Ecosystem

Meet the 9 startups from first class of Techstars Dubai Accelerator

Techstars, one of the leading accelerators in the world, launched its acceleration program in Dubai earlier this year in partnership with GINCO Investment, investment arm of GINCO Group.

For a region, where accelerators are still far behind (with few exceptions) from the rest of the world, this was a great development. Techstars, a global name with 40 accelerators around the world having backed more than 1200 companies with a total market cap of over $11 billion, has now presence in the Middle East as well. Techstars Dubai also became the first ‘Partner of the Future’ to launch under the Area 2071 initiative.

After scouting for startups from all around the world, Techstars Dubai selected 9 startups from UAE, Estonia, Canada, United States, and United Kingdom to be a part of its first class. Three of the selected startups were from UAE.

All the startups went through the thirteen week acceleration program during which their teams took part in more than 600 mentoring sessions, workshops and meetings, before graduating earlier this month. Apart from receiving different perks and access to Techstars’ global network, the startups also received $120,000 as investment at the same valuation as their international counterparts, perhaps the best deal a startup could get from an acceleration program in the region.

After graduating, all the nine companies pitched at the Techstars Demo Day last week that was attended by many investors and startup enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend but had the chance to watch the pitches online and all these startups seem to be working on great products. But what’s even more special is the fact that all the startups have been founded by experienced domain experts or researchers.

Ramzy Ismail, Techstars Dubai Director, speaking about launching Techstars in the region, told MENAbytes, “The global Techstars brand and track record plays a large part in being able to attract exceptional talent into the region but also gain the trust of experienced local entrepreneurs. We’ve seen mentors, government officials, entrepreneurs and investors come from all over the world to support the Techstars mission in such a dynamic city like Dubai.”

These are the nine startups from first class of Techstars Dubai.

Felix

Felix is a web platform to connect emerging market insurers, intermediaries and their customers. Our software automates a broker’s non-value add, time-consuming and labour intensive back-office workflows allowing them to allocate resources to high-impact activities like sales & support. Our software also helps insurers by allowing them to quickly and easily integrate with their various distribution channels like brokers, banks, auto-dealers, aggregators & more.

Felix also plans to introduce plug and play ecommerce capabilities, AI powered fraud detection, and integrated government data sources into their platform.

The startup has tested beta version of its platform with a broker on 5,000 consumers, where they transacted $570,000 worth of car insurance premiums in five months. They’re also starting their pilot with four more insurance brokers in UAE with a combined portfolio of over $500 million.

FLUGAUTO

Founded by a team of entrepreneurs and aviation experts that has previously worked with institutions and companies like NASA, Airbus, Google, BMW, IBM, and Stanford, Flugauto is working on an electrically-powered vertical take-off and landing vehicle (normally known eVTOL). The startup aims to revolutionize the transportation in and around cities.

Flugauto claims that their vehicle will be available for the price of a conventional car but we’re not going to see eVTOLs up for sale for an average consumer anywhere around the world anytime soon as the governments are still working around regulations for this modern category of transportation. The startup also wants to start things off by working with corporates offering them a modern, quick and efficient way to transport their cargo.

They’re going for cargo first as it will help them gain operational experience early and overcome regulatory challenges, the startup believes. Their vehicle will be able to carry 250 kg and will have a range of 250 km, which is way better than what we normally hear for such vehicles.

As explained on Flugauto’s website, their eVTOL will be powered by AI to offer autonomous flights and will have monitoring and surveillance sensors that will make its monitoring easy through live feeds.

There are many companies around the world that are currently working on similar vehicles including Airbus, Boeing, Honda, Toyota, and Amazon. UAE in-fact recently tested world’s first flying air taxi which was a two-seater VTOL made by Volocopter, a German startup.

