“The UAE itself is an incubator for dreams, whether those are dreams and hopes of individuals, or organizations or even nations.”

~Najla Al Midfa

Najla Ahmed Al-Midfa, Vice-Chairwoman of Young Arab Leaders, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), a government-supported entity launched in January 2016, with a mandate to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Sharjah, and support entrepreneurs as they build and grow innovative startups that will contribute positively to the region’s economy. To date, Sheraa has built a portfolio of over 100 startups, which have raised over $50m in investment, created over 600 jobs, and generated over $35m in cumulative revenue. Sheraa also hosts the annual Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SharjahEF), a gathering of over 3000 entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and ecosystem supporters.

In her previous role as Senior Manager at Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, Najla led a team of business counselors through the due diligence process of selecting ventures for financing. She also set up and operated the Northern Emirate branch of Khalifa Fund, covering Ajman, Dubai, and Sharjah.

Najla holds an MBA from Stanford University.  Prior to joining Khalifa Fund, Najla was a senior associate at McKinsey and Company’s New York office, primarily serving clients across the financial institutions sector. Her experience also includes roles within PricewaterhouseCoopers and Shell.

Najla is also founder of Khayarat, a platform that empowers young, high-potential Emiratis to make informed career choices, and enables them to succeed in the private sector. With a community of over one thousand young Emiratis, and over 100 placements in leading international private sector companies, the platform is influencing the next generation of Emiratis to raise their ambitions and fulfill their potential.

Najla is a board member of United Arab Bank, where she chairs the Board Audit Committee, and a board member of Endeavor UAE. She is also a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Leadership Initiative. In 2019, she was selected to be an Eisenhower Global Fellow.

Enjoy the show!

Posted on July 2nd, 2020

Show Notes:

  • 01:30 – Najla’s beginnings and travels.

  • 02:45 – Describing her first job at PWC.

  • 05:45 – The genesis of Sheraa, born from an idea.

  • 07:45 – Continuous cohort improvement at Sheraa.

  • 08:45 – Her entrepreneurial venture with Khayarat.

  • 12:30 – The bridge for Emirati graduates and the private sector.

  • 14:15 – Her McKinsey story and what happened at her first interview.

  • 17:00 – Endeavor’s UAE Chapter and supporting scale-ups of the region.

  • 19:00 – Sheraa’s iterations, from seed to grants

  • 20:30 – Access Sharjah program and thematic competitions

  • 21:30 – On disbursing over$700k, Equity-free, non-dilutive grant funding

  • 22:45 – Different tracks with multiple corporate partnerships for startups.

  • 24:00 – Three ways you can support entrepreneurs as an entity

  • 25:00 – On being the only female board member of a bank

  • 26:30 – Being a part of the Aspen Institute, beyond reflection it inspires leaders to act.

  • 27:30 – The regional focus of Middle East Leadership Initiative of the Aspen Institute

  • 29:00 – The network effect of the Aspen Institute, the Resnick Action Forum

  • 31:15 – How she manages her time with so many initiatives and organizations on her team // the importance of building a team you can trust

  • 33:15 – “The first step on your entrepreneurial journey”

  • 37:00 – Entrepreneurship is inter-disciplinary and Sheraa is democratizing access to entrepreneurship.

  • 38:15 – On the false narratives around entrepreneurship.

  • 40:45 – The COVID-19 solidarity fund.

  • 41:45 – Revealing Sheraa’s yet to-be-announced initiative!

  • 43:30 – The move of Sheraa’s HQ to SRTIP (Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park)

  • 44:00 – What is Young Arab Leaders, in the Vice-Chairwoman’s words

  • 45:15 – Supporting young Arabs to become the next generation of leaders

  • 45:45 – Disheartened entrepreneurs, remember as all previous crises, it will eventually pass.

  • 47:30 – “With every crisis comes new opportunities” and how 3Dinova, a Sheraa supported startup, pivoted during pandemic.

  • 49:45 – “Don’t die with your music still in you”

  • 51:15 – Rarely gifting business books, but instead of novels and stories that will resonate with the recipient.

  • 55:45 – The UAE itself is an incubator for dreams, whether those are dreams and hopes of individuals, or organizations or even nations.

  • 57:30 – The COVID19 situation and remembering that life is short and we are all interdependent.


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