When it comes to unusual business ideas presented at entrepreneur competitions in the region, one pitch in particular gave judges paws for thought.
Animal-assisted therapy for people with disabilities and illnesses was a proposal at Al Tamimi Investments' (ATI) Big Start contest, which was open to postgraduate students for the first time this year.
"This concept is not used in the Middle East," says Aditi Sen, 26, an MBA student at SP Jain School of Global Management in Dubai. "I researched and found that some organisations offer pet adoption but it is not used as a therapy."
On Tuesday night, Ms Sen's idea was announced the winner of Big Start's third annual competition seeing off two other finalists and a total of 78 proposals from UAE college and university students. ATI, a private equity firm, provides full financial support as well as marketing, mentoring and auditing help to get the winning plan to market.
"School children here have no exposure to animals," Ms Sen says.
A challenge in her for-profit social enterprise could be the lack of awareness among local population of animal-assisted therapy, she says. Her target clientele will be western expatriates and students but the business will also engage in building awareness.
While the concept is not usually seen on a large scale, according to Ms Sen, she plans to open franchises in a couple of years. Her business will involve sourcing animals, such as dogs, cats, hamsters and fish. She also plans to build a shelter and office space in Dubai.
Some of the areas where the students need mentoring are in research and finance.
"If you have an idea, try researching it to see if it is practical," says Arpit Juneja, group venture manager at ATI and a mentor for the Big Start participants this year.
"Talk to people to find whether there is a market or not, [try] to understand the competition."
Ms Sen's conversations with psychiatrists, student counsellors and school principals enabled her to analyse the market needs for such therapy. A school principal is ready to implement her idea as a pilot programme, she says.
The ATI team will help her with the financial details such as determining revenue target and set-up and marketing costs for the first two years.
After the winners are selected, internal audit and marketing are the two major areas where ATI's professional team provides help.
"It usually takes six months to get the business up and running," Mr Juneja says.
The private equity firm holds a percentage of the shares in the company, the rest is held by the student entrepreneur who then takes on the role of the chief executive of the company.
To part with a company Tamimi has helped set up is a business decision, Mr Juneja says.
"But if [a student plan] is close to our portfolio of interests we might keep on with it," he says. The firm is involved in early education, health care and retail.
ATI invested about Dh2 million (US$54,446) in the designer clothes project pitched by the first competition winner, Yahya Stapic, who opened his business, United Designers, in the Mirdiff City Centre mall in Dubai last September. The second year's winning business plan is still under development. Ms Sen and ATI did not divulge the investment needed for her business.
Nur Amer, 22, and Maher Jabri, 26, lost out on Tuesday night but they are ready to look for new investors.
Ms Amer's proposal was a personalised greeting-card business and she wants to postpone her postgraduate studies to pursue her idea.
The unique selling point of Mr Jabri's business proposal was to make energy-saving remote-control home automation and safety systems more affordable.
"I am already in contact with manufacturers to supply components such as hardware, for example dimmers for lights," Mr Jabri says.
"The challenge is how to get the business click on the first day, to generate income as soon as you can."