The rise of the woman-owned micro-business

microbusiness Feb 01, 2022

For many women, having your own business gives you control over your destiny.

It provides you with the opportunity to look after yourself and your children. With your own business you can make your own decisions and not rely on someone else for financial support. In Dubai, over 60% of SMEs are micro-businesses, and many of these are owned by female entrepreneurs. A microbusiness is typically a company with fewer than 10 employees, and a turnover of less than 3 million dirhams. Many microbusinesses are in typically female-led areas such as shops, fashion, food, cafes, services, coaching, nurseries, art, recruitment, social media and consultancies. 

Despite the pandemic, there was a 4% increase in trade license take-up over 2019, with more than 42,000 business licenses being issued in 2020 according to Dubai Economy. 

Last year, we saw a larger number of women from Female Fusion, set up their own businesses. In a November 2020 survey, Female Fusion members identified that they found that creating their own business gave them more flexibility; control of their own future; better chances to charge what they’re worth; an opportunity to follow their passion; and the ability to work from anywhere. 

For many women, who had to stay at home and support their children with home schooling, having their own business opened up a whole new realm of possibilities.

In 2018, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for 99.2% of Dubai’s total enterprise population, whilst 51% of Dubai’s workforce was employed by SMEs. As the government pushes for people to rely less on government jobs, and the economy picks back up, we expect to see that number grow, with even more female entrepreneurs active across the UAE. 

It was a huge boost to the UAE microbusinesses when Dubai Economy launched the eTrader license in 2019. For those holding a Dubai residency visa, entrepreneurs could get access to their own trading license for only 1,070 AED. This was a gamechanger for female entrepreneurs, especially for those who didn’t need a residency visa. However, there are plenty of business areas that this didn’t fall under, or women who needed a residency visa, and they still had to bear the full expense of setting up a company, which can sometimes be in excess of 100,000 AED, especially if you need to get office space or extra permits to be fully operational. 

In order for female-run microbusinesses to thrive we need to see more support and initiatives for them. Banks need to be more supportive and understand that not everyone has a million plus dirhams working capital, some start with next to nothing. 

Female-owned businesses also need more access to opportunities. Procurement processes in particular for large companies and government entities often favour large companies and make it difficult for smaller players, especially female-owned businesses to access tenders.

One positive from the pandemic is that we’ve seen more and more female-owned businesses take their businesses online. Before the pandemic less than a quarter of microbusinesses were using ecommerce platforms to sell directly to their customers, but the pandemic pushed many of those businesses online. Those who adapted quickly saw the most success. For those that couldn’t access a payment gateway or create an ecommerce store, new players, such as Zbooni came into the market, which allowed them to create a store and send a payment link straight from an app. This was a gamechanger for many female owned businesses. We saw a massive increase in this that women who would only sell through social media and cash on delivery, had access to a whole new range of payment tools to grow their businesses.

Female-run microbusinesses in the UAE need support to be able to grow and succeed. In the words of former IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde, “When women do better, economies do better.”. 

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