While the startup scene in the Middle East may be flourishing, none of this growth would have been possible without the commitment of the region’s entrepreneurs. While this network is vast, a few of these individuals have made a particularly significant mark on their respective industries and have become some of the most influential businesspeople in the region. Whereas some have built vast empires from small startups, others have dedicated much of their careers to helping other up-and-coming business owners.
From leaders in e-commerce to pioneers in the entertainment industry, here are seven Middle Eastern entrepreneurs who have become influential players in their industries:
A native of Aleppo, Syria, Ronaldo Mouchawar has made a significant impact on the entrepreneurial landscape of the entire Middle East. After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Northeastern University in Boston, he worked for several years in the technology sector of the United States. However, he made his most noteworthy impact as the co-founder of Souq.com, an innovative online marketplace targeted specifically at Middle Eastern consumers. Mouchawar has since helped his startup to grow into a formidable e-commerce competitor with more than 600,000 products and hundreds of millions of dollars in financing. The success of Souq.com has made him one of the most sought-after speakers for startup conferences and other industry events.
Loulou Khazen Baz
Since initially bursting onto the Middle Eastern startup scene following a victory on the 2012 season of the reality TV show The Entrepreneur, Loulou Khazen Baz has achieved monumental success. She is best known as the founder and chief executive officer of Nabbesh.com, which has helped to curb local unemployment by providing new ways for businesses to hire freelance workers. Under her leadership, the startup serves a client base of around 40,000 clients in more than 100 countries. Her success has earned her recognition from such professional publications as Arabian Business, which honored her as Entrepreneur of the Week in 2015.
Hailing from Oman, Qais al-Khonji has received consistent praise for his dedication as an entrepreneur and his support for other entrepreneurs. At age 32, he broke away from his family’s company to start two of his own: Genesis International and Qais United Enterprises Trading. He also heads an Enhanced Oil Recovery firm that is the local oil and gas sector’s first outsourcing entity. In recognition of his groundbreaking work, he has earned accolades such as the International Entrepreneur of the Year Oman Award and a spot on the Inc.com list of the 50 Most Powerful Arab Businessmen.
Outside of his entrepreneurial pursuits, al-Khonji has served as an advocate for other budding business owners across Oman. In the past, he has supported the creation of a dedicated angel investment structure that would better serve the funding needs of startups. In addition, he played a key role in the introduction of entrepreneurship as a recognized subject within Oman’s national curriculum.
Khalid Al Khudair
Khalid Al Khudair, who formerly led the Saudi Arabian, Kuwaiti, and Jordanian branches of KPMG, left to pursue his entrepreneurial dream. This vision came to fruition in 2011, when he founded the groundbreaking startup Glowork, which has changed the scope of female professional growth throughout Saudi Arabia. Over the years, he has helped to foster diversity in the workplace by helping over 1 million women find work in the professional realm. In 2013, Saudi firm SAS Holding acquired Glowork, and Al Khudair has since dedicated his time to expanding the startup into new markets. In fact, he successfully acquired more than $16 million to achieve this goal.
Amman, Jordan-based businesswoman Randa Ayoubi is a perfect example of the success that entrepreneurs can achieve. She established her entertainment and animation firm, Rubicon Holdings, as a venture capital endeavor based on a starting investment of only $140,000. Over the course of 10 years, she successfully operated the company with this money until she received additional funding, which catapulted her organization from its more humble origins. Ayoubi has since helped her company grow to include nearly 500 employees working at five separate branches across the globe.
Perhaps her greatest accomplishment was establishing a partnership between Rubicon and the Turner Broadcasting System in 2010. The collaboration helped her firm’s TV show, Ben & Izzy, become a regular show on the Cartoon Network. In addition, Rubicon earned the coveted opportunity to design the forthcoming Red Sea Astrarium theme park, a $1.5 billion project.
Ahmed Abou Hashima
Since co-founding Egyptian Steel in 2009, Ahmed Abou Hashima has emerged as a prominent entrepreneur and an example for other young, aspiring business owners across the Middle East. He has been a leader in the steel sector since 1996, but has achieved his own success as the chief executive officer and chairman of his Cairo-based firm. Throughout his career, Hashima has worked hard to create a global empire out of Egyptian Steel. By 2015, the company was producing around one-quarter of all the steel in Egypt. Outside of his work with his company, he has also helped drive business in Egypt by playing an instrumental role in the acquisition of investments from foreign entities. His numerous contributions to his industry have earned him recognition as Best Visionary and Young CEO of the Year from Arabian Business.
Over the years, Hala Fadel has become an integral part of the startup scene in Lebanon and the entire Middle East. While she is perhaps best known as the founder and chairwoman of the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan Arab Region, she has also had a role in other entrepreneurial endeavors. Named by Forbes as one of the Most Powerful Arab Women in 2015, Fadel is a founder and partner with Leap Ventures, a unique firm that provides late-stage funding to other local startups. In addition to her frequent appearances at startup events across the region, she established the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition to bring widespread attention to up-and-coming startups.