If you’ve ever attempted to start a small business in Dubai, you’ll know it’s not for the faint-hearted! In fact, if you’ve still got a Dubai company post-pandemic, pat yourself on the back – we salute you. Last year brought its fair share of negative news, so Home Club ME have decided to make it our responsibility to shine a glimmer of hope with some amazing real-life stories from our unique Dubai community.
Like the proverbial rose that grew from concrete, these UAE based brands not only launched their business in Dubai in spite of 2020, but many of them were inspired into being because of 2020. In a response to the changing landscape and challenges of the (dare we say it ) ‘New Normal’ we now find ourselves in, these home-grown businesses have risen from the ashes of the pandemic to bring the region fantastic solutions to problems we could never have foreseen.
We’re proud to say that those featured here are just a selection of the individuals who have shown grit and determination to defy the odds and thrive – following their dreams!
Like many businesses pre-covid, Sami Elayan’s initial business plan looked very different from what stands in its place today. With many F&B outlets closing their doors during the pandemic, Fine Diner Co-Founder Sami and his business partners, Saed Elayan and Zaid Azzouka, decided to pivot their original plan and create a new dining concept called ‘Fine Diner’.
The teams’ previous concept came from an attempt to bring an end to surplus foods. Sami and his team were in talks with different hotel chains, restaurants, and cafes to find a solution to the food waste from their kitchens. Whether from nearly expired materials on kitchen shelves, out of season items, or a way to deal with buffet leftovers, they had their mission set in place. However, once the pandemic hit, many hotels paused the contracts Sami had with them and from there on out, it was a battle for survival.
Fine Diner Co-Founder Sami Elayan
“I think that starting a successful business during these times is a testament to our team’s resilience and resulted in a strong company foundation. Innovation is born to create solutions to issues and entrepreneurs excel in finding unique ways at maneuvering around obstacles. We strived and worked very hard to solve hiccups and mishaps. As long as you have perseverance, nothing is impossible!” – Sami Elayan.
Sami and his team learned a significant amount during their time working with hotels and noticed several problems that needed a solution. “It was like piecing together a puzzle and figuring out a way that everyone could win,” says Sami. And from these discoveries and learnings, Fine Diner was born.
Creating different menu concepts specific for home delivery purposes, the Fine Diner collaborated with high-end luxury restaurants and hotels to curate bespoke menus fit for delivery to your home. Sami found that hotels and restaurants both shared a mutual pain-point – an under-utilized kitchen, many of which with the best facilities in town. Most hotels were more focused on dine-in than deliveries as their go-to business model and even restaurants that were no stranger to food delivery suffered even more so in meeting the influx of demand with a lacking delivery infrastructure during the Pandemic.
With most of the aggregator delivery market focused on an age group between 16 and 35, it left the 35-60 age group out in the dark and that was where Fine Diner found their core audience. “With most restaurants offering ASAP Models of delivery, many of the existing logistics companies are bombarded with orders throughout the day”, explains Sami. Fine Diner’s model enables them to pre-schedule and have all place their orders planned prior to their ETA. This allowed for a very smooth operation, eliminating delays to their customers.
Thanks to Fine Diner, you can recreate a beautiful fine dining experience in the comfort of your own home by choosing from one of their sophisticated and delicious menus, including Surf and Turf, Italian and Modern Indian Cuisine, to name but a few.
Home Of Breads
After being made redundant in February 2020, just before the pandemic onslaught, Anca and her husband Jürgen founded German Artisan Bakery ‘Home of Breads’ in the middle of the UAE’s first lockdown. From his 15 years in Dubai, Co-Founder Jurgen had been involved in building and leading the construction of four industrial bakeries, all of which had provided valuable learnings for the birth of their very own lockdown Dubai Coronial business!
