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How Dubai Startup Hub's Market Access Program Is Helping Dubai-Based Startup Distichain Pitch For New Business (Even Amid COVID-19) How do you network to find new clients and pitch your product or service amid a global pandemic? Check out this entrepreneur's story.

By Megha Merani

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


How do you network to find new clients and pitch your product or service amid a global pandemic?

For Haisam Jamal, the answer is simple: get accepted into Dubai Startup Hub's Market Access program.

Launched in 2017, Market Access is a first-of-its-kind program that pairs leading companies and government entities in the UAE with startups that offer innovative solutions to address their key challenges.

Seven major corporates have signed up to the latest edition of Market Access including Sanofi, Mediclinic, Sumitomo Corporation, Accenture, Dubai South, Emirates Post Group and Emirates NBD, giving startups the chance to submit their solutions online and pitch their business concepts.

Jamal, the co-founder and CEO of B2B e-commerce marketplace provider Distichain, is in the process of pitching his new venture to Fortune 500 global trading and business investment company Sumitomo Corporation.

"We are just about to launch [Distichain] and the fact that we're able to have the likes of a Sumitomo on our prospective customer list will just propel us significantly forward because it will automatically give a lot of comfort to other potential customers like them," he said in a phone interview.

Distichain's team, mission and technology stack are all built to focus on offering a fourth generation trade engine as a service (SaaS) using blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

"We have built a trade engine using these technologies to deliver B2B e-commerce marketplaces and e-procurement platforms that facilitate seamless global trading," Jamal explains. "By combining the best service providers in logistics, insurance and trade finance with the most innovative of these fourth industrial revolution solutions, we offer SMEs globally an intuitive user interface for them to trade using services normally limited to the elite few."

Haisam Jamal, co-founder, Distichain

Or in more layperson terms, Jamal adds, Distichain operates similar to a Shopify, but for the B2B sector.

"This technology is on the verge of revolutionizing trade finance and supply chain as part of the fourth industrial revolution," he insists, adding that his solution is especially important in light of global trade challenges created by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

"We're in the trade digitization business, so we are extremely relevant for these times and with everything that's happening."

Getting the attention of the likes of a Sumitomo was "a very small probability" for Distichain, Jamal adds.

Meeting new potential customers the traditional way –in person and through networking events and trade shows– has been a challenge for small businesses following the COVID-19 outbreak, which is why Dubai Startup Hub, an entrepreneurship initiative of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has taken its events online to support members including networking events, training workshops and delivery of all its programs and activities.

"We met the Sumitomo team virtually, or rather we saw them on the other side of the screen," Jamal recalls. "In a normal, regular, environment, we would have met and exchanged business cards, shaken hands and it would have felt like we got to know them on a on a more personal level and we would have spent some extra time together. [But] Market Access brought their decision makers to the table for us even online. There were around 15 or 20 people from their team [on the video call]. For them to really take the time to listen and subsequently to ask us questions, and really learn about the product, wouldn't normally have been possible. It would have been very hard for for us to get a foot in the door."

The Market Access process

In its fourth cycle, the Market Access program has received more than 500 applications from corporate and startups in previous rounds. Startups that make the cut also benefit from training and pitching workshops, access to lucrative business opportunities as well as a platform to boost their market exposure and build their brand reputation.

"The submission [process] was fairly straightforward and easy," Jamal says. "Startups like us have a lot of this material ready so it was just filling in the gaps. But the coaching workshops took us out of our comfort zone with regards to the things that we had already done and prepared. When we presented, it wasn't that our presentation was good or bad. But they said, no, let's try it in a different format. This wasn't the first three-minute presentation I've done but normally I would exclude more information. So what the coaching helped with was how we were able to fit a good amount of information within even that limited three-minute timeframe and I think that was amazing."

Distichain is currently working on delivering three B2B marketplaces to Australian B2B e-commerce global marketplace 8 Corners to support agribusiness producers to trade effortlessly, as well as to Dubai-based fragrance manufacturer and wholesaler Extravaganza Beauty, and Canadian based hotel e-procurement network

"Our ambition is to have a couple of hundred marketplaces operating [using] Distichain," Jamal says.

While the marketplaces have all the functionality of any leading B2B platform, he adds, Distichain is also able to facilitate instant trade finance securing transactions and allow trading companies to give each other open credit terms, 100% risk free without need for credit cards or up-front cash by connecting them with traditional and digital banks or fintech providers. The process is simplified by zero email end-to-end automation of transactions with integrated logistics, insurance, and inspection services, all managed from a single screen. Most significantly, Distichain's AI helps users' decision-making with data and recommendations to optimize inventory management and maximize profitability.

"Nobody delivers [this] in the simple Shopify format," Jamal says. "The user interface makes it possible for anyone to subscribe and trade. And why would we do that? Because we have SMEs in mind."

The CEO adds: "One of the guys from Sumitomo told us they had looked at how to use blockchain and create this kind of end-to-end experience. He said they struggled, but that we seem to have cracked it."

Looking ahead, Jamal says, regardless of if a deal works out or not, being vetted for the opportunity to present to Sumitomo has already won Distichain "a lot of credibility."

He adds: "And at the end of the day, now we're part of the Dubai Chamber, and Dubai Chamber has a worldwide reputation. This gives us credibility; it gives us a real edge."

This article was originally published on Dubai Startup Hub and has been reposted on Entrepreneur Middle East based on a mutual agreement between the websites.

Related: Rethinking Business: A Look At How Some Enterprises In Dubai Are Transforming Themselves In Response To the COVID-19 Pandemic

Megha Merani

Independent Journalist

Megha Merani is an independent journalist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Her stories have made headlines across a number of publications including Reuters, Associated Press, Entrepreneur Middle EastBloomberg Middle East, Arabian Gulf Business Insight, Arabian Business, and former local daily 7DAYS.

Megha also produces editorial for government platforms including the World Government Summit and World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils. She has been a grant winner of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Global Initiative Against Organized Crime funded by the government of Norway to report on the online trade in illegal wildlife.

Megha is also an Associate Fellow (AFHEA) at Murdoch University in Dubai and leads its Digital Newsroom course unit. In addition, Megha serves as a United Nations Women mentor to support equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and supports various other programs including TIE Women, 60 Day Startups, and the Watt Inc. Business Incubator.

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