Part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s legacy will be its commitment to support small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) now and into the future.

Twenty per cent of the expo’s direct and indirect spend will be allocated to UAE-based SMEs to create a long-lasting economic impact in line with UAE Vision 2021, helping promote SMEs, which represent 95 per cent of UAE companies and 42 per cent of its labour force.

Expo 2020 has launched a free-to-use platform where SMEs can register to showcase their products, services and expertise. The Online Marketplace will give them exposure to all Expo 2020 units, its participants, licensees and contractors, as well as other registered businesses.

Here we profile some of the local SMEs who partnered with Expo for the 173-day event to capitalise on the opportunities.

Latifa Al Gurg started her career as an electrical engineer, working in the family construction business. While she relished the chance to develop her analytical and problem-solving skills, Al Gurg lacked an outlet for her creativity, so she turned her attentions to fashion design.

“I’ve always loved design and I was travelling quite a lot and couldn’t find anything in the market that met my needs and was of my aesthetic,” says Al Gurg. “That motivated me to research the industry.”

“Engineering is always at the core of everything I do, so I don’t feel I’ve ever left it behind,” she says. “I approach everything with the principles that I’ve learned in engineering and I think that it built the foundation for Twisted Roots.”

Her fashion house is now working with the Expo 2020 team to develop sustainable uniforms for Expo staff and volunteers.

“Our main inspiration came from our roots that are the desert and the incredible growth and development the city has seen,” says Al Gurg.

“It is not only an honour but a great privilege to be able to be a part of such an extraordinary event,” she says. “It has also brought tremendous awareness to our business that has been wonderful.”

Mirzam is a bean-to-bar chocolate factory that opened in late 2016 by an Emirati brother and sister who are obsessed with chocolate.

Preferring to stay behind the scenes, they employed a Chief Chocolate Officer, Kathy Johnston, who tells the story of how together they brought their obsession to life.

“Locally, we felt that great-quality chocolate wasn’t available, made transparently in a way that customers would be able to really understand what they were eating,” says Johnston.

Their vision and passion has translated into both commercial success and industry recognition.

“We are so proud of our team and chocolates, there have been so many amazing moments,” says Johnston. “We have won 16 international awards for our quality and that’s really been fantastic.”

As a result, Expo 2020 approached Mirzam to develop a licensed product line of premium chocolates.

“We are very proud of the creativity and international engagement that Expo 2020 is bringing together,” says Johnston.

Mirzam hopes to have a long future in Dubai, and Johnston says it’s the perfect place to realise a chocolate connoisseur’s dream.

“It has a long trading history of spices and that’s how we develop our recipes; by investigating, exploring and understanding the Spice Route,” she adds. “There is so much exciting history in this region; there are endless delicious concepts for us.”

Karam Coffee is an Emirati-owned and locally-produced coffee roastery and cafe. It was born from the idea that “we knew we could do better” by Essa Abdulla Al Ghurair, Chairman of Karam Foods.

His son Mohammed Essa Al Ghurair says his father was convinced that consumers could get more from their money when buying a cup of coffee.

That’s according to his son who has taken the helm as CEO of what’s now become the largest coffee roasting and packaging plant in the region.

But producing a better product for the same price is only half the story.

“The hardest part is to convince the market to invest in the quality of the coffee and not just to seek a cheaper price,” says Mohammed.

Karam’s specially crafted Expo 2020 Arabic and Turkish coffee blends were among the first products to be granted an official licence and Karam Coffee see it as an extraordinary “window of opportunity”.

“Expo 2020 will attract an estimated 25 million visitors to the UAE, so we created Expo 2020 Arabic and Turkish Coffee blends to give them a taste of Middle Eastern coffee culture.”

Stevi Lowmass (pictured inset) was an IT manager when she arrived in Dubai in 2002, but started dreaming of her own business selling natural soap based on camel milk and olive oil.

She studied soap-making and came back to Dubai to start the Camel Soap Factory, initially making them all at home and selling at markets and fairs.

“What I particularly love from a business perspective is that Dubai is so open to new ideas,” says Lowmass.

With steady growth of the company, it became necessary to get an industrial licence and establish a factory in the UAE — first in Al Quoz, and later expanding to premises in Dubai Silicon Oasis.

The Camel Soap Factory signed a licensing agreement with Expo 2020 in late 2018.

“From our perspective, being a licensee for Expo 2020 is a huge honour and affirmation of our brand in the UAE,” says Lowmass.

“We have subsequently developed natural soap products that are branded Expo 2020 and will soon be available in Zoom stores in the UAE and we will be rolling out exciting new products in 2020.”

Abu Muadh spent time volunteering in labour camps and always wondered how he could use his IT background to add more value than just handing out plates of biryani to the workers.

So he invented Smart Labour, an app that lets them pursue their education, with an opportunity to earn vouchers and rewards in exchange for reaching learning targets.

Dubai has been very receptive to his idea, with three government entities on board.

“We have managed to get taxi drivers, street cleaners and other types of workers to benefit from Smart Labour,” says Muadh. “We have also managed to get residents to buy telecom and food vouchers over Dh20,000 to support workers in the UAE.”

“Dubai is a smart city with a huge focus on happiness and digital enablement,” Muadh explains. “Smart Labour was my answer to include the 2.2 million workers in both those agendas.”

Muadh says the partnership with Expo 2020 has enabled him and others to build a sustainable business while making a huge social impact.

“The Expo 2020 Live programme is the best thing that happened to Smart Labour,” says Muadh.

“It is a privilege and honour to be part of the global innovators that the Expo 2020 team hand-picked from all over the world.”