Home Of Breads Co-Founder Anca
“Home Of Breads is our family’s lockdown baby! It’s not easy to build up a business during the pandemic, but hey, when has life ever been easy. Right from the beginning, the entire process was way more complicated than before Rrona times’, but as always, Jürgen & I loved the challenge and together, we were determined to achieve our aim to ‘Bake A Butter World’. – Anca Ellenbeck.
Fresh from their dual redundancies, Anca and Jürgen used the lockdown time to brainstorm and properly formulate their business plan. The couple had always wanted to have something of their own and that the lockdown gave them both the time and opportunity to not just think outside the box, but to build the box themselves! So, after lots of careful planning, ‘Home of Breads’ was born.
Anca explains that the meaning behind the name of the business is based on the idea that anyone can have a property or a house, but it takes great care, love and an extra special touch for it to become a home. Home of Bread’s recipes goes back generations with the couple using both of their Mothers’ recipes for their artisanal cakes.
This business believes in using high-quality German-based products and organic flour, whilst catering to clients who have specific dietary requirements.
Home of Breads is passionate about providing utter comfort to their clients and offer home delivery with no additional charge, to anywhere in Dubai. Anca shares, “that way our ‘bread lovers’ can enjoy our homely products in the comfort of their own home.”
Nous + Nola
Nous + Nola first started as ‘Nous Wanderlust Stories’; an online jewellery boutique launched in 2018, selling one-of-a-kind handcrafted jewellery inspired and curated by its founder, Christine’s, travels and cultural adventures.
In March 2020, as the onset of COVID-19 hit the retail market and especially SME’s in Dubai, Nous was badly affected. With jewellery being the last thing people were shopping for during their days of quarantine, Christina had no in-coming sales and very little choice, but to consider either shutting down the business or shifting the focus onto something else.
Nous + Nola Founder Christina
“There will never be a ‘perfect time’ to pursue your passion. I followed mine at the most challenging of times and it was the best decision I ever made, because it made me realize more than ever that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.” – Christina Noussis.
In June 2020, after revisiting the business model and contemplating the different options to keep the shop running, Christina decided to ‘expand’ her product offering to reach a larger audience and market. Christina decided to combine the things she was most passionate about; jewellery, home décor and pet accessories, the latter an inspiration by her dog Nola! And thus create the new ‘lifestyle’ brand we know today as Nous + Nola.
In a last attempt to keep the business running, Christina invested whatever personal funds she could at the time into the rebranding, expansion and purchasing of new stock. Just three months later, ‘Nous + Nola’ came to life.
In October 2020, Christina re-launched her Dubai company as a lifestyle brand, curating elements that not only reflected her interests and lifestyle, but also pet pooch Nola’s, who has now become the new business partner! “It was certainly a risk to invest into something new whilst in the middle of a global pandemic, but it was certainly the best decision I ever made”, says Christina.
Nous + Nola is now an online multi-brand lifestyle destination, featuring a collection of one-of-a-kind jewellery, stylish apparel for the modern pet and eye-catching items for the home, all of which are carefully handpicked and curated from around the world.
Hurst First WIFI & AV
Hurst First WIFI is a homegrown, British run company based in Dubai that specialise in providing fast WIFI solutions for the whole home and office. In addition, Hurst First WIFI also provides AV consultancy services and high-end TV and Sound solutions to residents across the UAE. More recently, they have also started providing their WIFI services to event planners and businesses alike, as well as assisting with IT solutions.
Hurst First WIFI Solutions found it’s debut in March 2020 following an emergency family meeting a few days before the lockdown was instated with the need of another family income stream mixed with a personal passion and invested experience in the field. The Founder’s wife’s business, www.brideclubme.com, was facing serious impact with cancelled contracts from wedding and event restrictions, and Adam’s, full-time job was becoming increasingly unstable.
Hurst First Founder Adam Hurst
“It’s not been easy. I have worked non-stop, 6 days a week until 10 pm some evenings since we launched, but it’s been very rewarding and I finally feel this is what I was meant to be doing all along. The support from the expat community, especially the ‘British Dads in Dubai’ Facebook group, has been phenomenal.” – Adam Hurst.
