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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

UAE start-ups to solve world problems

UAE University's Science and Innovation Park supports Emirati innovation

From left, Asra Rahmdel of Linovate, Yahya Iqelan of Dwak and Shamsa Al Mazrouei of Fegi. They student entrepreneurs from UAE University. Pawan Singh / The National
From left, Asra Rahmdel of Linovate, Yahya Iqelan of Dwak and Shamsa Al Mazrouei of Fegi. They student entrepreneurs from UAE University. Pawan Singh / The National

New ideas are stirring at the Science and Innovation Park (SIP), the incubator of UAE University in Al Ain campus that Nihel Chabrak launched in 2015 with the theme “Challenge for Innovation”.

The outcome of the first cohort were two companies: Green Steps Energy, which transforms kinetic energy into electricity; and Bayanetto, a platform aiming to transition students to their first job while making the candidate pool more relevant to recruiters. Both are founded by Emirati female teams.

Iskren Krusteff is the Global Advisory Panel member at SIP. He focuses on the design and delivery of “Idea to Prototype” (I2P) and “Prototype to Market” (P2M) programmes, and teams under his care have won national and international competitions.

“We send to Silicon Valley young entrepreneurs who successfully complete prototypes to market. We have a partnership with French Tech Hub there,” he says.

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The SIP is funded entirely by UAE University, but aims to partner with the full ecosystem of policymakers, large corporations and the industry support sector. Following the push for ecosystem collaboration, two UAEU female students are laying the foundations of Linovate, a platform designed to solve the problems encountered by big corporations.

Linovate connects entities with researchers and students, who together decide the milestones on creating a project for a specific market area. Linovate’s second prototype integrates the feedback from potential customers and will launch in six months.

“In UAE alone we are targeting more than 2,000 paying entities between universities and companies, and 120,000 students in UAE universities will be customers,” says Asra Rahmdel, the co-founder of Linovate.

The project expects to break even in three years and will expand to the GCC and the Mena region, the co-founders say.

“The way to bring the money back is to make a donation to the Science Park after they breakeven, says Mr Krusteff. “The SIP vision is to build a community of entrepreneurs who literally acts like a family,” says Mr Krusteff, who recommends teams to start small, get feedback from a hundred people and adapt.

“By the fifth person, you start asking yourself ‘what I can improve’? By the sixth and seventh, you have improved it already, and suddenly the people will start talking about you, and you will not stop. You will not give up.”

SIP teams do not compete locally, but when they go global, the programme follows a different path compared to other accelerators and incubators.

Our long-term vision is that we can see 50 years from now what people will benefit from,” says Mr Krusteff.

“They test locally and globally, they amend and make it better, and they go full force to market. The concept is about creating a value. Don’t think about the money. Money will follow,” he says.

Dwak is a very good case. The app is a pioneer in sharing the follow up of patient prescriptions by doctors, patients and care givers. Everything started when the pharmacist Fatima Iqelan complained that patients were often not regular with their medication and often forgot their doses and, with her brother Yahya, she and a small team design the app.

“Dwak was tested in one pharmacy. Now the Government wants to enforce it with the legislation that every patient should have this free app,” says Mr Krusteff. After winning the global competition of Pitch at the Palace London earlier this year, the Dwak team is looking at how to protect the app.

“We started with a provisional patent before we go to a complete one because it is much more costly. Our solution is a smartphone app, and if you change a line in the code, your patent is invalid and anyone can steal it,” says Mr Iqelan.

“Pitch at the Palace is about connections and networking. We have to ask for something that is not money, so we asked for Boots Pharmacy, and we received an email from someone in the audience with very close relationship with them, so we are currently writing what we want to ask for exactly.”

A different case is FEGI, a start-up at SIP that develops educational games and collaborates with the Ministry of Education to teach Arabic as part of the curriculum to grade one students.

FEGI’s second prototype is now implemented Al Dhafra School in Al Ain, where higher exam grades are proving the effectiveness of the game approach. The project is aimed at the 20,000 first graders of public schools and it will be exclusive for the Ministry of Education.

“In 2019 we will expand to private schools and to the app stores, so everyone in the Mena region and the world can use it,” says the co-founder Shamsa Al Mazrouei.

FEGI’s path has been long and sometimes painful for the two co-founders before getting into SIP.

“Many organisations didn’t treat us officially, but when we came to the incubator, they helped us. So this is the shift: the SIP gave us credibility,” says Ms Al Mazrouei.

Until then, the FEGI co-founders could not reach either specific users or the ministry.

“It wasn’t easy until we got the minister himself and he told his team to talk to us and discuss everything about the game. Being recognised by the Ministry of Education is not something easy. Many competitors tried to do it but their content was not aligned with the ministry’s content. And that was the hit in our proposal,” says Ms Al Mazrouei.

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