It’s not every day that you have an opportunity to witness an
emerging entrepreneur community in a country that’s undergoing an economic
transition. But that’s just what DePaul
business students, faculty and alumni are doing, thanks to DePaul’s Sheikh
Faisal Center for Entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
Launched in 2014, the center sponsors programming
that brings together DePaul MBA students, faculty and alumni with professionals in
Qatar, a Middle East country on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
Seventeen MBA students
visited Qatar and its capital city of Doha to learn about the country’s economy
and entrepreneurial expansion in December. In May, DePaul alumnus and digital
marketing pioneer Paul Rand (MS ’93) went on a four-day speaking tour in Qatar,
seeing more than 200 entrepreneurs.
Ray Whittington, dean of the Driehaus College of Business; Paul Rand (MS '93), president and CEO of Chicago's Zocalo Group; Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani; and Mandy Terc, director of DePaul's Sheikh Faisal Center for Entrepreneurship in the Middle East meet during their recent visit to Qatar, where Rand shared insights from his book on digital marketing.
Center Director Mandy Terc says these trips offer DePaul
students and alumni a unique behind-the-scenes look at a nation in the midst of
“The trip exposed students to a business environment in the
Middle East, something they probably never would have been exposed to without
it,” says Terc, who has master’s and doctoral degrees in Middle East studies.
“It was an eye-opening experience, personally and professionally, allowing them
to understand how that part of the world works. Such an experience can only be
an asset for them and their careers.”
As a nation dependent upon oil and natural gas for economic
survival, Qatar’s financial position is strong, yet vulnerable. Today the
country has less than 1% unemployment, a per capita income of $100,000 and the
third largest oil reserves in the world. But it’s the future that concerns its
leaders and that’s why they’ve engineered an economic diversification strategy that
includes entrepreneurship. One of the nation’s top business leaders, Sheikh
Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani, through his foundation, reached out to DePaul to
help with this initiative.
The trip, planned by Terc and staff members of the Sheikh
Faisal Foundation, which funds the center, took students on a tour of Qatar’s
entrepreneurial ecosystem. They visited the Qatar Business Incubation Center,
the Qatar Stock Exchange and the offices of Ooreedoo, the nation’s
telecommunication and cable company. They also met hydroponics farmers, T-shirt
manufacturers, app developers and many small business owners.
“It was almost too overwhelming to see all that growth
happening at once,” says Rocio Alanis, a DePaul MBA candidate. Alanis said what
stood out for her was the Embrace Doha experience. Part cultural immersion
program, part tourist attraction, Embrace Doha was started by Amal Al Shammari,
a Qatari national. The program is a way to introduce the country’s native
culture and customs to the many tourists and expatriates who venture there.
About 88 percent of Qatar’s population is made up of foreigners.
wonderful to meet Amal and to learn about her experience as an entrepreneur,”
says Alanis. “We got to meet her and talk to her and hear how she’s being
empowered as a woman to run her own business.”
The hunger and eagerness of entrepreneurs to learn from
DePaul students, alumni and faculty was apparent on Rand’s trip to Qatar.
During his talking tour, Rand focused on digital marketing, the subject of his
book, “Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social
Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business.” Qataris wanted to learn more
about his experience as an entrepreneur.
“I shared with them not only the successes but the many
hurdles, roadblocks and failures that come with entrepreneurship,” says Rand, president
and CEO of Zocalo Group and vice chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the
Driehaus College of Business. Rand says his audiences wanted to hear about “the
multiple challenges and how perseverance is the best virtue.”
Terc says the next step is to bring Qatari entrepreneurs to
DePaul for an two-week entrepreneur boot camp. Plans also are underway
for DePaul faculty to travel to Doha to teach Qatari business students. In addition, the International Business
Seminar to Qatar will become an annual event for MBA students.
With such a great start, it’s clear this collaboration will
continue to benefit both DePaul and its partners in the Persian Gulf.
“Anytime we can expose our students to a global
perspective, there ends up being an extraordinary benefit,” says Rand. “Increasingly,
business is global. The ability for our students to get hands-on experience in
a part of a world that they might not otherwise see is an extraordinary opportunity.
What you pick up is that there are different cultural and societal norms and
how to navigate those differences. This is an invaluable lesson.