Article snapshot: "Entrepreneurial Innovation and Policy Implications in the United Arab Emirates"

This blog post provides an article snapshot of our recently published article on SMEs and innovation in the United Arab Emirates. If you would like to cite the article please use the following:

Erogul, M. S., & Van Horne, C. (2014). Entrepreneurial Innovation and Policy Implications in the United Arab Emirates. Journal of Enterprising Culture,22(02), 185-208.

The link to the article is available here: Entrepreneurial Innovation in the UAE

Murat and I wrote this paper based on GEM data from 2009 and 2011 (Murat was an author of the 2009 report and I was an author of the 2011 report). We looked more closely at the data concerning the innovativeness of SMEs in the UAE - both newly formed and established. The goal was to analyse the data to develop some policy recommendations specifically targeted at getting fresh entrepreneurs to choose innovation over "me too" in terms of technologies used and in their products and services offered to customers.
The findings indicate that business activity in the UAE among Emiratis is concentrated in consumer and service oriented ventures, such as retail, restaurants, health, education and social services. Secondly, UAE businesses in general are skilled at technology adoption, but not technology innovation. Thirdly, it has been found that new and young businesses in the UAE have minimal involvement in the high/medium technology sectors. 
If we look at Figure 1 we can see that basically all newly formed SMEs in 2009 -2011 period were in low tech sectors - except for RAK, where nearly 15% of entrepreneurs felt that they were operating in the high tech sector.
Figure 1: Technology level of the sector by Emirate (2009 and 2011)

When it comes to technologies incorporated into the products and services developed by new SMEs the figures are a little more promising. Especially when it came to women entrepreneur, half of whom felt they offered products and services that incorporated the latest technology. This compared to men, where less than one in five felt they used the latest technology. Further research is needed to see what these differences are attributed to... but it would be very interesting to investigate.

As the goal of the UAE to become an innovative economy, innovation will also need to be the life blood of newly formed SMEs and not just large established enterprises. More students graduating from Science and Technology degrees will encourage more to form businesses in sectors other than the service industries and business education will enable entrepreneurs to understand innovation processes and how to adapt them to best fit market needs.

The UAE still has some of the most internationally focussed SMEs on the planet... But for SMEs to become truly competitive they will need to innovate in their products, services, marketing techniques, delivery and supply chain management mechanisms and more. Additionally, the strength and ease of technology transfers, advanced entrepreneurship education and networking opportunities, and significant amounts of early-stage funding are important areas for policy development.


Advice for effective teaching in higher education in emerging markets

Earlier in the month we held a professional development workshop at the Academy of Management in Philadelphia. The title of the workshop was "Contextualization of Learning about Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets" and we were first up on the first day - Session 29 of nearly 2,000 sessions... (read the blog post for the first part of the workshop here: Contextualizing Learning

Aside from the five cases of best practises from Africa, the Middle East, India and Russia we asked for each of our panelists to provide their advice for effective teaching in the Middle East. The following is a list of their advice:

Stephen Mezias (INSEAD):

  • Each class/session needs to begin with a list of goals and what will be done with learners, so that we do not impose our Western ways of thinking.

Kathy Shen (University of Wollongong in Dubai):
  • Don't take contextualisation and the differences between genders [e.g. in gender segregated classrooms] for granted - students in Dubai behave much the same way as students in Hong Kong.

Amitaksha Nag (Frametrics Consulting):
  • Defining problems well is critical - metaphors are cross-cultural, but can be viewed in many different ways. 

Alexander Fliaster (University of Bamberg):
  • An educator's role is to help teach the importance of context within organisations, and that innovation and entrepreneurship are about interactions between collaborations.

Victor Huang (Zayed University, Abu Dhabi):
  • Today's Generation V learners benefit from social media platforms where they can learn and share with fellow learners.

Finally, from the audience was a closing remark - in our search for contextualization and bespoke education we cannot forget that there are universal values and concepts that are valuable to keep in mind when teaching any group, on any continent. 


