arabee Founders Ferakh Lakhany, Lenka Basweidan and Hala Al Ali, speak to Small Enterprise about their entrepreneurial journey
Tell us about your company.
arabee is an Arabic language programme for children age 3-12 with an easy to use interactive platform and complementary physical resources teaching all four skills (speaking, reading, writing and listening) and catering for all learner types: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, reading & writing.
arabee’s approach is based on modern teaching methodologies and pedagogies. These are embedded within the structure and content of the programme culminating in progressive learning with maximum retention. Designed specifically for children by teachers and experts in education and curriculum design; the visual and auditory design elements are based on a child’s preferences.
arabee interactive content and resources have fun characters, music, and songs to retain the student’s interest in using games to teach and reinforce language and grammar concepts. At the Foundation stage and early years of Arabic learning, arabee focusses on communication and language acquisition in a fun way.
Once they can communicate with confidence it is easier to build the other skills. This is similar to the Scandinavian approach to teaching and is more holistic, natural and organic the way a language supposed to be learned.
What services do you offer on the market? Who is the target audience?
arabee provides a complete solution and makes teaching and learning Arabic simple and fun for schools, institutes, teachers, and children. In addition to the teaching platform and supplementary physical resources (games and flashcards), we provide teacher training and planning sessions, teacher guides and termly overviews, tracking, online home learning and student logins for access from home, as well as support from the school technical support team.
arabee provides a structure for teachers to follow allowing them to focus on the lesson itself and the students’ development. The progressive element of arabee and the tracking, help educators to monitor progress, and can be used to identify learning gaps which can be rectified before the child moves to the next level. arabee allows parents to follow the lessons easily with their children, even if they don’t speak Arabic perhaps even learning Arabic along with their child.
How did you startup? When did you startup? How did you arrive at the idea behind your company?
In the UAE learning Arabic is mandatory but children are not making satisfactory progress and in general don’t enjoy learning Arabic, especially non-native speakers. We decided that there must be a better way, we spent a lot of time researching the best methods for teaching Arabic then constructed our programme based on a combination of the pedagogies first and foremost of which is fun.
We launched a pilot to test the programme’s efficacy and using the pilot results combined with feedback from users to improve our programme in line with market needs. arabee was born in 2017 but we launched our school programme in May 2018 and signed 9 schools in just 6 weeks. So far all of our schools have renewed their contracts for 2019-2020 and more schools are joining.
Our biggest support has been from the teachers and management at the schools who are honest in their feedback to us and allowing us access so we can see for ourselves how arabee is working and being received by both teachers and students. We then incorporate things we see as missing or change the content if it is not meeting the desired outcome.
We listen to our customers and have adopted the suggestions when we feel it will benefit the teachers and assist them in teaching Arabic. Our expansion has been organic, through word of mouth from people who have used and tested arabee, so referrals are honest and true.
Tell us about your team? How many members? Who is involved in the day to day operations?
The three founders Lenka, Hala and Ferakh, work full time and together have built up an amazing team and forged partnerships that have helped arabee grow. Lenka Basweidan the Founder and CEO, a graduate in business who has managed multiple business in the UAE. She was a professional tennis player ranked in the top 500 and brings that drive, tenacity and work ethic to arabee that is required to be at top of ones’ game.
Hala holds dual degrees in Arabic language and literature and has been an educator for over a decade including at many prestigious institutes and schools. She has been the key architect of arabee’s content having an in-depth understanding of the shortfalls of how Arabic is taught.
Ferakh is a graduate in the Arabic Language, with a Masters in linguistics and an MBA in business and marketing. She has a deep understanding of the Middle East and the nuances of the Arabic language having worked in multiple roles across the region over the last 20 years.
arabee also have an active and engaged advisory board, chaired by Saeed Basweidan, a UAE National, with passion for technology and education. Together the team has built the company we see today with committed staff who all believe in what arabee is trying to achieve.
Did you come across any challenges during the initial days?
So many, perhaps the major one was overcoming our need for perfection and pushing forward and launching arabee. Learning that it is easier to iterate once you have market data, is much better than using small focus groups. Managing our time, priorities and personal commitments as starting and investing in a new venture are all-consuming and you have to balance things, or you will burn out.
How is your company different from similar companies on the market?
From teaching to tracking, home-learning to reports, no company offers exactly what arabee does. arabee is aligned with UAE regulatory frameworks. Unlike many of the competitors which offer supplementary resources for learning of Arabic, arabee can be used as a stand-alone programme by schools for non-native speakers.
The result of our approach and pedagogy has been the change in children’s attitudes. Imagine your child wanting to learn Arabic, rushing to the computer and saying, “Please can I do Arabic now?” This revolution is happening now with children using arabee.
When did you join the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre?
We joined the Sheraa programme in May 2019.
What made you join the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre?
A friend recommended Sheraa and after further research, we found it would be extremely beneficial to us as founders and to the company in general.
In what areas has Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre helped you in your startup journey?
In so many ways. How can I begin to enumerate them? As we are three founders whose expertise complement each other and being friends before starting the company helped the journey. With that, we are already ahead of the game as we have the friendship and support from each other. Starting a company with an idea and conviction can be a long and lonely road. After joining the programme with the new knowledge gained at the intensive one-to-one sessions, we realised how much more that was to know and learn.
Fortunately for us, the team at Sheraa provided support and above all patience and guidance answering our questions and helping us in our journey to grow. We have only been in the programme three months but already we can see the impact in many ways either as a validation of what we were already doing or assisting us in identifying areas which could potentially cause issues in the future and avoiding the pitfalls often associated with these. The team at Sheraa are amazing, going above and beyond what is required for a “job”.
What are your future plans with your company? Any new markets / target audiences you plan to reach?
arabee is focussed on improving Arabic in UAE private schools. This will help to reinforce the local culture and identity whilst helping school staff and families. We intend to be the Arabic language teaching programme of choice for schools in the UAE and GCC. In the future arabee also intends to market itself globally to a significant target market who would like to teach Arabic to their children using a curriculum-based learning programme.
What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Keep a positive mindset without fear. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes, these experiences will make you better as long as you learn from them. Build a good support system within your network of family and friends and don’t give up. If you need help, ask for it and it will come to you. Truly believe in what you are doing your passion will shine through and guide you to success.
arabee has already made inroads in improving Arabic provisions in schools. We intend to achieve our mission which is aligned to the 2021 vision of the UAE leadership. Honouring the nation’s forefathers and culture through the power of the Arabic language. Making children anywhere “Learn to Love Arabic and Love to Learn Arabic.”