce ideas off each other. Discussing challenges, he said, "it's not just about getting funding; the capital comes with too many legal strings. The result is that the cost of starting a business outweighs the benefits." Now in its first year, the SME Congress and Expo is set to become an annual event to empower entrepreneurs.
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