Krypto Labs Managing Director Dr. Saleh Al Hashemi On Supporting The UAE's Vision To Become A Global Innovation Hub
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Describing itself as an all-in-one business incubator, accelerator and co-working space, Krypto Labs aims at becoming a haven for startups and individuals worldwide who want to develop revolutionary products and services across various industries, right from its headquarters in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, UAE. At its helm is Managing Director Dr. Saleh Al Hashemi, who is also the Chairman of Integrated Securities and Integrated Capital PJSC. Having been in executive positions across the business, government, and academia sectors, Dr. Al Hashemi’s role at Krypto Labs involves ensuring all programs not just run smoothly but also grow, while discovering and supporting talented entrepreneurs. “I have always been involved throughout my career with innovation,” says Dr. Al Hashemi. “I have always pushed the limits on many items at hand, and I seek change and getting new things out there, whether it was research centers, collaborations, or partnerships.”
The Krypto Labs hub is built across 2,600 square meters, and backed by Abu Dhabi Financial Group, an investment group with a global portfolio of more than US$6 billion, it has developed a global network through partnerships that enable it to offer various services and support for entrepreneurs, such as mentorship, funding and networking sessions. In addition to their signature program, Krypto Labs regularly hosts a number of global competitions as well as events, including The Female Leaders Forum and The Crypto Currency Discussion. According to Dr. Al Hashemi, the driver for Krypto Labs’ wide offering is in line with what the UAE has to offer to entrepreneurs around the world. He notes that what can be witnessed in terms of the country’s activity and leadership as a pioneer in the startup scene is “just the tip of the iceberg,” noting how it has a lot more to offer in human capital, ideas, marketplace, and an economy where startups can thrive. “There are many cases of ideas being conceived outside of the UAE, then moving to the UAE to continue its growth, which is proof to the fact that the UAE is the right ecosystem with the appropriate regulations, and the right surrounding marketplace,” Dr. Al Hashemi says. “The UAE continues to be a uniquely positioned ecosystem in the region that supports startups, we see daily enhancements in the UAE in terms of supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, and this brings a wealth of opportunities.”
The official inauguration of the Krypto Labs space was in October 2017, alongside the final round of the incubator’s first Krypto Startup Contest 2017. The contest garnered 2,000 applications from 75 countries, which ended with startups ModelMe3D, The Difference and ToonYou.com emerging as the final winners. Not long after this successful competition, Krypto Labs launched the $1 million Drone Innovation Startup Contest to recognize the world’s top innovators in the aerial mobility sector. In addition, Dr. Al Hashemi notes that Krypto Labs also runs in-house programs in partnership with Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups. “This also gives our startups and entrepreneurs an exposure to the leading worldclass expertise in this field,” he says. “We support local startups at our Abu Dhabibased facility, and global startups through our virtual program in collaboration with 500 Startups. The timeline is typically five months, but can vary, depending on the need of each startup. The benefits it brings are the combination of 500’s extensive reach and network, and Krypto Labs’ strategic support for UAE-based companies.”
In August, Krypto Labs announced another of its global competitions, but this time specifically tailored for the education technology (edtech) sector. The EdTech Innovations Startup Contest 2018 offers a total prize fund of $270,000 to individuals, teams, university students, and companies around the world who can utilize the power of artificial intelligence to positively impact different categories of the currently existing educational ecosystems, including curriculum applications, universal access to classrooms, data applications, lifelong learning applications, supplemental applications, and behavioral analytics applications. The winning startup, who shall be dubbed the Entrepreneurial Hero, will receive up to $150,000 in funding, with an additional $20,000 being awarded to each star of the six categories.
Dr. Al Hashemi asserts that early-stage concepts need significant support, as it is a very special moment “when you get to see the potential of these startups, [so we need to] invest in them, and provide them with the necessary support, so they grow at an accelerated pace.” But is there enough funding for early-stage enterprises in the region? While he believes there’s enough funding available, acquiring solid funding can still be tricky. Dr. Al Hashemi reiterates the importance of entrepreneurs conducting adequate market research, and being able to properly formulate and present their ideas, while understanding the market they’re addressing. “Any idea is a good idea, but a brilliant, market-appropriate idea that solves problems is the core to the success of startups,” he says. “Startups need to understand the market they’re targeting, and whether it needs the product they’re selling at all.”
As for startup hurdles relating to growth, acquiring customers, and being able to test out their value proposition, Dr. Al Hashemi reiterates the commitment and hard work needed to navigate these issues. “The most difficult challenge for early-stage startups is sustaining the same energy and focused planning that is found in the beginning,” he says. “Many startups fall apart because the founders did not expect a certain issue would arise, or failed to plan accordingly to predict the ups and downs of the startingup process. My advice is to always plan, and keep track of all changes happening- every small detail count. Being able to predict mistakes, control damage, and solve problems are valuable necessities for the survival of early-stage startups.”
According to Dr. Al Hashemi, a change is needed in the mindset around the culture of entrepreneurship today. “As the ecosystem evolves, the elements involved change, so we have to make sure we are in sync with upcoming startups,” he explains. “Early-stage enterprises and entrepreneurs need more than money, they need structured yet flexible support, as they find that developing a scalable business model is complex and risky. Providing mentorship, and access to the appropriate networks is considered just as vital as funding nowadays.” He notes that if done properly, now is a very appropriate time to start a business in the MENA region, listing reasons like the Middle East’s young population, the region’s e UAE itself can serve as a good access point to all those regional markets. Dr. Al Hashemi concludes by adding that his team is also in the process of expanding to global locations to grow Krypto Labs’ reach, which will further aid the UAE’s vision to become a global hub for innovation.