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Expatriate Entrepreneur Laura Hilmi of Petit Gourmet and Lil’ Chameleon on why two businesses mean twice the flexibility to balance her work and family life in Dubai

Lil' Chameleon

Laura Hilmi is a UK expatriate, now living in Dubai with her husband and children. She recently joined forces with Alexis Martin, founder of Petit Gourmet, an organic baby food company, which went on to win a US$ 20,000 prize as one of the best participants in the MasterCard / Dubai Business Women Council Ro’Ya initiative. In September 2014, Laura also launched Lil’ Chameleon, a business selling children’s play tents alongside another business partner.


“…This was why I…chose to work for myself. I am able to plan my days around the children, my husband, the school run and activities and being able to spend my time with my family. This is the most important thing for me…” 

How long you’ve been out in Dubai. What brought you out there?

We have been out here for almost eight years now. My husband got a job working as a pilot for Emirates so we packed up, came out here and haven’t looked back!

What’s your career background?

I studied English Literature at Lancaster University – I really wanted to be a journalist but when I left University I got a job as cabin crew. Once I started flying, I knew that I really didn’t want to be working in one place; I loved meeting different people every day, each day being completely different and seeing different parts of the world.

How did you meet Alexis and what made you team up to work on Petit Gourmet? What gave you the idea?

I met Alexis through our children. (Alexis has four!!!) My daughter Zara was in the same class as Alexis’ daughter Caroline in their first year at school. I’d love to say that I came up with the idea for Petit Gourmet, but Alexis brought it to me and asked me to come on board – it was such a good idea that I couldn’t refuse.

How did you get involved with the Ro’Ya initiative?

We saw an advertisement for the Ro’Ya competiton and thought it was perfect for us. We had struggled with progressing our ideas due to licensing laws and strict regulations with food production.

We hadn’t wanted to speak to many people and share our idea or ask for advice as we worried that for someone with an established kitchen, it would be very easy for them to pinch our idea and leave us out in the cold. We knew that this was an amazing opportunity for Petit Gourmet as we could learn and grow within ourselves and be exposed to many experts whose knowledge would be invaluable. We also felt that our idea was so good that we had to win.

What sort of difference has the US$ 20,ooo prize money made?

We have met some really lovely and helpful people during the Ro’Ya process and these people have made a massive difference to us – making contacts and setting up meetings for us. I think that this is what Ro’Ya is about – people in business being able to help those that are starting out. We haven’t actually touched the prize money yet but I’m sure it will be a brilliant starting block for us.

What is your other business?

I recently started making and selling children’s play tents in Dubai. My business partner and I set up Lil’ Chameleon in September and again it has been another whirlwind ride – they have really taken off.

We are starting to supply some of the local children’s toy retailers and websites and we have supplied schools and nurseries. We are currently working on our new website which should be launching early this year.

How does being an entrepreneur allow you to balance your work and family commitments?

I am in a very fortunate position that I am able to stay at home with my children – I don’t need to go out to work. My husband is a pilot and is therefore away from home and doesn’t have a regular schedule.

It would kill me if for instance one month his schedule meant that he was not home for any weekends and I had to go to work every week day and was only home at the weekends – we would miss out on valuable family time and our children would never see their parents together.

My mum was always there when I was growing up to take me to and from school and look after me when I was sick – my husband and I both agreed that this is important for children – to have their mum around especially when they are little.

This was why I initially chose not to work and then chose to work for myself. I am able to plan my days around the children, my husband, the school run and activities and being able to spend my time with my family. This is the most important thing for me.

What are your plans for both businesses moving forward?

Hopefully 2015 will see Petit Gourmet set up and establishing itself as the first baby food delivery service in Dubai and Lil’ Chameleon will grow from strength to strength as we launch more products and increase our presence within the market.


Posted in Q&A

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