UAE : Prospective Businessmen Hail Waiver of Capital Requirement to Start New Business


Entrepreneurs cheer change

ABU DHABI - AUG 12: When Mohamed al Awadhi and his brother Payman decided to ditch lucrative careers with multinational companies to launch a shawarma restaurant, they knew cash would be an issue.

In addition to finding a suitable building, navigating their way through the tangle of bureaucratic paperwork and tracking down both ingredients and staff, one pricey hurdle remained. They had to lay their hands on Dh150,000 (US$41,000).

But that federal requirement was scrapped this week by order of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, a move the brothers say came none too soon.

“Dh150,000 is a lot of money for any small business to find,” said Mr al Awadhi, 35, whose restaurant, Wild Peeta, will open on Saturday.

“Finding such a large amount of money can be quite a problem for small and medium companies.

“I guess a lot of great ideas for new businesses have never actually made it because they couldn’t find the Dh150,000 start-up money.

“It is wonderful that they have realised it has been a barrier and decided to abolish it.”

Mr al Awadhi, who is from Dubai, said he and his brother approached banks, family and friends for their funding. He added that the change in policy would stimulate the launch of independent shops and give consumers more choice.

“Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Mohammed are huge supporters of small businesses,” he said.

“They realise small businesses are crucial to the growth of the economy.”

The change in law was announced this week, but the state news agency, WAM, did not provide details on precisely when the start-up cash condition was dropped.

Other entrepreneurs also welcomed the move, saying it was the latest effort by the Government to encourage the creation of small and medium-sized businesses.

Those types of companies have been hit hard by tight credit conditions during the financial crisis.

Bassel Ali, 27, of Syria, launched his Bassel Mohammed metalworking and carpentry company in Khalifa City A this year. He also struggled to raise the required cash.

“It was a setback, but once I had done it, the rest was easy for me,” he said. “Scrapping this minimum amount is a mercy for entrepreneurs.”

“Many people I know do not try to start their own companies because of the difficulty in overcoming this issue,” he added.

“Also, the municipality knows that many people simply borrow the required amount, put it in their bank account, issue a bank statement and then withdraw it; so it is only a formality.

“I am happy that it is no longer a requirement.”

Mohammed Abudullah Mohammed, 27, of Abu Dhabi, has been keen to launch his own internet cafe but has been put off by the high costs.

The decision to scrap the capital requirement was helpful, but other more significant financial barriers remained, he said.

“What makes people reluctant to start a business is high rents,” he said. “Other issues include the monopoly over taxis or buses. Living expenses are high and many people cannot afford to start big businesses or even very small ones.”

Impatience tests bus shelters

ABU DHABI - AUG 12: The capital’s new air-conditioned bus shelters are proving too popular for their own good as impatient commuters reportedly force open the automatic doors instead of using the buttons provided, causing them to malfunction.

“Some of the people are misusing how to open this door. Before it was fine,” said Rodel Inntia, 35, the manager of a restaurant in the Tourist Club area, on Monday after pushing open the doors of a damaged shelter on Fourth Street near Al Falah Plaza. Yesterday, however, the door of that shelter was functioning properly again.

A Department of Transport source confirmed that people had been observed opening the sliding doors incorrectly since the first shelter opened on July 1.

Messages in English, telling people to press the button, had been attached to the shelters with working air conditioning.

Each shelter is supposed to keep a constant temperature of 22C. There are two door-opening buttons on the outside and two more inside that slide the doors open when pushed. The doors close automatically.

At one shelter on Fourth Street, between Hazza bin Zayed Street and Al Falah near an Adnoc service station, the doors continually open and shut of their own accord.

The temperature recorded with a thermometer inside that shelter yesterday afternoon was hotter (45C) than that recorded outside (42C).

“Maybe others don’t know how to read English, they keep on pushing [the doors], opening it with their hands,” said a Filipino commuter waiting in the shelter near Al Falah Plaza, where the temperature inside was slightly cooler than that outside.

