Imagine you are a start-up founder. You have a fantastic idea, product or solution that you want to bring to the market. Maybe you already had some success, tested the waters, you think it’s going to work and passionately believe in your vision. Now, it is time to get investors on board and scale up. How do you get the access and the platform to pitch your idea?
Well, there are a couple of ways to do it, but let me tell you – not very often do you see startups pitching to senior executives over pizza with the iconic Burj Al Arab in the background.
Dubai is the leading startup hub in the MENA region, providing many incentives such as visas for entrepreneurs and a wide range of free zones with advantages such as 100 percent foreign ownership, tax exemptions and a streamlined business setup process. UAE “aims to become home to 20 startups worth more than $1 billion each, known as 'unicorns', in the next decade” according to the Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Ahmad al-Falasi [i]. The UAE startup scene has already seen a lot of success stories; Uber, for example, acquired Careem in 2020 for $3.1 billion and Amazon bought Souq.com two years earlier. As H.H. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid said on his Twitter, these are examples of giant companies that flourished from the desert of Dubai.
UAE has created a very welcoming environment for entrepreneurs. There are more than 10 incubators and accelerators in the city, focusing on different industries from finance to agriculture (Intelak, for example, supports startups in aviation, travel and tourism) and over 500 startups in different stages of development.
Interestingly, academia is becoming increasingly important in nurturing the talent and entrepreneurial mindset that powers this new type of business. Universities and startups are powerful pillars of innovation ecosystem and are eager to collaborate and create mutual value [ii].
The “Pitch Over Pizza” event, co-hosted by the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management (EAHM) and Startupscale360, is a perfect example of such partnership. Startupscale360 created an ecosystem that supports founders, connecting them with mentors, investors, innovation labs and other stakeholders to support their growth. Their partnership with the EAHM promotes entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation among students and in the community. Incidentally, EAHM is also nurturing its own homegrown startup ecosystem. A case in point is Hoick, which is creating ripples in the sentiment mining space. Co-founded by an MBA student and HFTP scholar, Hoick was the winner of the E20X competition at HITEC Dubai in 2021.
But back to the event: five startups in the domains of sustainability, clean tech/energy and mobility were invited to pitch their solutions to the BP Invest team in an informal setting, at EAHM’s Innovation Hub. We have seen a passionate presentation from Thaely, showcasing their ethically produced sneakers that are 100 percent made of recycled waste materials. Zofeur founders presented their on-demand “pay-per-minute” driver services platform that aims to increase the safety and comfort of commuting in Dubai. Seez walked us through their car marketplace that features a smart search engine for new and used cars to buy or lease, dealer-certified vehicles from trusted dealers, plus a variety of digital tools and services to help car shoppers make more informed decisions. Prescinto team presented their AI-powered clean energy platform that helps increase production of power for solar power plants. Through its platform, Prescinto claims to increase solar power plant generation by almost 7 percent. Proton founders pitched their digital motor insurance “for good drivers”. Their app leverages telematics data to build a driver behavior model and applies sophisticated risk algorithms that support dynamic pricing and promote safe driving.
As you can see – very different ideas with three things in common: passion, creativity and entrepreneurship. I must admit, as an early-stage startup founder, I was massively inspired. Getting an opportunity to pitch your idea, getting challenged on your assumptions, building your network and connecting with different stakeholders of the startup ecosystem is absolutely priceless. And as I learned, it all can be achieved in a very flexible, constructive and enjoyable environment! Who knows, maybe I will get a similar chance to pitch my idea soon.
Dominika Duziak is a research scholar with the HFTP Middle East Research Center and student at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai, UAE.
[ii] Academic-Startup Partnerships to Creating Mutual Value, Varun Gupta , Jose Maria Fernandez-Crehuet, and Dariusz Milewski. Article available here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jose-Maria-Fernandez-Crehuet/publication/350148499_Academic-Startup_Partnerships_to_Creating_Mutual_Value/links/606c18b94585159de5ff9ea4/Academic-Startup-Partnerships-to-Creating-Mutual-Value.pdf