The best of Jordan’s innovative and creative minds came together at Amman’s King Hussein Business Park on October 16 for the fifth edition of Bank al Etihad’s Annual SME Awards. The event showcased the leading small and medium enterprises (SMEs) based in Jordan, with award categories for Best SME, Business Woman of the Year, and Best Startup.
“We hold this event every year, it started five years ago and it has become a big part of who we are,” said CEO Nadia Al Saeed. “We feel it is a beautiful venue to celebrate entrepreneurs, listen to their stories, and get their businesses out there.”
The awards are an opportunity to support SMEs and their invaluable contribution to the Jordanian economy, she added.
“Today SMEs make up more than 90% of businesses in Jordan. We feel they are vital for the economy of Jordan. They create jobs, they create a movement, solutions for problems and innovation.”
The winners of Best SME and Business Woman of the Year walked away with JOD 25,000 cash prize, while the recipient of the Best Startup award received JOD 10,000. In addition, the winners have an opportunity to work with a specialized team in Bank al Etihad, who will provide them with the necessary guidance to help develop their business.
There was stiff competition at last year’s awards, with a wide array of creative models, innovations, and entrepreneurs to choose from. Yara Barq, deputy chief of party at Jordan Loan Guarantee Facility, was one of the judges at the event.
“We have really good minds and great ideas… being one of the audiences, I always wondered how they choose, and as a panelist I realized it is really hard,” Barq said.
Eventually three winning companies were chosen, selected for their creative messages and sustainability plans that judges believed can have a positive impact in Jordan and the region.
The Best SME award went to Nabil Tarazi, founder of EcoHotels, which operates the Feynan Eco Lodge in Dana. The company focuses on travel with an emphasis on experience, local culture, and nature. The idea for the business came to Tarazi when he was backpacking in Australia and Southeast Asia.
“During my trip I wanted to do something different from traditional tourism,” he explained. “I found during this time that experience is what customers want. So I came to Jordan and set up my company, EcoHotels, to try to develop a new ecolodge in Jordan.”
The lodge takes on a unique approach to business, focused on giving back to the local community and environment, while providing an enriching experience for their guests.
“Our underlying value is profit tied to the benefit of the community and the environment. So this company, working in a niche market, is fighting on the main stage and showing a different model of sustainability and a different model of running a company,” Tarazi said.
Despite the great success of his business, Tarazi was quick to point out that the journey was not without its share of challenges.
“We have come a long way and 2018 has been the best year for us. We have put our place on the ecotourism map, so we are very happy with where we have come.”
Zeid Husban, CEO of POSRocket, took home the Best Startup Award. POSRocket is in keeping with the technological revolution taking place in the world, having introduced a cloud point-of-sale (POS) solution that empowers SMEs to run smarter businesses.
“We use the cloud technology and target SMEs. What they do is process their daily transactions on the system and review their reports, inventory, and customers from their mobile device in real time,” Husban said.
POSRocket has been making waves in Jordan and the Middle East, and Husban said he has big plans for the future of the company.
“Now we are making the first public API developer platform in the region. We want to disrupt the POS industry in the region and we want to be the number one cloud point of sale in the Middle East.”
Business Woman of the Year
The Business Woman of the Year award went to Rana Samara, founder of market research company Mindset. Mindset has been running for nine years, starting off as a small business focused on Jordan before expanding into the rest of the Middle East and Africa.
“It started because my cofounder and I are both market research specialists, it is something we love to do,” Samara said. “After a while, we decided the direction we wanted to take our company was towards humanitarian development and research. We felt that it is a combination of what we liked to do career wise, but also something we like to do from our personal passion.”
As a woman in the industry, Samara said she has been fortunate enough to have a strong support group, in her business and personal life that did not restrict her in her ambitions.
“I think what we face as women is more of a social constraint rather than the ecosystem behind SMEs. The constraints on women come from our social backgrounds and expectations, and that is why I feel very grateful for the fact that none of the people in my support group have asked me: “Why don’t you do the things that ‘normal’ women do” she said.
Samara shows no signs of slowing down and sees a great future for Mindset.
“My company is definitely going global, we are starting to do that. We really want to be one of the major research companies in the world. You have IPSOS, Tiens, Nielsen. We want to be Mindset, coming from Jordan.”