Klasha

London-headquartered Klasha is an online fashion retailer (yet to launch) for millennials across the world with a focus on fast delivery to West Africa. Founded by Jessica Anuna, an ecommerce professional who has previously worked with companies like Amazon and Shopify and Onye Anuna, an engineer with experience of working with different ecommerce companies around the world, Klasha aims to offer the latest womenswear at affordable prices and plans to start its fast delivery in West Africa from Nigeria that had $4 billion worth of fashion imports in 2016.

The startup’s initial target market is under 30-year-old Nigerians who currently have to wait for up to 21 days to receive their orders from Western retailers and don’t have an option to pay in local currencies.

Klasha has already delivered their first test order and aims to bring the 21 days delivery time down to 5 days with their platform and offer customers an option to pay in local currencies or use cash on delivery method.

Natufia

Natufia is perhaps the most interesting startup from this first class of Techstars Dubai. The Estonian startup as explained in their own words is the ‘Nespresso for plants and herbs’. Founded by Gregory Lu, Lauri Kapp, and Nadim Taoubi, Natufia’s Kitchen Garden is a fully automated high-end garden system for indoors. A machine that grows fresh food, yielding auto-sufficient supply for a family all year round. All one needs to do is put a seed capsule in the nursery tray and then transfer the seedlings into the cups; rest will be taken care of by the machine itself as watering is entirely automated.

Installing the machine is also straightforward; pretty similar to how a small dishwasher is installed (water in, water out, electricity). The Kitchen Garden is equipped with an onboard computer as well that provides an easy step-by-step installation guide. If the user connects the machine with WiFi, they can monitor and control it from their mobile phone, tablet or a computer using The Kitchen Garden’s web or mobile app.

It’s a beautiful piece of hardware but it’s not for everyone. The Kitchen Garden comes with a steep price tag of ~13,000 euros (about $16,000 USD or 59,000 dirhams), meaning its not for an average household but that’s perhaps a segment they’re not looking to target anyway. Apart from those individuals who can afford to install it at their homes, Natufia is also trying to target hotels and restaurants. The startup is also partnering with different stakeholders from the real estate industry including architects, designers and property developers to integrate their technology directly on the project level.

A fully automated garden system for indoors that was designed by chefs for chefs and professional use. It’s the ultimate farm-to-table 0 machine that allows everyone to compose with various purely organic flavors and original tastes. It was designed to fit in most professional and private kitchens. One machine yields the auto-sufficient supply in greens for a family all year round. Bye bye pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, fertilizers and carbon footprints! It’s about time to be safe about what we eat.

They’ve already signed The Sustainable City in Dubai, a 46-hectare net zero energy property development as one of their clients.

Novele

Novele is a real estate tech startup that develops and designs solutions for buildings. Their first product, Energy Board, is a beautiful IoT energy storage device. As claimed by them, the Energy Board at 1.8 inches thick is the thinnest IoT energy storage device in the world. That’s thinner than an average TV these days.

The founders,  came up with the idea when Hurricane Sandy, one of the most destructive hurricanes in the history of Unites States affected many cities across 24 states of the country. New York City was also one of the affected cities and the hurricane destroyed all the power back resources in the city as most of them were installed in the basements.

Unlike the conventional method of power storage including battery racks, the Energy Board does not take any floor space because of its wall mounted design. The IoT lithium-ion battery system is a scalable solution that is connected with building automation, lighting, security, and can be used by both commercial and residential buildings. Novele currently has some of the biggest real estate developers and building owners among its customers. The startup has also sold Energy Board to the biggest banks and luxury hotels in the United States. Their latest customer is a hospital in the United Arab Emirates. The boards as explained by Novele’s CEO during the demo day are visually customizable.

Novele will start shipping the boards from next year.

Nytlius

Founded by Debanga Raj Neog, a computer vision algorithm expert, and Abi Ghafari, a serial entrepreneur with expertise in robotics, Nytlius wants to help the industrial workforce work better by using augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Their first product is a welding helmet that has a computer, camera, and display built inside it. The traditional welding helmets don’t offer a clear view for the welders, they only see a bright point in a dark area. With Nytlius’ helmet, however, they will have a 4K-like view of the welding environment. They will also have access to real time welding metrics that will help them improve their efficiency.

