Startup Spotlight: UAE-Born Immensa Is Tackling A US$165 Billion Untapped Market Opportunity With Its Additive Manufacturing Technologies
The startup's digital platform utilizes additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, better known as 3D printing, to enable organizations reduce the number of spare parts they have to physically store.
Founded in 2016 by Fahmi Al Shawwa, Immensa specializes in manufacturing spare parts in the oil and gas industry. “Spare parts are the Achilles heel of the global oil and gas industry,” explains Al Shawwa. “Operators are often forced to maintain extensive inventories of a large variety parts and components to try and minimize production losses resulting from equipment breakdowns. Despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars in slow-moving inventory, companies still suffer billions of dollars of lost production value each year.”
And with that comes the crux of Immensa’s offerings: the startup’s digital platform utilizes additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, better known as 3D printing, to enable organizations reduce the number of spare parts they have to physically store, while also ensuring necessary parts are available in a timely manner to reduce downtime. With the platform, clients can select from various kinds of parts, have them produced at the nearest AM operator, and delivered to the point of need quickly and efficiently. Besides reducing production loss, Immensa also decreases operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) costs related to maintain and managing a complicated and inefficient supply chain.
According to Al Shawwa, the goal for Immensa is to make and categorize every viable part used in the oil and gas industry around the world. “We are today the largest player in this space, that intersects the oil and gas industry with additive manufacturing,” he adds, proudly. With development starting back in 2017, the team started pilot testing in 2019, with the founder and CEO noting that they have gained significant traction over the past years. This is showcased from their work with leading global oil and energy companies, as well as being active members in the international associates that have developed the standards for metal 3D printing spare parts in the oil and gas industry.
Case in point is its license approval from KSA’s Ministry of Investments, as part of its footprint in Saudi Arabia. In terms of revenue, Al Shawwa says, “We saw our top line grow by 300% in 2020, and we are on track to double more than double this year.” With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the startup explored producing medical face shields -notably useful for workers in healthcare and food industries- to help prevent the coronavirus infection rates. As of April 2020, The National reported that the startup has been able to supply nearly 5,000 units of face shields to different organizations, including Hira Industries and Emirates Food Industries.
Launching in Dubai, UAE, was a well-thought-out decision, according to Al Shawwa. With the aim to build a billion-dollar company, the team considered between the USA and the UAE when choosing a base. While the States offered numerous cities to launch from, the team were reluctant as doing so would mean it would be very intrinsic and catering only to the US market. “It would also have been more challenging to go overseas from the US,” says Al Shawwa. Dubai, on the other hand, offered them infrastructure, legislation, access to manpower, and a government that was accessible and proactive in promoting innovative technology, while also being able to cater to regional and global markets
But that’s not to say that the team didn’t face any hurdles, Al Shawwa adds. The first challenge: a lack of awareness and openness from the private sector to work with startups. “Our regional companies have never spent on R&D or developed a culture of openness to try new things; we have always been followers.” Next was Dubai’s nascent 3D printing industry: “The actual Dubai market for what we do is small in nature, and we would need to build the business to leverage Dubai as the hub that services companies across the GCC, Central Asia, Europe, and the rest of MENA.” But even though such challenges exist, Al Shawwa points out that they are outweighed by the advantages of Dubai “having an easy to navigate legal environment, a presence from all the major global multinational companies, and a government that is dynamic, young, and operates and thinks more like entrepreneurs, than old-style bureaucratic establishments.”
Having kicked off in Dubai, Immensa soon expanded and opened a second facility in a partnership with the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park- it’s actually the region’s first and only industrial metal AM operation, Al Shawwa says. As of date, the startup has also raised “around US$5 million” in funds, mainly from founding partners and a select small circle of investors. The company also acquired Saudi Arabia-based companies, Shakl3D and LayLabs, to further expedite the development of the startup in the 3D printing sector in the Kingdom. Today, with over 32 engineers (a number that’s set to increase soon, Al Shawwa adds) and an in-depth expertise in the oil and gas and energy sectors, Al Shawwa is proud to note that his enterprise is the only AM company across the world with the Petroleum Industry’s IS029001 certification. With operations now in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Kazakhstan, it will be interesting to see how Immensa tackles what it calls an untapped market opportunity- which Al Shawwa notes is worth $165 billion today. Wait and watch!
‘TREP TALK: Q&A with Fahmi Al Shawwa, founder and CEO, Immensa
How has the MBRIF accelerator program helped you and your startup?
“Initially, we were reluctant in applying to the MBRIF program, since we were past the incubation stage and probably more advanced than typical startups that get into those cohorts. We had been around for a few years with a senior management team in place. However, I have to admit the caliber of mentors, the expertise of the teams overseeing the program, and the material being provided far exceeded what I had anticipated. The MBRIF team curated the focused on identifying the right mentors and advisors for the right companies. The effort and deep dives they did on our companies was very impressive. The way the program is structured is valuable, and highly customized per startup. From a personal perspective, there a lot of takeaways I was able to extract, and there were a few key points that were specifically addressed and resolved. MBRIF provided a valuable experience.”
Pamella de Leon is the Startup Section Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is keen on the MENA region’s entrepreneurship potential, with a specific interest to support enterprises and individuals creating an impact.