At the stop on Hazza bin Zayed Street opposite Al Wahda Mall, the doors were wide open yesterday, although the shelter was filled with people both sitting and standing. Meanwhile, the air conditioning struggled to keep air in the shelters any cooler than that outside.

Temperatures at two shelters on Tuesday

Hazza bin Zayed Street opposite al Wahda Mall, 4.20pm
Outside temperature 34C
Inside 30C

Airport Road near Delma Street (13th) between 13th and 15th, 4.40pm
Outside 34C
Inside 22C
At least one shelter on Airport Road, near the corner of Hazza bin Zayed Street, was working as intended. People were kept cool inside at 22C, according to the thermometer, and the doors opened and closed as they should.

Since the department opened the first shelter last month, it has been putting up more in and around Airport Road, Fourth and Al Falah Streets, though many still have their doors open and have not been switched on.

Saeed al Hameli, general manager of the buses, had said previously that the department was co-ordinating with utility companies to get the shelters hooked up directly to a power source.

A reporter from The National counted 14 shelters yesterday, of which four were running on generator power.

Mr al Hameli could not be reached for comment.

Those shelters are the first of 80 the department has said will be in place by September, with a total of 550 supposed to be up and running by the first quarter of 2011.

Mr Inntia, from the Philippines, said that even with the doors not working as they should and the temperature not as low as it was supposed to be, the shelter was helping him.

He now took the bus to work almost every day. “I am not upset, maybe it will take time,” he said.

“Before I used to always take the taxi, not the bus. Now if I am not in a hurry, I can wait here for the bus.”

Up to 65,000 people use the buses daily, according to the department, which said it was selling an average of 12,000 Dh40 monthly bus passes.

Breaking the pane barrier

ABU DHABI - AUG 12: The world’s tallest skyscraper. The world’s highest hotel. The world’s most-inclined tower.

To those on the ground, the UAE’s ambitious architecture evokes marvel and amazement. But for those responsible for maintaining them, these extreme buildings instead pose a lofty problem: how on earth do you keep them clean?

The answer, in short: ditch the window cleaner’s traditional steel basket.

As structural engineers dream up ever more oddly shaped towers with awkward, hard-to-reach angles, professional abseilers, experts at scaling surfaces using ropes, are being called upon to maintain the gleaming facades.

Atop the windy peak of the Burj al Arab, more than 300m up, cars are ants and Dubai’s roads appear as chalk lines to Benj Cortez, the rope access manager for the Dubai-based abseiling company Megarme.

“Sometimes we are higher than the clouds,” said Mr Cortez. “If you are on top of the pinnacle, you will see the world, and everything is so small.”

Mr Cortez, 41, from the Philippines, has scaled more than 30 of the country’s best-known buildings in his 15 years of service.

Strapped into a harness suspended by steel cables, he has sprayed down the mast of the Burj al Arab, repainted the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, replaced light bulbs on the Emirates Towers and rappelled from the Raffles Hotel’s 19-storey glass pyramid.

But although business is brisk, the anything-is-possible attitude of architects is testing Megarme’s 200 or so rope-access technicians.

“We have the architects coming to us and saying, ‘this is what we want to build; can you tell us how to clean it?’” said Daniel Gill, the company’s civil projects manager. “In recent years, [the designs are] all getting more and more abstract.”

Unlike traditional vertical structures, the new high-rises sprouting in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are inaccessible to maintenance workers, at least by a standard window-washing gondola. The structures include protruding lounges, curved surfaces, slopes, unprecedented heights, even a hollowed-out centre.


“The way that the designs are going, it’s only getting worse,” Mr Gill said.

Take, for instance, the planned 22-storey Opus by Omniyat Properties: “It looks like your standard square building, but then it’s like somebody’s taken a bazooka and blown a hole in the middle of it,” Mr Gill said.

Megarme is consulting with the Opus planners on an “anchorage concept”, whereby climbers can roam the cube’s exterior by latching on to sockets fixed to the cladding.