Adam had already been offering friendly advice on WIFI solutions and TV setups to his circle, as his background in the UK was running the ‘Richer Sound’ stores in Kingston and Chelsea. Adam and his wife both decided there and then that it made complete sense to launch a business focused on WIFI and AV setup in people’s homes. With Adam’s industry knowledge and experience, and with his wife Rio having set up businesses before possessing a natural acumen for marketing and business development, the couple felt it just made sense.
Adam shares, “Given that people were going to be at home now more than ever before, and coupled with the fact that they will not only be homeschooling (if they have children) but also working from home, we knew that the one thing they’d all need was reliable and fast WIFI!”
And so, Hurst First WIFI and AV solutions was born. Within 24 hours, the couple had their business logo and brand identity designed as a favour from a close friend and had already tested the waters by posting a few adverts on ‘free to post’ business days across different social media groups. From that day on, the company have had consistent bookings, has grown to include three full-time staff members and continues to expand as the demand rises.
Made By Dad
After losing his job in the hospitality industry at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Made By Dad C0-Founder, Ghofran, decided to use his natural handyman talents to not only survive but thrive!
Made By Dad Founders Natasa & Ghofran
“I would definitely say ‘He who dares, wins!’ We could have stayed in despair after my husband’s workplace closed down, but instead, we took one step at a time (sometimes a few steps back!) then continued forward. One thing we always had in mind is how lucky we are to be here in the UAE, this opportunity to start our own business from basically nothing would hardly have been possible in many other places. To start this small business in Dubai, was the glue that has kept our family together during the toughest of times. Our 4-year-old son is so proud every time he sees something new that daddy has made with his own hands.” – Natasa Sobhy.
As many people can relate to, Ghofran was the primary earner in his family, so he and his wife Natasa were not in a position to just sit and wait to find another job following redundancy, they needed to take their destiny into their own hands. So they used what little savings they had to invest in a second-hand car, which Natasa says she was very worried about at the time, but which turned out to be the best decision they could have made!
As Ghofran had always been very good with tools and was the resident family ‘handyman’, the couple decided to use what they had in the house to try and make a living. Ghofran connected 2 wine crates, sanded and varnished them and transformed the items into a lovely wooden box that the couple then sold immediately in a second-hand Facebook group, for 150 AED. But this was just the beginning…
Natasa and Ghofran then reinvested their 150 AED earnings into new materials to create a ‘Busy Board’ for infants as Ghofran already had experience making one of these for his own son (which he absolutely loved!) over two years ago. The Busy Boards were an instant hit and it was with this item that ‘Made By Dad’ found its place in the market.
After some research and help from local Facebook communities, the couple invested in a trade license and kick-started their social media, managed solely by Natasa. With hard work, the business went from working the couple’s balcony with no money to a workshop cutting wood by hand, to owning their own machines and renting a bigger and better-equipped workshop.
Made By Dad makes beautiful items for the home, including personalised wooden storage, baby gates, busy boards and much more! Each item is sourced, cleaned, made and delivered by hand.
Paws On Grass
As the world came to a halt in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, Bilal, who was amongst the many UAE residents to have lost his job, knew he had to switch gears from being a digital marketer in a corporate setting to becoming an entrepreneur.
Paw On Grass Founder Bilal
“I always wanted to thrive rather than just survive. Paws on Grass is a product of various factors including many failures, learnings, losing my job due to the pandemic, lockdown and most importantly my dream of starting a business. Paws on Grass is a solution to a big problem we face in this region. The drive that it has given me to succeed is immeasurable and now my only mantra is to keep getting bigger & better.” – Bilal Warsi.
