Sheraa Launches UCAN Startup Awards To Support And Promote Healthtech and Agri-Foodtech Entrepreneurs In The MENA Region The contest has been specifically conceptualized to help promote and aid socially-minded innovations that can cater to either one of two main themes: "Healing the World" for healthtech, and "Feeding the Future" for foodtech.

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

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The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has brought forward the importance of the healthcare and food industries to societies and governments across the globe. As Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), puts it: "Our societies and economies are only as strong as our food and healthcare infrastructure. Progress across industries can be sustained so long as people have continuous access to nutritious food and affordable healthcare services."

It's with this thought in mind that Sheraa, as part of its wider response to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the MENA region, launched the Ubuntu Care And Nurture (UCAN) Startup Awards in late September this year. The contest has been specifically conceptualized to help promote and aid socially-minded innovations that can cater to either one of two main themes: "Healing the World" for healthtech, and "Feeding the Future" for agri-foodtech.

The initiative's name itself reemphasizes Sheraa's allegiance to the #UbuntuLoveChallenge, a global social movement founded by Sheraa Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi and Africa 2.0 Foundation founder Mamadou Kwidjim Toure that encourages people across the world, regardless of their background, race, or religion, to foster and spread values of humanity and collectiveness through acts of kindness and solidarity.

"We launched the UCAN Startup Awards in partnership with the Ubuntu Love Challenge in order to support entrepreneurs working to leave a lasting impact on their communities, and who are developing solutions for a post-COVID world," Al Midfa says. "Through this initiative, we want to support startups whose unique healthtech and agri-foodtech solutions are meeting the urgent needs of not just the communities they serve, but the world at large. By directing our immediate focus to these key sectors, Sheraa seeks to promote the UAE's and the region's efforts to secure our future."

Related: Amplifying Goodwill: Why You Should Participate In The #UbuntuLoveChallenge

Najla Al Midfa, CEO, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center. Source: Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center

Al Midfa reveals that the UCAN Startup Awards has, so far, received nearly 700 submissions from the MENA and sub-Saharan Africa regions. With applications now closed, the semi-finalists of the competition are scheduled to be announced on the November 4, 2020, with the finalists scheduled to be announced a week later on the 12th. The final winners of the UCAN initiative will be announced on the December 6th this year.

The initiative, which has a US$250,000 equity-free prize purse, will reward the first prize winners with a $100,000 grant, while each of the runners-up will receive a grant of $25,000. The basic requirements to fulfil the judgment criteria was simple: the startup must have a fully developed product or minimum viable product (MVP), display growth and impact through their idea, and be interested in expanding into the MENA market.

But in addition to the aforementioned cash prizes, the winning startups are also set to receive plenty of other benefits. For starters, the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP), a partner of Sheraa, will provide access to subsidized licensing and office set up support to the winning teams. GEN Accelerates, another one of Sheraa's global partners, has provided all startup applicants with a comprehensive content library.

Related: #UbuntuLoveChallenge In Action: More Than AED700,000 Disbursed by Sheraa and CE-Ventures To 11 Startups In The UAE

Source: Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center

A few selected startups will also receive exclusive access to media and PR support services owing to Sheraa's partnership with Entrepreneur Middle East. The final winners of the UCAN initiative will be able to gain access to conferences and networking events, and gain mentorship from industry experts so they may scale up and grow in the region.

Al Midfa points out that while the competition itself is heavily reliant on tech-enabled innovations, the core underlying reason for this initiative is still largely driven by the need to create sustainable, social impact in a post-COVID-19 world. "Based on research conducted on healthcare and agri-foodtech trends around the world, the MEA region has recently begun to accelerate their innovation in these industries, and for good reason," she explains. "There is a growing need to mitigate the effects of climate change on arable land –already a limited resource– for example, and to reduce the region's reliance on costly food imports, as well as the importance of ensuring quality of life for our citizens via access to healthcare."

This mindset aligns well with the judges' criteria for selecting the winners in the upcoming months. In addition to quality of idea and level of technological innovations, factors such as the experience and backgrounds of the team behind the idea, and the startup's social impact have been deemed equally important. "Essentially, the UCAN Startup Awards, in addition to being Sheraa's response to challenges posed by COVID-19, is also an endeavor to promote conscious entrepreneurship at home and across our region, which is already a growing global force," Al Midfa concludes.

Related: Sheraa CEO Najla Al Midfa Announces A US$1 Million Fund To Support Startups Amid The COVID-19 Crisis

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Writer, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Writer at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and was also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program.

Ahmed is keen on pursuing and writing stories on people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

A bibliophile, chai addict, and photography enthusiast, she can be often found (animatedly) talking about Kdramas, BTS, cricket, novels, and comic book films.

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