Emirati tech entrepreneur struggling to find funding
DUBAI // For Emirati entrepreneur Saeed Al Nofeli, launching his tech start-up has been quite a challenge.
While he was studying at the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology, the 33-year-old developed a camel-monitoring system to optimise the animals’ racing performance.
But for the past two years, he has been trying with great difficulty to launch a test version of his system that could be trialled before being released to the market, primarily because he is struggling to find funding.
“I’m building a hardware start-up, and in the UAE, but there aren’t many grants to support it,” said Abu Dhabi-born Mr Al Nofeli.
“Many people say there are, but I went through two competitions, won them and still find it difficult to secure government grants.”
Although Khalifa Fund paid for his first prototype, he said they did not support hardware start-ups, which, in his case, would require between Dh600,000 and Dh1 million.
“They’re working on it with Mubadala, but it takes a very long time and I’ve been waiting since November.”
He said funding support for tech entrepreneurs was not as developed in this country as it was in the US or Europe.
“I am one of the first people trying to launch a tech start-up and it’s really challenging. I am sure there are many students trying to push technology to the market, but we need a framework and support.”
“The ecosystem is still relatively nascent,” said Philip Bahoshy, a 32-year-old British-Iraqi who founded Magnitt, one of the largest start-up networks in the region, which connects start-ups to investment, talent, service providers and individuals who can help support business development.
“There is a lot of focus on funding. Start-ups should think very early on about getting the right mechanisms around them ... the most important is the founding team and advisory board, where I see a great opportunity in connecting Emiratis with expats to help in their start-up development.”
He said greater links between Emiratis and expatriates could help start-ups to develop.
“We are definitely in the early stages of the entrepreneurship ecosystem [in the region] with great opportunities, but many stakeholders are at an early stage of development and navigating the ecosystem, trying to find out how it all works.”
Others said the past five years had brought change for the better. “You have more capital than ever,” said Habib Haddad, chief executive of Wamda, a platform of programmes and networks that supports entrepreneurship in the region.
“The corporate world has started to notice and has been trying to jump in the game offering services and programmes to engage with start-ups,” Mr Haddad said.
He said governments had also realised the importance.
But they “should be careful in how they engage, because often, direct engagement might not be optimal”.
“For example, governments ...don’t understand the domain and they are not set up to take risky moves.”
“They should partner with funds that do understand it.”
Updated: July 8, 2016 04:00 AM