Country: Lebanon/United Arab Emirates
Founder: Loulou Khazen Baz and Rima al-Sheikh
Established in: 2012
Number of employees: 5
Capital raised: Won $272,000 after being crowned first winner of UAE-based show “The Entrepreneur”
Loulou Khazen Baz does not lack confidence. Most people, having made it to the final 10 from over 2,000 applicants for a televised talent show, would feel understandably nervous. Baz’s primary emotion was confidence. “By the time we were in the top 10 I thought we should win it,” she says. And so she did.
Lebanese national Baz, who grew up in Broumana but left at 17 first to study in Australia and then to work in the UAE, was in November crowned “The Entrepreneur” during the first series of the UAE-based TV-show of the same name. The prize was 1 million dirhams ($272,000) plus another $272,000 worth of services, all of which was to be spent on boosting her company Nabbesh, which she co-founded with Syrian national Rima al-Sheikh.
Loulou Khazen Baz became the first winner of 'The Entrepreneur'
Nabbesh.com (which means search in Arabic) aims to connect freelancers with employers across the Middle East. The service is popular in a number of different sectors – including graphic designers, photographers and copy editors. Based out of Dubai, the company currently does around 60 percent of their work in the UAE and Baz says that her plans to help Emirati companies streamline helped her win the competition.
Baz's co-founder Rima al-Sheikh is Syrian, but the two met in Dubai
“Luckily enough I had a product that had a great story — it was not like I was selling shoes. [Nabbesh] is about employment, about a massive problem the region has, about something that could help millions — it was a great story and I knew it,” she says. “So I played that fact [to win the judges over].”
While in the West services for freelancers are fairly well developed — there are now over 40 million freelancers in the United States alone — in the Middle East they are still in their infancy. Baz says there is no meaningful competition for Nabbesh, and their 15,000 registered users make up only a tiny portion of the potential market. Attitudes are changing, however, with a new study showing that 69 percent of Middle Eastern residents consider freelancing a viable career choice — but Baz believes a lack of statistics makes companies hesitant to take the plunge and change their working practices.
“There are a lot of people in this region that are educated but don’t want to work on a full-time basis — especially women or youth. [People] studying who want to do some part-time work or [those who] have a family and don’t want to work eight or nine hours a day — there are millions of people across the region who can benefit from [Nabbesh’s] services,” she says.
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“The issue with the Middle East is we don’t have a lot of data. This is what we are hopefully going to show through Nabbesh — we are able to collect a lot of data, find out what skills are most in demand and what people are searching for etc.”
And for her fellow Lebanese, Baz thinks that the service could make a huge difference. Every year thousands of well-educated Lebanese leave the country due to lack of work opportunities, with many heading to the relative stability of Dubai. But Baz thinks freelancing could make it a viable option for people to stay at home.
“We think there is a great place for companies in the Gulf Cooperation Council [to find talent]. If there is a small company in the UAE or Saudi Arabia and they need a talented copywriter or graphic designer we see Lebanon as being a place that is able to provide such talent,” she says.
So far the company’s services are entirely free of charge but in the coming weeks Nabbesh is going to introduce payment through the website. “We are going to enable employers to pay freelancers through Nabbesh and we will take a fee on that transaction. This guarantees that everybody gets their end of the deal — if the freelancer doesn’t deliver, the employer doesn’t have to pay, and if the freelancer delivers we will make sure they get paid through us,” she says.
With the highest employment rate of any region in the world, the Middle East’s workforce face an uphill challenge to find employment. Connecting talent to where it is needed may be the key to solving these woes.