During the process, Nytlius’ helmets also collect a lot of visual data that it plans to use to train artificial intelligence for robots who eventually will be able to work like humans.

The startup is currently testing its product with oil and gas, and construction companies in United Arab Emirates.

OmniX Labs

OmniX Labs wants to use the data collected by millions of video cameras (used by businesses) around us and turn it into meaningful information. The founders, Muthla Al Sayer and Anoop Kanthan, who previously ran an IoT company together, thought of the idea when they realized that how terabytes of data generated by video cameras is not being used in any way.

The startup has developed a machine learning platform that would help businesses improve their efficiency level and customer experience by building image recognition into their business. OmniX uses video processing, machine vision and deep learning to achieve this.

So for example, outlets with a drive through, that have CCTV cameras installed use these cameras for security purposes only. With OmniX’s platform, they could use the same feeds and turn them into meaningful information like vehicle’s make and model of the customers, how often and when the same vehicle comes again, and sentiment of the customer.

The platform as explained by one of the co-founders at the demo day, ingests video in real time from any connected camera. The videos are then compressed, processed and analyzed, to provide meaningful information through an API or a personalized dashboard.  OmniX’s solution is currently being used by McDonald’s, Toyota and some other leading businesses in North America.

Muthla Al Sayer, the co-founder and CEO of OmniX Labs, speaking about her experience at Techstars Dubai, told MENAbytes, “I am going to look back and know this was a big inflection point in our company. Being with like minded people who want to change the world and support each other no matter what, and really embody the ethos that we’ve come to embrace as #GiveFirst. Which is what Techstars is truly all about.”

SOLUKI

Founded by Benjamin Balazs and Richard Foulkes, Soluki is a platform that allows users to build Arabic websites without any coding knowledge. The users can build these websites even on their mobile devices.

Benjamin Balazs, a Hungarian who moved to Dubai few years ago was frustrated by the fact that there’s no native Arabic website building platform and coding is never easy especially when when you’re a non-English user. Even for simple Arabic website, users had to rely on professional developers. To change that, Benjamin founded Soluki in 2014.

The platform can be used by individuals, small businesses and even companies to build their online presence as Soluki allows the use of custom domain names.

The service that currently has over 20,000 users can also be used to start online stores and accept orders.

Benjamin Balazs, Founder at Soluki, an online platform who is helping to bring simple web development solutions to the Arab-speaking world, ” “The power of Techstars is collective thinking, the best ideas struck us when we expected them the least… just by someone, whether it be the staff, mentors or other cofounders, being transparent, constructive and always providing feedback at the right time”

TPS ENGAGE

TPS Engage is building world’s first network of interconnected digital screens normally known as DOOH (Digital Out-Of-Home advertising) for advertisers. The startup wants to use the unsold inventory of the digital boards to offer them to advertisers who can buy it through TPS’ platform on hourly basis. Normally these ad spaces are available only on monthly basis so businesses with limited budgets cannot afford it.

Founded by Bogdan Savonea, Mihai Pocorshi, and Matei Psatta, TPS uses artificial intelligence to provide real-time data to advertisers.

In their own words, TPS is for outdoor advertising what Facebook is for online advertising, allowing advertisers to book media directly from their web platform on any billboard that is available in their inventory and helping advertisers learn from the data using machine learning.

TPS’ solutions are currently being used by some big names including Coca Cola, H&M, Nespresso, and Vodafone for their outdoor advertising.

Great products. Stellar teams. This is without a doubt best selection of startups to come out of an accelerator from Middle East & North Africa.

Zubair Naeem Paracha

Contributor at MENAbytes
An HR Consultant based in Riyadh who has always been passionate about tech and startups. Currently trying to build his own startup, Qraar. You can reach him on Linkedin,  Twitter or zubair [at] menabytes [dot] com.

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