Growing up within her own family’s business in Greece meant Dr Katerina Nicolopoulou was always fascinated by entrepreneurship - so it’s perhaps no surprise that her career path has seen her research and teach the subject.
The resident academic with the Strathclyde Business School in the UAE, has examined attitudes towards women in business there – and what it takes to become successful.
Katerina, who is also a senior lecturer at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, has revealed that her own background was instrumental in finding out what makes entrepreneurs tick.
I come from an entrepreneurial family, my mother and father set up a private vocational and language schools business 60 years ago and have two schools. So living with a business was a way of life for me, it was just family life.
“As well as having that mind set, I was also really attracted to the creativity of entrepreneurship. I find the initial stages with the generation of ideas and opportunities really interesting.
“How do you see what’s out there and how do you interpret the potential to generate growth and income and also help others?
“I was also drawn into the social aspects of it because it meant if you develop a business without the empathy and interest in developing other people and the society around you, it was almost like a half business.”
Strathclyde has had campuses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi since 1995, with more than 1,000 MBA graduations.
Katerina also hosts The Strathclyde Dialogues there - events that engage with the alumni business community there on topics of contemporary global interest, as well as UAE Research Evenings where other universities' research is showcased.
She said: “Thanks to my role at the University I have been in a unique position to create and develop education and research bridges between Dubai and Glasgow.”
Katerina is also carrying out research on family enterprise and innovation, in collaboration with senior Strathclyde alumni.
The academic, who has been based in the UAE for ten years and previously worked for the government of Abu Dhabi in higher education strategic partnerships, said: “One of the strands we will be pursuing is women in family enterprises and second and third generation leadership.
“We have the phenomenon here where there are big conglomerates which are family owned and they were the first entrepreneurs in Dubai. Now we have the second or third generations of these family firms and some of them want to move from standard trading to supporting innovation or ventures.”
Katerina is also a member of the Strathclyde UAE Entrepreneurship Advisory Board which offers free advice to alumni and student entrepreneurs during their challenging start-up period.
The Board also considers more ways to support women entrepreneurs and she added: “They can benefit from coaching or mentoring, or just being given direction in order to go forward with their venture.”
“We also have micro entrepreneurs who might develop crafts out of their interests. Part time work is also gradually opening up.”
The academic says that the social enterprise side of entrepreneurship is something which has always fascinated her, the idea of ‘giving something back’.
Katerina who is co-leading the University project ‘Socially Progressive Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ which recently launched a PhD cluster in Glasgow, said: “The development of people was always important for me. Entrepreneurship is a two way street, you build a revenue stream but you also build your people and your business and the society around the enterprise.
“A successful entrepreneur is somebody who can see ideas, can put things together. You don’t have to be on your own to do it but you have to be able to create teams and that synergy and bring people together to create good results.
“The results shouldn’t just be financial, they should also be social.
“You have to be able to transform yourself and others and also the organisation, because nothing stays the same.”
She is also Principal Investigator for a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) pump-priming project in Egypt, ‘Re-enterprising the Forgotten Villages of Greater Cairo’, areas affected by water pollution.
The GCRF was announced by the UK Government in 2015 and supports cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. By 2025 the UN predicts Egypt will be approaching a state of ‘absolute water crisis’ and the project focuses on how women in urban settlements can identify entrepreneurial solutions to related challenges.
The academic has also carried out research into the concept of the ‘cosmopolitanism’, where individuals from different places and cultures form relationships of mutual respect whilst maintaining a keen interest in global affairs.
She says that although both expatriate and national women can face hurdles due to their gender and long-standing cultural traditions, the UAE’s population of almost 90 per cent expatriates means it is open to entrepreneurship.
Business policies are very progressive and women will be supported.
Katerina added: “Being in the Emirates I was drawn into ‘cosmopolitanism’ because I saw it around me.
“People here are international and Dubai is multi-cultural, so there’s a certain type of mind set that they develop to operate here successfully. What I’ve found through research is that the environment is very conducive to supporting that and for breeding success in business.
“People who operate here from different countries bring different things, so we have a flow of capital beyond the geographical boundaries. Expatriates often bring with them work experience and qualifications and can stand on their own two feet but can sometimes find they might be challenged in things like getting funding.
“You have to have a certain mind set to be successful here.”