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Startup Spotlight: UAE-Based Oscar Is Helping Businesses Attain Supply Chain Sustainability In Their Journeys Towards Net-Zero Data collection is a pivotal aspect of how Oscar helps businesses transform their procurement chains. But the startup's unique selling point lies in its ability to take a very localized approach.

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

Abed Shawar, founder and CEO, Oscar

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.

Following the UAE's historic hosting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (aka COP28) last year, there has undoubtedly been a lot of added conversations surrounding businesses' environmental, sustainable and governmental (ESG) policies. But did you know that as per the United Nations (UN) Global Compact -a global initiative that connects companies and the UN to advance sustainable development goals (SDGs)- it is supply chain practices that have proven to be the biggest challenge to business sustainability goals?

It is precisely this issue that is being tackled by Abu Dhabi-based Oscar, a startup that allows businesses to better comply with net zero regulations by assessing their supply chain for potential ESG risks with the help of a standardized and automated solution. "The platform allows companies to easily screen and score their suppliers against international and regional best practices in sustainability," explains Abed Shawar, founder and CEO of Oscar. "They can then use these assessments to self-report their Scope 3 emissions [indirect emissions from upstream and downstream business activities] impact, and take actions to reduce it. We also educate suppliers, allowing them to increase their performance, and reduce the risks of working with them. This increases the sustainability performance of the entire supply chain, and reduces its environmental and social impact. Our protocols also help businesses track their suppliers' performance across various ESG topics, and enhance decision-making."

Launched in 2023, Oscar's services promise to seamlessly align with any given business' existing procurement process. UN SDGs aside, the startup has also committed to contribute towards UAE Net Zero by 2050, a government initiative that aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050- the first MENA nation to do so. "In order to meet this agenda, the UAE is anticipated to roll out aggressive regulations that will impact local businesses and corporations," Shawar notes. "Local companies will struggle initially to comply with new or unfamiliar regulations without support. The largest focus area will be the supply chain- where companies have the most impact on people, communities and the environment. Most procurement departments do not screen suppliers for environmental and social risks, which greatly increases the risk of negative environmental and societal impact."

Source: Oscar

Shawar's interest in this topic, however, dates back to a time before ESG wasn't as much in the limelight as it is now, when he was forging a career as a sustainability, environment, and waste specialist. "I learnt then how critical sustainability within procurement is for companies in the UAE, not just to meet incoming regulations, but also as a standard business practice," he shares. "Companies are leaving money and credibility on the table! As much as 90% of your environmental and social risks lie across your supply chain, and emissions across your supply chain are 11.5 times higher than those from direct operations. In addition, companies that employ this simple due diligence step can lower procurement costs by up to 16%, increase positive brand value by 30%, and increase profit margins by up to 20%. 66% of MENA consumers want to buy from companies sourcing their goods and services sustainably!"

Related: Analyzing The Impact On -And What's Next For- The Middle East After The UAE's Momentous Staging Of COP28

Data collection is thus a pivotal aspect of how Oscar helps businesses transform their procurement chains. But the startup's unique selling point lies in its ability to take a very localized approach, explains the founder. "Our protocols are based on international standards and best practices, but tailored to local ESG literacy and reporting standards," Shawar continues. "For example, we are the only solution that has integrated the new GCC ESG reporting guidelines into our protocols. Additionally, our business model was built using our experience and knowledge of local business culture to promote a quicker go-to-market. We avoid using the commercial approach of international entities, which encounter more friction in the region."

But in the midst of all the focus on businesses and their procurement policies, Shawar and his team have ensured that the suppliers themselves are included in the bigger picture. "Sustainability is a very stakeholder-centric endeavor, so while we seek to enhance procurement processes and reduce costs, we cannot forget the suppliers whose livelihoods we are impacting," he continues. "That is why Oscar operates under a "no-supplier-left-behind" policy. We engage with suppliers, providing them with all the resources, education, and reporting they need to improve their performance. The aim is not to exclude suppliers that do poorly; we want to build on the performance of every supplier in your network. We want to ensure that this policy and its ideals are embedded in our fabric at every point in our development."

Since launching its minimum viable product in January 2023, Oscar has also secured an undisclosed amount of funds raised by the startup team's family and friends, and it was also invited to exhibit its services at COP28 by the UAE Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology. "We've also grown to a team of five people!" Shawar adds. "Since our launch, we've secured two distribution partnerships with a leading sustainability consultant, as well as Procore, a project management platform widely used in construction. And, finally, we're also running three pilots concurrently with leading clients in the UAE."

Source: Oscar

In the midst of all the above events, Oscar was also accepted into the MBRIF Innovation Accelerator program- a move that Shawar believes will help in navigating the rejections and doubts that are often cast upon young startups. "Many companies in the UAE are not familiar with startups, and they are unwilling to try new solutions outside of the established norms," Shawar laments. "The MBRIF program is helping us network with potential clients to demonstrate our value. Warm introductions from an established partner go a long way in facilitating this, and the MBRIF has incredibly strong relationships with many UAE-based corporations. Additionally, as a government initiative we hope this allows us to meet with government stakeholders to demonstrate Oscar's potential use in the tracking of net zero initiatives."

As Shawar and his team gear up for their next steps, they are mindful that while hurdles may loom ahead, there isn't a more ideal place for their startup than the UAE. "Sustainable procurement is a simple statement, but there is quite a lot that goes into it that is not immediately clear," Shawar says. "Working in Dubai, however, we have a unique opportunity to work, network, and meet incredibly open-minded and forward-thinking people. The government's commitment to Net Zero 2050 also makes us confident that this is the right time to be here. These combined factors allow us to get our point across in a supportive environment, and secure the future success of the Oscar platform."

Related: Paradigm Shift: The World Simply Can't Afford To Make Unsustainable Investments Anymore

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Editor 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 particularly keen on writing stories involving people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

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