Startups Show Their Mettle As Dubai Smartpreneur Competition 4.0 Races To Its Finals

Startups Show Their Mettle As Dubai Smartpreneur Competition 4.0 Races To Its Finals
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Startups Show Their Mettle As Dubai Smartpreneur Competition 4.0 Races To Its Finals

Show evidence of your execution ability, and that you have thoroughly-researched ideas for your market – that’s what the judges of the Dubai Smartpreneur Competition 4.0 say entrepreneurs need to do to stand out in the startup arena.

Fifty startups gathered at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday April to pitch their businesses in the fourth round of Dubai Startup Hub’s Dubai Smartpreneur Competition.

The Smartpreneur competition seeks to engage entrepreneurs with Dubai’s strategic initiatives, and empower them to participate in the Dubai Government’s strategy and plans to establish the emirate as a prime international destination for innovative startups. The contest is in line with the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, to transform the emirate into the world’s happiest and smartest city.

One of the judges, Daniel dos Reis, Senior Portfolio Manager, Dubai Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre (DTEC), said that he is seeing startups doing more homework ahead of their presentations than ever before – a reflection of the growth in startup activity and success stories in the UAE and wider Middle East region.

“If I would compare to pitches in the last couple of years, the overall quality of the pitches is improving and the startup quality in general is improving,” he said in an interview with Dubai Startup Hub after a day of listening to startups pitch him their ideas.

Daniel dos Reis, Senior Portfolio Manager, Dubai Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre (DTEC)

The top three finalists of the competition stand to win a total of AED150,000 in prize money, while the top 10 startups earn the opportunity to meet potential partners and investors during the final ceremony. Qualifying participants also get an opportunity to attend training workshops.

“Founders are better prepared in terms of delivering their pitches and better at explaining what they’re doing… knowing what investors are looking for, like what kind of problem are they solving, how large is the addressable market.. so that’s good,” Reis said.

But what founders need to focus more on is inspiring confidence and showing evidence that they can execute, he added.

“In terms of tips of what founders can improve, I think first and foremost it’s about execution,” Reis explained. “Like an idea is good, but an idea is just an idea unless you get the work done to start something. What investors are looking for, most importantly, is: ‘Can this person deliver?’ That’s the key thing.”

For example, Reis said he believes Careem, a Dubai-based company that was recently acquired by global ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc for $3.1 billion (Dhs11.38 billion), outcompeted its rival on execution.

“They did not reinvent something completely new,” he explained. “They outcompeted them [Uber] because they were able to operate and build up the operations in difficult countries like Saudi Arabia [and] Pakistan, and this is just super difficult. So, technology can help, but you still need to recruit the right people and install the right culture in getting things done and I think that’s what they did right.”

Reis added this he is a big believer that innovation is not so much about having a superior technology, especially in Middle Eastern markets. “It’s still about getting things done,” he said. “Even if the business model might not be the most phenomenal billion dollar opportunity, it’s execution and whatever you can show that you can execute is sending a strong signal to me as an investor.”

Meanwhile, also on the judging panel, Emirati serial entrepreneur H.E. Alia Al Mazrouei advises founders to invest more time in research and understanding their specific market before pitching.

“I think [my advice to founders is] to have much more realistic projects, not something that’s already in the market… something that you feel is different, [not something where] there are already many applications in the market that are serving the same purpose,” Al Mazrouei said during an interview on the sidelines of the competition. “So, when pitching for something, try to be different and [show] how different can you be.”

The businesswoman added that she looks for a combination of things during a pitch, including “the passion the person has”, “how different the idea is”, and whether the idea would work as a long term solution.

“It has to be something that will sustain,” she said.

H.E. Alia Al Mazrouei

“I think they have to do a lot of research to make sure that the idea is new and if it existed how different can they be from whatever applications are already there in the market today. They need to understand the market better – every market is completely different, and you can’t say that if this worked in the States that it’s going to work here.”

Also, because regulations in each country differ and vary, she said, founders need to realize that what would work in the UAE might not work abroad and vice versa.

However, existing ideas correctly tweaked for the local market hold great potential, of course.

Making reference to Careem and Souq, Al Mazrouei added that she believes the UAE is a “very good base and hub” to support SMEs and companies from the UAE to go international.

“Careem was a mimic of Uber, yet it was bought, and similarly Souq was a mini-Amazon and they got bought – these come from the UAE,” she said.

Al Mazrouei added that the pitches she saw at this edition of the Dubai Smartpreneur Competition have progressed to become “much more advanced” than what she used to see a few years ago.

DTEC’s Reis added that the competition provides a valuable platform for startups to present and ecosystem players to get access to deal flow.

“This is part of my job: screening, scouting, finding the next maybe Careem hopefully,” he said. “For me it’s a good opportunity to see startups which I would not have otherwise seen, which could be potential candidates. Ultimately the more we stimulate this ecosystem, the more startups we see that might succeed, the better it is for the whole of Dubai.”

The Dubai Smartpreneur Competition is an initiative launched by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with Smart Dubai to support entrepreneurship in the emirate.

By Megha Merani