Startup Spotlight: Abu Dhabi-Based Hulexo Is Here To Reduce Operational Bottlenecks For Small Businesses At its core, the startup aims to address the many shortcomings of traditional ERP systems.
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This article is part of an ongoing series covering startups that have been a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program.
Amidst the plethora of challenges that plague small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UAE, the implementation and management of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems is one that often leads to much inefficiency. While there are plenty of statistics to highlight this, Huzaifa Hameed, co-founder and CEO of Hulexo, a cloud-based retail ERP system based in the UAE, personally experienced this particular challenge. "As someone who comes from a family of small business owners, I witnessed firsthand the challenges faced in trying to stay competitive and make informed decisions in a fast-paced retail landscape," Hameed says. "As my co-founders, Marwin Favila and Ibrahim Al Rachdi, and I pursued studies in computer science and artificial intelligence (AI), a vision began to crystallize. The realization struck that the power of AI could be harnessed to not only streamline, but revolutionize, the retail sector. The idea wasn't just about automating processes; it was about empowering retailers with insights that could transform their decision-making processes."
Hulexo was thus launched in 2021 in Abu Dhabi as an ERP platform that helps retailers streamline operations and make smarter decisions with an AI-powered decision recommendation engine. And at its core, the startup aims to address the many shortcomings of traditional ERP systems. "The conventional ERP systems lacked the agility and adaptability required to keep pace with rapidly changing consumer behaviors and requirements of a scaling business," Hameed explains. "They were often cumbersome, had poor support, and offered static insights that quickly became outdated. The gap between data collection and actionable intelligence was a challenge that many retailers struggled to bridge. Driven by a desire to make a meaningful impact, we decided to embark on a journey to create an AI-powered retail ERP system."
The Hulexo platform thus offers services such as inventory management, intelligent point of sale (POS), purchase management, and e-commerce integration. But while data collection is an important part of any ERP system, what Hulexo aims to provide are actionable insights in the form of reports and analytics. "The biggest differentiation from our competition is that all these systems leave it to the retailer to make sense of the data collected, whereas our system uses a robust AI decision-making engine to process the data, and suggest decisions in real time, making the operations and decision-making process proactive, rather than reactive," Hameed elaborates. "Moreover, Hulexo is built using a rapid application development (RAD) technology, allowing us six times faster customization and implementation times, as well as one-click integrations to multiple third-party applications like Shopify, WooCommerce, QuickBooks, and many more, while syncing inventory and other information in real-time."
In the two years since its inception, Hulexo has seen its fair share of successful projects with multiple UAE-based retailers- these include renowned names like Adidas and DKNY, as well as locally headquartered brands such as Padel Life, The Giving Movement, Nauras Sandals, The First Group, and Jimmy Le Bond. "Hulexo is a team of highly skilled professionals, with a collective experience of over 30 years in the fields of technology, data science, and artificial intelligence," Hameed adds. "Last year, we secured a pre-seed funding round of US$215,000 by UAE-based seed and early-stage venture capital (VC) firm Flat6Labs. It was a pivotal milestone that propelled us to achieve product-market fit, and scale our solutions to over 100 retailers. Currently, we are actively seeking funding for our next round to fuel our expansion into the retail markets of Saudi Arabia and Qatar."
But while it may seem that all the puzzle pieces are in place for Hulexo right now, that was far from the case when Hameed and his co-founders first ventured into this business. "A significant hurdle we faced was the initial skepticism of potential investors, who were wary of the uncharted territory of merging AI with the intricacies of the retail industry," he recalls. "Pitch after pitch, we faced rejection, with many investors failing to grasp the potential of our startup. Moreover, we grappled with the complexities of integrating AI algorithms with the diverse operations of the retail sector. In the quest to create an inclusive solution for SMEs, financial constraints loomed large. Developing cutting-edge AI technology required substantial resources, and we often found ourselves stretched thin, not knowing if we would make it till the next payroll. We had to make tough decisions about prioritizing features, allocating resources efficiently, and finding creative solutions to financial constraints."
And with the monetary challenges came moments of self-doubt for the co-founding trio, admits Hameed. "Balancing the ambition to push technological boundaries with the need for a practical, user-friendly solution was an ongoing struggle," he adds. "The pressure to deliver a product that met the expectations of both tech-savvy professionals as well as those unfamiliar with advanced technology added another layer of complexity."
For all the entrepreneurs reading this story, perhaps Hameed's blatant admission of the challenges they faced -and how they overcame them- will prove to be a valuable learning lesson on how to tackle rejection. After all, at the end of all these obstacles, Hulexo's potential was finally realized- a turning point that materialized as the aforementioned pre-seed funding round led by Flat6Labs. "The story of overcoming adversity became an integral part of our company's identity, a testament to hard work and persistence," Hameed says. "We reached a pivotal moment in our journey– the need for funding to scale our operations, and bring our solution to a wider audience. We decided to seek out investors who shared our vision for the future of retail. After months of pitches, negotiations, and countless presentations, the breakthrough came when Flat6Labs decided to lead the first round of funding, injecting much-needed capital into the company."
The company received another token of validation when it was accepted into the MBRIF Innovation Accelerator Program's seventh cohort in late 2023. "The MBRIF program has provided us with everything our startup needs to scale, from experienced mentors to one-on-one consultations," Hameed says. "What I loved about the program was the level of personalization and catering to individual needs of our startups."
Looking back at Hulexo's growth trajectory so far, Hameed maintains that it was the impediments he and his co-founders faced that strengthened their resolve to succeed. "Each rejection, technical hurdle, and financial constraint became a stepping-stone, pushing us to refine our approach, strengthen our technology, and find innovative solutions," he says. "The setbacks became the catalyst for creative problem-solving and collaborative thinking. In the end, the challenges encountered along the way were not roadblocks, but essential chapters in the story of Hulexo. They shaped the resilience of the team, refined the product, and ultimately contributed to the system's success in making a lasting impact on the retail industry."
But regardless of tough times and rewarding moments, Hameed's conviction in his startup's potential has been a constant since day one- and it is precisely that confidence that he hopes to carry forward as the company looks ahead to the future. "The mission was always clear: to empower retailers, especially small and medium-sized businesses, with the tools they needed to thrive in an increasingly digital and datadriven world," Hameed reveals. "For us, the journey isn't just about building a successful business; it is about empowering retailers to utilize their full potential. The personal satisfaction derived from seeing businesses grow and thrive fueled the passion that ignited the journey in the first place. In the end, it's not just about technology; it is a testament to the transformative power of combining passion, innovation, and a genuine desire to make a positive impact on the world."