x

Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Healthy eating system for UAE pupils wins funding

Programme is one of 10 companies to win funding from Techstars and GINCO Investments

Vijay Tirathrai, managing director of Techstars Dubai, and Maha Al Mezaina, head of Area 2071, announce which 10 companies won funding for their innovative ideas. Antonie Robertson / The National
Vijay Tirathrai, managing director of Techstars Dubai, and Maha Al Mezaina, head of Area 2071, announce which 10 companies won funding for their innovative ideas. Antonie Robertson / The National

A healthy-eating platform for schoolchildren by Yacob ­Intelligent Health is a project by one of 10 start-up companies in Dubai to win funding worth $120,000 (Dh440,700) in the latest round of government-backed innovation.

The initiative, in partnership with the government’s Dubai Future Foundation and Techstars, a global company investing in start-up innovation businesses, attracted more than 500 applicants.

Funding for the start-up company comes days after the Ministry of Education issued a lunchbox ban on junk foods and fizzy drinks in a new bid to promote a healthier lifestyle.

Each year, Techstars selects 300 companies from around the world to join a three-month mentorship programme and to benefit from seed funding.

Dubai’s round of cohorts got under way on Thursday and is being funded by venture capitalists GINCO Investments.

“We look at all the ideas and the teams involved,” said Vijay Tirathrai, managing director of Techstars Dubai.

“The fundamental ideas ­people are coming up are quite similar, but how they integrate into the industry are the main points of difference,” he said.

Yacob Intelligent Health, a food-tracking system to ­encourage healthy eating in schools, is one of the 10 winners of funding and support.

“For the past two years we have developed a system that monitors what food pupils buy in school,” said the company’s Emirati chief executive, Faisal Al Hammadi. “It gives us access to data that we can use to monitor trends and suggest healthy eating.

Faisal Al Hammadi, chief executive of Yacob Intelligent Health, a system that encourages healthy eating at schools: Antonie Robertson / The National
Faisal Al Hammadi, chief executive of Yacob Intelligent Health, a system that encourages healthy eating at schools: Antonie Robertson / The National

“We have looked at ways to change pupil behaviour. If a child chooses an apple over a slice of pizza, they can win points.”

The product has been trialled at Jumeira Baccalaureate School, and it is being used at 46 other schools in the UAE.

The company worked with paediatric nutrition specialists and a behavioural scientist to understand why children make unhealthy eating choices and how those decisions can be improved.

Children are rewarded with inspirational messages for making good choices and are supported by an online avatar that matches with their personality.

The company secured seed funding of $500,000 to expand the project, including two government grants for $35,000.

The Yacob food-tracking platform was expanded to schools in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and has so far engaged more than 10,500 pupils and 8,000 parents.

Other start-ups to receive Techstars funding and mentorship included Vivoo, an app that monitors wellness via urine, LuggAgent, a same-day airport luggage delivery service and Element 16 – a thermal battery innovation that has so far attracted funding worth $3m.

“All of these finalists are excellent,” Mr Tirathrai said. “It is hard to see which one will be at the head of the pack.

“They will face challenges. As they are building they will need to reinvest into the business to attract more talent and build infrastructure. It is an exciting journey for them.

“Dubai is built for these kind of innovations and the perfect place to develop many of these projects.”

Updated: February 2, 2019 05:12 PM

SHARE

SHARE