A similar scheme has been developed for Abu Dhabi’s anticipated 160m Capital Gate tower, constructed to be “four times more crooked” than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The building, which is past the halfway point of its glazing, rotates with height and is meant to appear differently from all directions. Its 18-degree westward incline could have posed a logistical nightmare.

“We had a long discussion with the client about strategies to clean the building,” said Tony Archibold, the project lead on the Capital Gate. “It became apparent that a standard building maintenance unit wouldn’t cover it.”

Instead, Megarme recommended fixing hidden “restraint points” to the 728 diamond-shaped panels making up the glass exterior.

“So what happens is the abseiler goes down [and] he’s got a series of pins on the rope and he can just pin himself in,” Mr Archibold said.

“He’s stitched to the surface of the glass. The pins act as guides to his rope and he has complete freedom of movement.”

The building has roughly 47,000 square metres of glass, which will need washing about four times a year. In this case, Megarme has been involved since the early concept sketches, although the maintenance contract has not yet been awarded.

“These shapes are becoming more and more problematic in the sense of how you clean them,” Mr Archibold acknowledged.

“Buildings are pushing the boundaries, so abseiling is a new industry here in some ways.”

Megarme started in 1993, primarily to assist the offshore oil and gas sector with welding, painting, electrical work and inspections of rigs requiring rope access. It was not until the last seven years that civil projects began regularly seeking their expertise, said Billy Harkin, the company’s managing director. That sector now accounts for about a third of the firm’s business.

“Dubai became what it became and then things really kicked off,” he said. “You look at the unique, high-profile buildings, and we’ve been heavily drawn into them. It’s quite lucrative work and it’s here on our doorstep.”

The climbers earn more than their ground-based counterparts for their work, he added. “Let’s say we have an abseiler who’s a welder,” Mr Harkin said. “He would be paid double what he would be paid as a welder on the ground to be a welder on a rope. They’d double their trade by adding the rope-access skill.”

At present, a team of 80 climbers are suspended over Yas Island’s Marina Hotel to fit some 4,800 LED panels on an enormous display.

Next week, another crew will hose down and squeegee windows on the “armadillo-shaped” stations for the Dubai Metro.

“The projects get a little wacko, but nothing surprises us anymore,” Mr Harkin said.
One memorable view, however, was 709m above ground on the Burj Dubai. Not long ago, Mr Harkin accompanied Mr Gill and the building’s senior project manager to the base of the building’s spire for a site inspection.

“Put it this way: We were looking down on helicopters,” Mr Gill said. “We were staring down at the 58-storey Millennium Tower.”

From that elevation, Mr Gill noted, abseilers would be required to shin up another 109m to clean the spire, which is unreachable by ordinary window-washing cradle.

Some brave soul will also need to replace the light bulb at the tip, and 21 aircraft warning lights and aesthetic filaments will have to be accessed by rope-works. The apex is said to sway about 1.5m in the wind.

Megarme is confident it will win the Burj Dubai’s maintenance contract. The company’s safety record has been “impeccable”, he said, with no major injuries so far.
All rope-access technicians are trained from scratch and hail mainly from India and the Philippines. A few are Bangladeshi. Roughly one-third come from Nepal.

“We tend to take the Nepalese guys, given their mountainous backgrounds,” Mr Gill said.

For protection from the sun, the technicians don shades and white “moon suits”. They also wear hydration packs supplying an electrolyte sport beverage. Morning jobs are conducted on the west façades of structures to minimise exposure to the sun.

Such trade secrets will be the subject of a lecture next month in the UK, where Megarme has been invited to address the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association on their experience working with some of the most complex building designs on the planet under extreme conditions.

As for future projects, the company has its sights on the proposed US$13.6 billion (Dh50bn) Mile-High Tower in Jeddah. If constructed, the planned 1.6km building would be twice as tall as the Burj Dubai, taking extreme cleaning to new sky-piercing heights. Mr Gill is looking forward to it.

“Nothing’s ever straightforward here, but I guess that’s the nature of our industry,” he mused. “We have to love the challenge.”


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Title: UAE : Prospective Businessmen Hail Waiver of Capital Requirement to Start New Business

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