As entrepreneurship continues to grow in the Middle East, the number of opportunities for startup founders and innovators to network with each other and potential investors is increasing exponentially. Some gatherings, such as the RiseUp Summit, are focused exclusively on entrepreneurship, while others, while not intended solely for entrepreneurs, have included specific events for startups.
An example of the latter is Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The 2016 event took place toward the end of January and brought together more than 33,000 individuals. ADSW is the largest Middle East gathering focused on sustainability and has contributed significantly to the global discussion on renewable energy and development. This year, ADSW addressed the climate change mitigation strategies discussed at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. As a result, much of the conversation at ADSW focused on the need for cooperation in order to accelerate the adoption of clean energy solutions.
Motivated by the spirit of innovation, this year’s ADSW event introduced the first “Pitch Sprint” event. Pitch Sprint invited a number of promising technology startups working in the field of sustainability to present their innovative products and services. Startups participated on an invitation-only basis and had the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts that provided feedback. The experts on the panel included managing director of BP Ventures Dr. Issam Dairanieh, vice president of research at the Masdar Institute Dr. Steve Griffiths, and director of The Catalyst Mohamed Hamdy. Ultimately, the panel shortlisted the most impressive ideas for funding through The Catalyst, an accelerator focused on young companies in the sustainable technology industry. Participants also had access to a mentorship roundtable that addressed critical business topics for startups, such as securing funding and scaling an idea for marketability.
The Pitch Sprint participants included 10 startups from the Middle East and North Africa, with entrepreneurs from Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, and the UAE. Collectively, these innovators presented a wide range of exciting ideas, including an app that guides drones as they try to detect wildfires and an interactive platform for teaching consumers how to save on energy. Another startup showcased a unique energy management system designed specifically for mosques to reduce their energy footprint.
The Catalyst Brings Sustainable Entrepreneurship to the Spotlight
Launched in November during UAE Innovation Week, The Catalyst is a startup accelerator that works with companies focused on developing sustainable and clean technologies. The organization represents a partnership between Masdar, the Masdar Institute, and BP. The Catalyst’s work in bringing the Pitch Sprint to ADSW shows the impact that such an organization can have on the perception of entrepreneurship in the Middle East. By bringing a startup event to ADSW, The Catalyst highlights the benefits that investments in entrepreneurship can have on the future. The global shift to sustainable technology will require the efforts of not only major companies, governments, and international organizations, but also innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs from around the world.
The Pitch Sprint was also an excellent way to generate buzz about innovations in sustainability coming from the Middle East, while also advertising The Catalyst to those entrepreneurs who could benefit from its support. Based in the UAE, The Catalyst provides innovators and startups with a dedicated workspace while connecting them to opportunities for seed funding and mentorship, as well as focused training. Applicants can receive up to $50,000 to launch their ideas and dedicated support for up to six months. Companies become eligible for funding and support when they are between one and five years away from commercialization of their ideas.
BP and Masdar – Strengthening the Link between Sustainability and Startups
At ADSW, Abdulkarim Almazmi, president and general manager for BP UAE, stated that the multinational corporation holds innovation at the core of its operations. After all, the success of any company in the energy sector ultimately relies on its ability to innovate. For this reason, BP has supported the creation and development of The Catalyst, as well as events like the Pitch Sprint at ADSW. Through these efforts, Almazmi explained, BP hopes to create a network of entrepreneurs and investors dedicated to developing sustainability technologies.
The other partner in The Catalyst is Masdar, a renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi that develops and commercializes clean energy solutions. In this way, Masdar has emerged as the clear link between the region’s current fossil fuel-based economy and the future of energy in the Middle East. The Masdar mission aligns with the business goals of BP, as well as the vision of The Catalyst. Masdar operates as a strategic investment company of the government of Abu Dhabi and pushes for long-term solutions for sustainable energy and water management in the emirate and beyond. The related Masdar Institute of Science and Technology was created by the government as a private, nonprofit graduate university to fuel the research and development capacity of region. The institute works in concert with The Catalyst, BP, and Masdar, and enables scientific study and collaboration with the goal of creating new, clean energy solutions.