A former United Nations and Red Cross worker has enjoyed a whirlwind start to her new venture and is already setting her sights on helping West Midlands companies boost links with the Arab World.
Maha El-Metwally, a cultural anthropologist, translator and interpreter by trade, used thirteen years of international experience and support from Business Link West Midlands to set-up Cultural Bridges, a specialist in assisting people from different backgrounds to communicate.
Working on the basis of offering a tailored service to each individual requirement, the Birmingham-based entrepreneur has seen interest in her firm grow rapidly, with the first contract completed just three weeks after the launch.
She now boasts a client base that features public sector organisations and commercial operations in five different countries, including Belgium, Holland and Dubai.
“I’ve got a lot of experience of cultural communications having worked in some of the most demanding settings in the world, such as with the United Nations and the Islamic Relief Charity in Bosnia, where I helped widows and orphans in the war-torn country to rebuild their lives,” explained Maha, who moved to the UK with her husband in 2006.
“Using this knowledge and my core understanding of the Middle East, I quickly realised that there was an opportunity to channel all of this into my own business...this is where Business Link West Midlands and its delivery partner Enterprise Central came into the equation.”
She continued: “I received a lot of one-on-one mentoring that allowed me to develop the idea and, following assistance with market research, I was confident that the concept would work and that there was a significant demand for my services.”
Cultural Bridges, which was formed on May 8th this year, provides translation and interpretation services throughout the world at conferences, one-on-one meetings or for corporate documents.
A strong network of international partners allows the company to take on projects of various sizes, with Maha already completing work for the Belgian Ministry of Education, the NHS, Cambridge Housing Department and a Community Association.
in Amsterdam – the latter involved helping to communicate with elderly people from the Islamic communities.
“The real difference in our service is our ability to understand the cultural context of your audience and this basically means the way they think, behave and, in part, the customs they adhere to.”
Maha, who is a member of the Egyptian Translators Association (EGYTA) and the World Arab Translators’ Association (WATA), continued:
“This is extremely relevant for businesses looking to trade in the Middle East. They need to understand that etiquette is different, how to react to certain situations and to read the signals if they are to be successful.
“For instance, when you are dealing with Arab companies, a lot more time is taken on building people relationships and you may spend two or three meetings before actually ‘getting down to business’ as they say in the UK. Preparation, research on the country you are visiting, the cultural ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ and learning a bit of the language are things we can help with.”
Birmingham and Black Country Chambers of Commerce have heeded this advice, joining forces with Cultural Bridges to host two workshops for local companies looking to ‘do business’ in Dubai.
Marion Taggart, Business Adviser at Enterprise Central and helping to deliver the Business Link West Midlands contract, believes this is just the breakthrough the firm needed:
“Maha’s original contacts have helped her secure a lot of initial work and this is due to be boosted by these new seminars that will give her avenues into a host of commercial organisations.
“The value she can add to a company interested in these markets is phenomenal and, with the firm foundations the business has been built on, this could be one of the biggest enterprise stories of 2007.”
Maha concluded: “Having travelled all over the world for thirteen years, I’m delighted to make a base for my home and company in Birmingham. The City has such great cultural diversity and the business support offer is one of the best I’ve ever seen...this has to be applauded.”
Business Link West Midlands is expected to help over 70,000 businesses and individuals thinking of starting a business with information, with a further 16,000 receiving intensive support by 2010.
This level of support is expected to generate a £400m improvement to the economic performance of the West Midlands.