Change-maker, educator, and founder of Sea Ventures, a business accelerator, and co-founder of CITY Hub, a co-working space, Abdulsalam Alkuwaity is an unstoppable force of nature who found time in his busy schedule to sit down and talk with Mona Alhariri.
How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?
I was studying at Boise State University, a public research university in Boise, Idaho, and applied for a course in entrepreneurship. It completely changed my outlook. It taught me how to identify problems, how to transform problems into opportunities and how start a business. More than anything else, it made me realize how entrepreneurship education can unlock human potential. After graduating from Boise, I applied to Harvard University to take a strategic business management executive education program. When I returned to Saudi Arabia, I started to offer courses in entrepreneurship.
I went back to the U.S. to take a Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) executive program at Babson College and became only the fifth Saudi national to be certified as an entrepreneurship educator. After returning again to Saudi Arabia, I was hired by Prince Mohammed bin Salman College to be its executive education programs manager. I’m also a professor of practice at Effat University teaching the Ambassadors Program which is about creativity, innovation and leadership and a professor of practice at Dar Al- Hekma University, teaching creativity and innovation
Tell us about SEA Ventures?
I started SEA Ventures in January 2018. We offer students a full entrepreneurial learning journey from building the entrepreneurial mindset to starting up and scaling up. Our tailor-made entrepreneurship programs are one of a kind.
They’ve been developed by leading experts who attended educational programs at Babson College, Harvard University, and MIT among other great business schools. We also offer a business accelerator program where we focus on empowering and enabling students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset in addition to the specific skills and knowledge they need to develop and accelerate their startups.
What kind of approach have you adopted to teaching entrepreneurship We started SEA Ventures because we felt many of the existing business schools failed to develop the right attitudes and mindset in their students.
We took a different approach by focusing on the whole person and building winning capabilities such as self-determination, risk taking, and creativity. This approach is important because over the past twenty years our education system has produced young people who are brimming with confidence but at the same time fearful of risk. The education system teaches young people to follow instructions in order to be rewarded instead of acting with the confidence and boldness that comes from doing what they truly love, taking risks, and becoming successful.
We focus on developing a winner’s mindset and teach the tools and skills to turn visions into reality. Our mission at SEA Ventures it to connect, work, inspire, motivate, mentor and support our entrepreneurs. And I think we’re on the right track. SEA Ventures started in a very small office but is now located along with CITY Hub here in Jeddah in a three-storey building with 500 square metres of floor space
What was the inspiration for CITY Hub?
Teaching at university you get to meet people with many different perspectives. I met so many young people who wanted to do more. They had a lot of things they wanted to do but they didn’t have the creative space where they could do it. My partner, Salman Gasim, and I wanted to create a cosy, welcoming, cool and productive environment where young people could be creative.
It offers everything an entrepreneur needs in order to get started: comfortable workstations, meeting rooms, networking opportunities and more.
At CITY Hub we have a set of shared values which we’ve even written on a wall. We believe in making friends not contacts. We believe in helping others before ourselves. We believe in giving not taking. A few weeks ago, we invited a group of artists to paint one of our walls.
There are now over twenty paintings that cover almost the entire wall. The environment here is friendly and buzzing with energy. Everybody seems to be doing something creative and productive.
We also have regular talks on different subjects such as creating empathy, solving problems, business modelling, overcoming social challenges and so forth. We’ll normally have over a hundred people at each talk.
Tell us about your CITY Hub community?
We founded CITY Hub for people who are creative, curious, hard-working, social, and believe in impact.
They’re people who want to focus on creating great things and innovative solutions and who want to live life without worrying about rent, electricity or running out of good coffee. We pride ourselves on the diversity of the CITY Hub community We have people here from many different backgrounds and professions –students, doctors, entrepreneurs, professors, and engineers.
We have eighteen-year old university students and professionals over sixty. This is the beauty of the place. People of different backgrounds with a similar mindset.
Besides teaching and running your business, what else are you involved in?
I published “The Serial Entrepreneur’s Toolkit –The SET” which is a toolkit for the entrepreneur focusing on building an entrepreneurial mind-set and acquiring business skills. I also organize the SEED boot camp. SEED stands for Student Entrepreneurs Enabling and Development.
The boot camp is a training program where participants undergo an extremely intense, ten-day experience generating ideas for startups. Participants should have a startup ready by the end of the training period.
Throughout the training period we focus on the growth mindset that every entrepreneur must have at the start, then train them in entrepreneurial skills and lastly equip them with the right tools to operate their business.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I often go to Steve Jobs quotes for inspiration. He changed my thinking not just about business but my outlook on life in general. He believed we should go beyond a normal, planned life trajectory of school, college, career, family and so forth. Life is much broader than that.
Through him I realised that I can influence the world around me and not just live out my life
What are your ambitions for the future?
In less than a year, we’ve been able to reach out to almost two thousand people through workshops, lectures and boot camps. We’re here to make an impact and make a change – a positive change that will make people happier and healthier and able to do bigger and better things. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short time but I believe it’s just the start.