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The Top 10 Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs of the Middle East
Ronaldo Mouchawar is a Syrian entrepreneur and the driving force behind Souq.com. After he founded the online marketplace, it had become the largest e-commerce site in the Arab region – counting over 8.4 million products and operations in Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia at one point. Mouchawar sold the platform to Amazon in 2017 for some $580 million. Initially beginning as an online auction site in 2005, Souq.com ascent was put into motion when Mouchawar shifted course and applied the B2C model to provide services and a platform for various merchants to reach customers.
Khalid Al Khudair
The current secretary-general of the media and banking awareness committee for Saudi Banks and the chief experience officer at Riyad Bank, Khalid Al Khudair also happens to be the founder of Glowork – an employment organisation that has served to connect thousands of women with employment opportunities. Around 1.2 million women in Saudi Arabia between the ages of 20 and 35 find themselves unemployed. Sixty percent of women with PhDs are in the same boat. Glowork seeks to overcome these constraints, brought on by segregation laws, and its efforts have seen Al Khudair receive the award for “Best Innovation Globally for Job Creation” from the UN, ILO, and World Bank.
Areije Al Shakar
A senior leader in Bahrain’s financial industry bringing over 17 years of experience in the banking and entrepreneurship sectors, Areije Al Shakar is an inspiration to women in a region that desperately needs people like her to look up to. In her previous capacity as the senior vice president of the Bahrain Development Fund, Shakar was heavily involved in the coaching, mentorship, and development of entrepreneurial pursuits. Currently the Director and Fund Manager of Al Waha Venture Capital Fund of Funds, Shakar looks to keep developing value for start-ups, network partners, and stakeholders.
Ralph R Debbas
Ralph R Debbas is the founder of W Motors, its CEO, and the designer of the company’s first-ever car, the Lykan HyperSport. The first developer of high-performance luxury sports cars in the entirety of the Middle East, W Motors’ Lykan HyperSport was a hit upon its introduction – enjoying a starring role in the blockbuster Fast and Furious franchise. On the back of its success, Debbas launched W Motors’ consultancy division in 2019 which now comprises 70% of the company’s business. A designer for Land Rover and Aston Martin earlier on in his career, Debbas was well-equipped with the drive and automotive expertise to make his mark.
Lubya Olayan has been a prominent force in the Saudi business world for quite some time now. Formerly the Chief Executive Officer of the Olayan Financing Company, Olayan went on to become the first Saudi woman to head a bank when she was appointed Chairwoman of the Saudi British Bank in 2019. Olayan was no stranger to firsts before that, having made Saudi history by becoming the first woman to deliver an opening keynote address at a major conference in Saudi Arabia – doing so at the Jeddah Economic Forum in 2004. Listed as one the most influential people of 2005 by Time magazine, Olayan is also a repeat listee on Forbes’ most powerful women in the world.
Mudassar Sheikha and Magnus Olsson
Mudassir Sheikha is the CEO and co-founder of Careem, along with Magnus Olsson who also plays the role of Chief Product Architect. Having met while working as consultants at McKinsey, Mudassir and Magnus both decided that they wanted to build something “big and meaningful.” Enter Careem, an endeavour that started as a grassroots ride-sharing app in 2012 that has now developed into a full-fledged platform and super-app making waves across the region. Careem was acquired by Uber for $3 billion in 2020 and now offers customers in Dubai an extensive range of services including ride-hailing, micro-mobility, and payment to name but a few.
Hind Hobeika is the founder of Instabeat, a company that focuses on building technology-based accessories for swimming goggles that captures data important to swimmers such as real-time heart rates, stroke types, and laps. A former Olympic swimmer herself, Hobeika formed the idea while studying at the American University in Beirut. An innovative development that has helped swimmers both professional and aspiring everywhere to improve their performance, Hobeika has deservedly been the recipient of many awards and accolades for her forward-thinking approach.
Wael Ghonim is an Egyptian computer engineer and internet activist with a special interest in social entrepreneurship. The founder and CEO of Parlio, a social networking platform with a focus on political participation, he is also the founder of Tahrir Academy which is a non-profit platform for Arab youths to share information. He became known internationally after an emotional interview following his 11-day covert incarceration by the Egyptian police. Interrogated over his work as an admin on the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said”, which played a part in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, Wael was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and named on Time’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2011.
Loulou Khazen Baz
Loulou Khazen Baz is the founder and CEO of Nabbesh.com, the first online work marketplace established in the Middle East. Connecting a variety of businesses to high-quality freelance talent in the Middle East and North African regions, the company was acquired by Ureed.com with ideas of accelerating the growth of the digital hiring industry. Creating more job opportunities and generating a positive impact on local communities, Nabbesh.com has helped over 5,000 companies complete their projects to date. Khazan Baz won the 2012 edition of the television show The Entrepreneur for her undoubted talent and business ability.
Sofia Al Asfoor
Sofia Al Asfoor is the founder, designer, and creative director of her eponymous luxury handbag brand. In the little over a decade since she launched the brand, Sophia Al Asfoor has gone from strength to strength and today enjoys a clientele ranging from celebrities to the chicest members of high society. Sofia developed an interest in fashion at an early age, one could say it was inevitable growing up in such a creative family (her father Mohamed Al Asfoor has a luxury goods brand of his own, Designer Shaik). Sofia also lends her experience and expertise in sample development and production management to others in the industry through her consultation services.