Teaching entrepreneurship and innovation management in emerging markets: some best practices

Earlier in the month we held a professional development workshop at the Academy of Management in Philadelphia. We were first up on the first day - Session 29 of nearly 2,000 sessions... and we still managed to draw a crowd.

The workshop was intended to help bridge a gap between the understanding that we need to contextualize research and a seeming acceptance that textbooks and teaching cases do not need to be put into context to be understood by our students.

Florian began the workshop with a brief overview of the pros and cons of contextualization - while it may be costly there is an argument to be made to develop contextualized language and learning in management education.
Dr. Florian Schloderer (INSEAD) presenting the agenda for the PDW
The first speaker, Prof. Stephen Mezias (INSEAD) spoke of the general context of emerging markets and the opportunities and challenges that institutional voids present - as they can both spur and hamper innovation.

This was followed by our "devil's advocate" Dr. Kathy Shen (U. of Wollongong in Dubai) who pointed out that it is important not to get to far away from the original concepts and theory that we are trying to represent and teach. The danger of over-contextualization is that our students are trying to construct their own knowledge of the concept, and if there is too much "context" the learner might not be able to apply her new knowledge in a new situation. Dr. Kathy suggested that it could be best to deliver the abstract knowledge first, which then could be followed by "contextualized" learning experiences.

This valuable introduction, looking at different aspects of contextualization, was followed by five case studies from emerging markets. What tools and techniques have been developed to encourage active learning by students in Africa, India, the UAE and Russia?

Pavan Soni (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore) began his presentation speaking of how Indians have traditionally been known as frugal innovators - solving immediate problems at hand with workable and ad hoc solutions. But the challenge is turning these problem solving skills into capabilities that can scale up solutions and create more dynamic and competitive organisations.

Pavan speaking about his research into the Indian pharmaceutical industry and innovation
In his research in the Pharmaceutical industry Pavan has traced how innovation processes have adjusted to National level institutional changes from imitation to improvisation to innovation and how the evolving context of formal and informal institutions has to be considered when researching and developing teaching cases on innovation management.

Following this Florian presented the Gulf Con simulation "game" which guides students through the set-up of a performance management system. In this simulation there is contextualization at three levels - this in addition to the fact that learning through play fits with the learning culture of the Middle East. However, although there have been positive results and feedback there is currently no evidence of whether this contextualization has led or will lead to sustainable change within the students' respective organizations.

Dr. Victor Huang (Zayed University, Abu Dhabi) then presented his experience using an online social media platform he used when teaching undergraduate students a course on entrepreneurship. Generation "V" (V for virtual) use social media to communicate, to learn, to stretch their entrepreneurial legs and at the moment management education is still discovering the best ways to incorporate social media tools. Teacher involvement is key to "directing" and developing incentives to encourage positive exchanges on Yammer (a free social media tool) and also a guiding hand is needed to take the student's culture and context into account when designing assignments and projects.

Amitaksha Nag(Frametrics Consulting) described his positive results teaching the importance of social networks in managing innovation processes in different communities in Africa. He uses simple games with simple tools and inexpensive material to create interactive, dynamic and fun learning experiences for students. Using this action learning tool Amitaksha helps abstract concepts become concrete through a social, visual and hands-on game.
Network designed by students
Dr. Alexander Fliaster (University of Bamberg) wrapped up the best practices section of the workshop by discussing his experiences in Russia with management simulations to teach collaboration. In management in collaboration for innovation, many of the issues and problems that come up along the process are due to cultural issues - so contextualization is key to effective research and learning.  Dr. Alex said that "our biases as Western educated teachers of what constitutes common knowledge can negatively impact our effectiveness". However, when games or simulations start with objectives, and then incorporate student examples and local scenarios they can see how they can apply their new knowledge in situations that are familiar to them.

Finally we had a panel discussion on the "take ways" of the workshop. Dr. Kathy underlined the need for more research and more "local" knowledge as to what is "different" in emerging markets and what is the "same" - and the cognitive consequences of contextualizing these theories for students.

The panel

It was a great workshop and it underlined the "sameness" and differences of teaching management in different contexts and in different cultures. While we must understand the context we must also keep in mind that some things remain the same across organisations and continents.