ABAN names winner of first Arab Business Challenge

ABAN names winner of first Arab Business Challenge
Dubai, Sept. 9th, 2006 (WAM) - The Arab Business Challenge (ABC) - a Pan-Arab business plan contest that was televised on Al Arabiya in a 12-part reality series -announced its two winners at a lavish gala dinner in Dubai.

The winning start-ups, Jordan Ostriches and Egyptian-based Palm Paper, beat off stiff competition from three other finalists and over a 1,000 applicants from the Middle East and North Africa.

The two will receive investment capital of up to US$1 million each to launch their new companies from Dubai International Capital (DIC)- the founding company of ABC's parent organisation, The Arab Business Angels Network (ABAN).

The event, which was attended by more than 600 guests and saw keynote addresses by Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan and Her Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of Economy also marked the official launch of ABAN.

In her address, Sheikha Al Qasimi said: "ABAN is an initiative that the UAE government is actively supporting 100 percent, as it encourages private investors to consider local and regional investment into high potential entrepreneurial ventures. The Institute of International Finance reports that the GDP of the six GCC countries alone has grown 75 percent over the past three years, making the zone the 16th largest economy in the world.

With the launch of ABAN, we must be confident of heralding a new era of angel investing and capital growth." Speaking at the awards dinner, ABAN's recently appointed Chairman, Abdul-Aziz Abdulla Al Ghurair, said: "This is a historic step in the evolution of young Arab minds and is a positive reinforcement to the calibre of effort being demonstrated by ABAN and its supporting partners." Sameer Al Ansari, CEO, Dubai International Capital, the Lead Angel investor in ABAN, said: "ABAN aims to empower Arab entrepreneurship and new business creation by allowing the flow of capital into high potential ventures. We have seen this demonstrated at the Arab Business Challenge and we are confident that the winners will inspire their peers as to the possibilities being offered to start-ups in the region." Jordan Ostriches, a start-up consisting of four entrepreneurs from the Kingdom, was highly rated by judges for its innovative approach to the farming and slaughtering of ostriches to sell on as meat to the region. The start up expects to develop six ostrich farms in Jordan, creating approximately 8,000 chicks a year. Up to 70% of the meat generated will be sold locally with the remaining 30% exported. The project budget is US$1.25 million and is expected to achieve a 39.8% ROI with early pay back in the third year.

"It is fantastic to be standing here, knowing that we have come all the way," said Ghassan Mansara of Jordan Ostriches. "We have put a lot of time and effort into developing a unique and highly workable business proposition, the fruits of which we are only just realising".

The other winning start-up, Palm Paper, is an industrial company that aims at using annually trimmed, waste leaves from date palm tress and turning them into, through mechanical and chemical processing, valuable commodities such as packaging. The team of five budgeted an initial investment figure of US$ 2.4 million, with an after tax return on investment of 756% within five years.

"We identified a niche in our market and saw our window of opportunity," said Mostafa Ghaly of Palm Paper. "It is great to have realised our dream and through this initiative, we hope to inspire other up-and-coming entrepreneurs." ABAN was conceived by the Young Arab Leaders and DIC at last year's Clinton Global Initiative with a commitment to build an Arab Business Angel Network, as well as conduct the Arab Business Challenge, which is sponsored by HSBC and SHUAA Capital, to help facilitate the flow of capital into promising young Arab start-ups.

Lisa LaBonte, Chief Operating Officer, ABAN, said: "ABAN is the region's first innovative scheme to promote entrepreneurial endeavours and to build a community of angel investors across the Middle East and Africa. ABAN will compliment the economic development objectives of the Arab world by facilitating the development of creative and exciting start-up business ventures." The network, which at present covers 18 MENA countries, is an initiative aimed to spur economic activity in the region.