Entrepreneurship in the Middle East continues to benefit from the establishment of new incubators, accelerators, and other startup-focused organizations, such as AstroLabs. Recently, an accelerator focused on companies working in the fields of sustainability and clean technology in the Middle East opened its doors. The accelerator, known as The Catalyst, launched during the Masdar Innovation Week. The Catalyst represents a collaboration between renewable energy company Masdar, the Masdar Institute, and BP and will operate through $5 million in funding from BP. The accelerator will provide not just grant funding, but also training and mentorship for innovators developing industry-changing, sustainable technologies.
The Catalyst’s Support of Sustainability in the Middle East
The grants offered by The Catalyst will include up to $50,000 in funding over a period of six months for organizations operating in the energy, water, and clean technology fields. The Catalyst’s launch was marked by a panel session including prominent UAE figures, such as Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber. Masdar is supporting The Catalyst by mentoring accelerator participants and sharing the lessons it has learned over nine years of operation. In addition, participants will have access to workspace located in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, a planned urban development project that will rely on solar and other sources of clean energy.
The Catalyst is now accepting applications for its Spring 2016 class of startups through its online portal. Individuals in Abu Dhabi, as well as other innovators from around the Middle East and North Africa, are welcome to apply. Good candidates include those startups with potentially patentable ideas that may require one to five years for commercialization. The first cohort of participants will be chosen through hackathons and innovation boot camps. Those accepted into the accelerator program will receive assistance with preparing pitches and other educational opportunities. A major focus of the accelerator is helping startups commercialize their ideas through the creation of viable products. After successfully completing the program, startups will continue to receive support as they prepare to bring their products to market.
Through The Catalyst, UAE and Abu Dhabi officials hope not only to encourage the growth of an entrepreneurial culture, but also to encourage innovation in sustainable technology. Representatives from Masdar recognize that starting a new company in the Middle East, including the UAE, can be difficult. The Catalyst seeks to make this process easier for entrepreneurs. In addition, the accelerator’s focus on sustainable development speaks to the UAE’s larger goal of diversifying its economy beyond oil and encouraging the creation of knowledge sector jobs.
Another Option for Entrepreneurs Interested in Sustainability
While the creation of the accelerator marks an important step toward the development of an economy based on sustainable energy, The Catalyst is not the first organization to provide support to Middle Eastern companies developing environmentally conscious products. For example, the Swiss nonprofit cewas, which is active in the Middle East, focuses on improving business and management practices in the clean water and sanitation fields. The Middle East branch of cewas has worked in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and other countries to promote entrepreneurship in sanitation, sustainable water, and resource management. The nonprofit has also provided support for Resource, Recovery, and Reuse (RRR) programs.
In addition, cewas Middle East offers a Start-Up! program that allows innovators to develop and realize their sustainable solutions to water and sanitation challenges. The program consists of two modules. During the first, entrepreneurs learn the basics of business development and perform marketing and trend analyses while studying marketing techniques and refining their presentation skills. Ultimately, entrepreneurs create a prototype that they can present to real investors. The second module focuses on finance and operations. Participants estimate the funding they need to continue operations and review the basics of financial planning to finalize a business plan as they prepare to enter the market. Throughout the program, participants have access to coaches and mentors with a comprehensive understanding of the industry. These individuals work closely with entrepreneurs to identify opportunities and ultimately help them launch their companies.
A Promising Future for Sustainability in the Middle East
Over the last few years, a number of startups focused on sustainability have sprung up in countries across the Middle East. One such innovative company, RecycloBekia, is one of the first businesses in the Middle East to offer eco-friendly solutions for recycling electronic waste—a process that can create large amounts of pollution and contamination if not undertaken with care. The company is based in Egypt, but serves the entire Middle East and North Africa region. It was started by a group of university students through the Injaz Egypt student entrepreneur project.
Another new startup on the scene is Carpoolarabia. Launched in February 2014, the company connects carpool drivers in several major cities with passengers, in order to save fuel, decrease carbon dioxide emissions, and reduce traffic. Through Carpoolarabia, people can find more efficient ways of getting to school and work while minimizing their environmental impact.
With the launch of The Catalyst, even more impressive environmentally friendly products and services should enter the Middle East market in the future.