After weeks of research, Bilal noticed some repetitive themes from the ‘new normal’, including social distancing practices and the rise of pet-based e-commerce in the region. In an attempt to cater to the growing needs of pet owners, struggling to find convenient green solutions in the social distancing world we now find ourselves in, Paws on Grass was born.
Launched in late July 2020, Paws On Grass was the silver lining amid the unprecedented pandemic for Bilal. When he lost his job, Bilal did not let his sudden circumstances bring him down. Instead, he decided to build something of his own that became the need of the hour for many dog parents and a much-needed product for a region with such a large population of pet owners living in apartments.
With the lockdown and then the curfew, dog owners couldn’t take their fur babies for a walk or even to just relieve themselves when needed. Paws On Grass provided the perfect solution in the form of ‘Pogs’; a 48cm x 60cm grass patch delivered in cardboard boxes that could be assembled to form large grass areas for pets of all sizes. Since launching, Paws On Grass has gone on to bring happiness to many pets and their owners across the region.
Pretty Shady Parasols
Pretty Shady Parasols is a small business in Dubai founded by lifelong friends Zoe and Mallory in 2020. These fabulous ladies create bold and beautiful garden umbrellas and outdoor accessories to adorn the balconies, terraces and gardens of some of Dubai’s luckiest homes.
Prior to Pretty Shady Parasols launching, Zoe and Mallory found that there was a lack of beautiful and statement garden umbrellas, umbrella bases and outdoor soft furnishings in the market… At least nothing with that ‘WOW factor!’ to gets the garden Insta-ready. Every single item Zoe and Mal have created has come from a deep desire to own it themselves, a factor that was very important to the duo.
Pretty Shady Parasols Founders Zoe & Mallory
“With the job-hunt landscape being so tough and both of us having to suddenly home school, we saw an opportunity to start something together, something that we really enjoyed, really believed in, and something that supported other local businesses. There is nothing else like our products in the UAE and with everyone spending more time in their own homes and gardens, we wanted to help them to create the most gorgeous, enjoyable spaces they could be.” – Zoe Cairns & Mallory Robinson.
Whilst the world over suddenly found themselves spending more time in their personal spaces than ever before, home décor became the focus for so many, seeking pleasure from their own 4 walls and outdoor spaces. One of the duo’s most favourite items is their concrete bases, which are locally produced and 3D printed in the raw material itself. They are absolute works of art, and unique!
The other thing that makes this pair so special is that they try, as much as possible, to source the component parts of their products from within the UAE. The tailoring of the canopies, cushions and deck chairs, the steelwork and concrete bases are all created here in Dubai using a team of very skilled master craftsmen. Supporting local business is really important to Zoe and Mal which they feel is key to a thriving economy.
Zoe and Mal chose to launch their business during the pandemic as they both missed working but needed something that engaged their minds and could be flexible around childcare, especially with the joys of homeschooling!
The ladies add, “It’s also the first time we have lived in the same country since 2004 and we couldn’t wait to combine our skills of design, marketing and sales. Spending the day working, laughing together and making Dubai even more gorgeous is about as good as it gets.”
Pre-pandemic, WANDER POT founders Aya and Ecaterina often pondered upon the idea of starting a business in Dubai. Their business journey was born from the simple need to resolve a few common issues in the planting industry.
Wander Pot Founders Aya & Ecaterina
“We both had a passion for sustainability and compassion towards all living beings and we wanted to combine the two, from there Wander Pot began to blossom. After a lot of research, coffee and love, WANDER POT became a living and breathing innovative concept. Wander Pot has nurtured our seeded idea of creating an array of beautiful plant gifts that are both functional and sustainable… And 100% ‘oh-so-loveable!’” – Aya Samaha and Ecaterina Geru.
While shopping for foliage, Aya and Ecaterina couldn’t find plant pots that were truly sustainable when it came to their design and material. All they could find were either plastic nursery pots with drainage or beautiful clay pots without drainage. Not to mention no water-catching saucers. How many times have you spotted a stunning pot sitting on a random worse-for-wear plate?
