‘UAE as the epitome of entrepreneurial vision’

Fresh from attending the World Economic Forum in Abu Dhabi, Kerry Healey, president of Babson College, a private business school in Massachusetts in the US, has another UAE event on the agenda – hosting the second annual global business summit, Babson Connect: Worldwide – Dubai, next March.

Boasting five living billionaires as alumni and considered one of the world’s leading entrepreneurship schools, Babson was established in 1919. Next year’s summit in Dubai will tackle global business issues such as strengthening family businesses, women entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship. Here Ms Healey, also the former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, explains more about educating entrepreneurs.

What would you say are classic traits of an entrepreneur?

The desire to change the present into something better by solving a problem is almost universal. Usually there is an idea of what should be and the ability to articulate a vision to pursue the desired changes. It is also being capable of inspiring others to support your ideas and work. There must be a willingness to work and take action with currently available resources, being adaptable, learning from mistakes and accepting of change instead of waiting to get everything “just right” — it never is. Having the fortitude and self-belief to keep focused on executing short and long-term goals is also a common attribute.

Can you really “teach” entrepreneurship?

More than half a century ago, Babson was the first business school to lead with the thinking that acting entrepreneurially is more than a talent with which you are born, or simply the ability to put together a business plan. We believe entrepreneurial thought and action can be taught and even natural entrepreneurs benefit from learning creative problem-solving approaches, overcoming fear of failure and testing their entrepreneurial instincts in a supportive environment alongside experienced mentors. All of our first-year students are required to start, run and close a business with a group of classmates. At the end of the class, the students must repay their seed money and, if they make a profit, it is donated to a non-profit of their choice. They are not graded on the profitability of the venture, but rather what they learnt and how they dealt with the challenges common to all new ventures.

Why are you bringing Babson Connect to Dubai next year?

We regard the UAE as the epitome of entrepreneurial vision. We also have a growing alumni base from 16 Middle Eastern countries, with 96 Babson alumni and 14 current Babson students from the UAE. Dubai is a dynamic, innovative and business-friendly city with an extensive air hub, making it easy for our alumni, who span 114 countries around the world, to join in the festivities. The summit will offer a unique opportunity to learn from, and connect with, some of the region’s notable business leaders and entrepreneurs.

How would you rate the UAE in terms of entrepreneurship?

The UAE has great potential for entrepreneurial activity: people are highly educated; leaders are committed to development and diversifying sources of economic growth and opportunity; there is access to capital from domestic and international markets, plus attitudes toward business are positive. Also, the UAE’s excellent location at the crossroad of continents provides many advantages to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurial success.

What are the biggest barriers to entrepreneurship?

Common barriers include lack of financial capital, burdensome regulations, high taxes and the prohibitive cost of market access. There can also be cultural challenges, including an aversion to risk- taking, equal opportunity for women entrepreneurs, educational needs and the lack of government support for entrepreneurship as a policy goal.

Why aren’t you an entrepreneur?

I may not fit the traditional definition of an entrepreneur, but much of my career has focused on thinking and acting entrepreneurially in both the private and public sectors. I worked for a decade doing research for the US department of justice on domestic violence, drug abuse and child abuse, looking for new and innovative solutions to age-old problems. I became frustrated that good policies were not being adopted quickly enough, so I ran for political office, and — in what many entrepreneurs experience — encountered failure on my first two runs before being elected to serve as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. There, I found a new and different platform to push for change and advocate for laws to address the areas I wanted to impact, such as a new and innovative approach to healthcare delivery, which was implemented in Massachusetts under our administration. After my term in office, I created and hosted a television show, Shining City, which featured Boston’s best and most influential innovators and entrepreneurs. The diversity of talent and interests in the Boston area is truly amazing — it is a global hub for technology, engineering, health care, education — and it was inspiring to showcase the driving forces within this thriving, innovative ecosystem.

Who is your favourite entrepreneur?

The next one. Entrepreneurship is the most transformative force on Earth for solving big problems, creating social change and spurring economic growth.


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