Gearing Up For Victory: The Search Begins For The Winners Of Dubai Startup Hub's Smartpreneur 6.0 Competition
Dubai Startup Hub held a virtual pitching session to choose the 10 finalists of its Smartpreneur Competition 6.0.
The search for the winners of the Smartpreneur Competition 6.0, an annual startup contest organized by Dubai Startup Hub, the entrepreneurship support arm of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is now well on its way.
In mid December, Smartpreneur Competition 6.0 held a three-day virtual pitching session to determine who among the 30 selected participants would proceed to the finals and be enlisted as the top 10 startups for this year's edition of the competition. The candidates were all required to submit solutions aligned with the Expo 2020 Dubai’s sub-themes of trade, opportunity, and sustainability, and they had also attended a four-day pitch bootcamp prior to the pitching session.
The panel’s jury members featured entrepreneurs and past participants of the Smartpreneur program, including Nader Amiri, founder of elGrocer, Sameer Nawani, Head of of International Office – India at Dubai Chamber, Kareem Ayyad, founder of Cerebian and Ventures Associate at Plug and Play, Shonam Khaitan, Head of Startup and Venture Capital Ecosystem at Amazon, Nadine Imad, Chief Product Officer at Lexyom Law Firm, Ahmad Aly Eldabaa, MD of Ajax Business Solutions at Ajax, and Mohamed Fagiri, founder and CEO at Uqudo, among others.
The first day featured startups solving issues in the Trade category, which included Zola Collective, an impact- and wellbeing-driven retail brand. Founded by Misha Patel and Anusha Mahtani, Zola Collective is on a mission to provide African farmers, artisans, and craftsmen a stable source of income as well as access to international markets by private labeling their products. Patel noted how the program gave them a new perspective about their venture. “We had a really different insight and angle on how to position our business- we used to position it in a very different way and focus on the social aspect of our business, which is empowering African entrepreneurs," she said. “We realized that we are also enabling trade. And that is one of our strengths. It gave us a very neat and niche overview of how we should position our business and what our strengths are.”
Hashim Alhussaini, founder and CEO of B2B fintech platform Crediti Fintech also commended the competition and Dubai Chamber for the great awareness it provides startups with. One example is how Smartpreneur 6.0 boosted his vision for his enterprise, which is focused on digitizing supply chain, trade finance, and credit utilization to enhance governance. “We can, with full confidence, say that we are going to become one of the first unicorns in the UAE," Alhussaini said. “We're taking off, and we want to show to the world that Dubai is a hub for unicorns and decacorns. While a unicorn is a startup valued at over US$1 billion, a decacorn is a company valued at over $10 billion, and we can achieve this.”
The second day of the pitching sessions focused on startups in the Opportunity category, such as Sumayya Sarwar’s Mama ME app, which features a Tinder-like interface to connect and create a community for mothers in the Middle East. While the startup was initially launched to help young mothers tackle postpartum depression, Sarwar noted how participating in Smartpreneur allowed her to reshape her startup’s narrative. “It’s a really well thought-out program," she said. "It was super valuable to me, how they were able to make sure that I’m communicating [my business] to others in a way that enables them to understand it properly, and how they taught me to effectively communicate the thoughts in my head.”
She also commended the benefits of the program’s one-on-one sessions with mentors and experts, where they deep dive into one's business and business model. Being a part of the program validated her concept too, she says: “The fact that they even considered our startup shows that this is something that is really valuable to Dubai going forward.” With that in mind, Sarwar noted how they will consider verticals including women undergoing in vitro fertilization, women trying to conceive, and women experiencing menopause. “I definitely will be keeping in touch with people that I’ve spoken to, and the mentorship that we've had,” Sarwar said.
Mazen Omair is the co-founder and CEO of Eduployment Portals LLC, a purpose-driven online recruiting platform with a mission to eradicate poverty by educating and offering job placements for blue collar workers. “The Smartpreneur program and the resources it brought to the table were fantastic," he said. "Ayman [Itani, founder of Think Media Labs] and other team members who have engaged with us in terms of the coaching, pitching and reviewing business models have been invaluable. As lifelong learners, my co-founder and I, as well as others who have committed to being lifelong learners, find that the alignment between the program and our personal preferences has been fantastic.” Omair also said he hopes to leverage the Smartpreneur program for higher exposure. “We're a startup, so we need more word-of-mouth in order to reach the employers with whom our mission and vision resonates, to start hiring the candidates on our platform, as well as to potentially attract any impact-focused investors that would love to be part of our journey.”
Finally, the last day of Smartpreneur 6.0's pitching session focused on startups in the Sustainability category. Pranay Addepalli, Engineer at Hydro Wind Energy, a cleantech startup developing disruptive technologies to solve issues in the energy and water sector, pitched its low-cost portable seawater desalination device. Addepalli called the program a phenomenal experience. “It’s a great platform and in line with the Expo 2020 Dubai, where you get a bigger voice and you’re being heard [by a wider audience]," he said. "The sessions where we had to tailor our pitches and practice with the other competitors were incredible.”
Addepalli and his team are now looking forward to what being a part of Smartpreneur will result for their enterprise in the future. “[We’re hoping] to get leads in the NGOs and disaster relief organizations in the MENA region, because those are the people who will be enable to push this device to the right population at the right time," Addepalli says. "So, we're hoping the Smartpreneur Competition 6.0 gives us leads to those calibers and those avenues.” He added, “It's also been pretty interesting to see startups in the space of sustainability working on different things. So, it's sort of giving us the whole perspective on the ecosystem and the other companies that are tackling sustainability as well.”
This sentiment is also echoed by Dr. Saeed Alhassan Alkhazraji, founder and CEO of Manhat, a deep technology startup focusing on providing sustainable water production solutions without desalination using its patented technology. As an entrepreneur whose primary background is in engineering, Dr. Alkhazraji noted how his expertise lies more in providing deep technical details. “When we actually went through the program, one of the best pieces of advice I received honestly was from the team led by Ayman Itani, because he helped us in organizing our thoughts, and how we could actually make a better story about [our venture]. It’s almost like, he is the editor of a movie, wherein we already shot the movie, but he gave us tips on how to make it better.”
Dr. Alkhazraji also stated how the Smartpreneur program is designed to really nurture sustainable businesses, saying, “The organization is superb, and I actually believe that the mentality behind it is really focused on [helping] successful businesses, irrespective of what happens in the competition.” He notes his optimism for the future of his startup, and his fellow participants as well. “Being in this program allowed us to reach more people and educate them about our tech… The outlook we have is that we’re really excited and hopeful.”
The finalists of Smartpreneur Competition 6.0 will have the opportunity to meet potential partners and investors during the final ceremony and investor session, as well as the opportunity to pitch live at Expo 2020 Dubai, and compete for AED150,000 in total prize money. Stay tuned for all the action!
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.