As it turns out, one of the most common causes for dead flora and fauna is through our own hands in overwatering. That is why it is vital to have plants with sufficient drainage solutions – If the pot has a hole at the bottom, the excess water will drain and the plant will stay healthy. Pre-planted in a gorgeous pot and with the right type of soil, your Wander Pot plant will be securely delivered to your doorstep in mess-free packaging, ready for its new spotlight, or rather ‘sunlight’, in your home or office.
Paw Pack founder, Dacey, was made redundant at the end of 2019 from a senior marketing role in the entertainment industry. Shortly after COVID hit the world, Dacey found herself feeling little confidence in the job market.
Dacey went on to launch a marketing consultancy firm in March 2020 and then a few months later in May, created Paw Pack after being in lockdown with her 3 pets and wishing she had access to more toys and treats for them… And she knew that other pet parents felt the same way!
Paw Pack aims to foster the extraordinary bond that people share with their pets through a convenient delivery of curated, hand-selected toys and treats.
Paw Pack Founder Dacey
“Starting my own business was always a dream of mine and with slow job prospects during the pandemic, I found myself with the time and motivation to finally take the leap! I managed to manifest a business opportunity in Paw Pack that allowed me to tap into my passion for animals, combined with my marketing skills, to create a surviving business during a very tough economic climate.” – Dacey Calisura.
Dacey set about creating a brand and service that would deliver monthly boxes of toys, treats and accessories to cats and dogs, all curated with a different monthly themed. All products are sourced locally, with most items from local craftspeople in the industry including dog bandanas, homemade treats, and local services, to name just a few.
Dacey is passionate about creating a special unboxing experience for both owner and pet. All the items inside are curated for that pet’s preferences, breed, age and dietary requirements. One of their most popular packs has been the ‘Chewrassic Pawk Pack’ that features a selection of dinosaur toys and treats such as Pterodactyl feet (chicken feet) and Raptor Jerky (beef jerky). Customers can order online with a range of different bundles. Paw Pack organize the monthly drop off on the 26th of each month, with free delivery across the UAE. Think of it as a Christmas Day, every month for your pet!
With a marketing, digital and branding background, Dacey has been able to apply her skills to create a superb customer experience for both pet and pet owner. Dacey also supports other pet businesses in the industry with advice on how to create and launch products & services in the pet industry using her experience and knowledge, in particular being able to grow a tribe of loyal subscribers with almost zero marketing spend, whilst being completely bootstrapped.
In the future, Dacey hopes for Paw Pack to start delivering to other GCC countries, continue to support the growth of small pet businesses as well as create packs for the other types of household pets including birds, fish and other small animals.
We hope our Homies’ experiences of Pandemic perseverance have inspired the rest of our readers to reach for their dreams, even when they feel like they’re in a nightmare. Whether it’s setting up an online business in Dubai, finding the courage to continue doing business in the UAE 2020 onwards, or simply knowing that some of our darkest days can bring about our brightest futures, Home Club stands with all of you. Just remember, that now more than ever it’s important to support local. After a year of some of our furthest footsteps from home laying at the base of our apartment blocks, the word ‘local’ has taken on a whole new meaning.
So, the next time you have a hankering to order in, pre-plan it with Fine Diner and enjoy haute cuisine safely in the comfort of your own home. Spruce up your outdoor space and make the most of our cooler months with Pretty Shady Parasols, treat your furry friends and owners of, with their very own patch of green from Paws on Grass, a toy or two from Paw Pack and something glitzy from Nous & Nola. Remember Home of Breads & Wander Pot & Made By Dad at your next gifting opportunity and make sure to sort out your home devices, AV and connections with Hurst First WIFI & AV before they get the better of you. Whatever you do, do it with love and compassion – Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone during these testing times, not just here in the UAE, but around the world. Stay safe!