It’s an exciting time to live and work in the UAE, and there are several young people and great innovators who are working on businesses throughout the region while staying close to their roots.
Innovative startups in Dubai are disrupting norms all over the UAE
These 25 companies were founded by people who have a passion for the area, and wanted to make the lives of the people around them better, easier and more fun. Check out the top 25 most exciting startups in the UAE and how they’re disrupting the status quo.
See how these Dubai tech companies are changing the UAE
Founders Mohammed Al Qadi and Iannis Maedell wanted to promote UAE motor racing, and realised the only way to do that was to head into the desert. They’re working to create a fashionable car that’s built to race over sand dunes without getting stuck, along with a sand dune race track outside of Dubai.
The cars will be street legal, and will have air conditioning and other amenities to attract consumers. The name Zarooq comes from the Arabic-Emirati word for the Schockari Sand Racer, the fastest snake in the desert.
FittPass co-founder Heba El Daleel wanted to created a solution for Dubai citizens who felt trapped by their gym memberships. With FittPass, you have access to multiple gyms, classes, and locations that match your schedule and fitness goals.
In an interview with The Arabian Marketer, Daleel explained her vision: “FittPass delivers choice, freedom and flexibility. At the same time, it’s a very viable channel to drive footfall for health clubs.”
Founded by ex-Groupon UAE Director of Operations Rasha Ismail, Cook-A-Box tries to reduce meal planning, grocery shopping and food waste for busy professionals living in the desert. According to Pamella de Leon at Entrepreneur, “[It] also saves time in terms of meal planning and grocery shopping, as it comes with recipe cards for meals that can be prepared in less than 35 minutes.”
Mohamed Elwazer told BarakaBits that he’s been working to create a tool for the hearing impaired since 2005. “I saw a teenager at a metro station in Cairo struggling to tell the police officer something in sign language, but the officer couldn’t understand him,” Elwazer said. “I couldn’t do anything to help him either.”
With KinTrans, Elwazer can help that teen, and thousands more, with his device that converts sign language into a voice translation so businesses can better communicate with the deaf community.
Kanari works to collect and curate real-time survey feedback from customers through their mobile devices. In an interview with Faisal Chareuf for PSE Magazine, CEO Subhi Farah explains where the name Kanari comes from. “Miners used to take canary birds down into mines with them…as soon as the environment became dangerous, the canary would give out early warning signals in the form of frantic chirping and visible nervousness.”
Through his software, businesses can catch a problem early, before the whole company comes crumbling down.
In February 2015, StartUp Health (a New York City-based healthcare startup incubator) added AlemHealth to its global portfolio, making it the only UAE-based company out of 90 other businesses.
Founder Aschkan Abdul-Malek explained to Tamara Pupic of ArabianBusiness.com why he chose Dubai as its base: “The logistics in Dubai are second to none, and if you want to be serving this region, you need to have a presence here. Also, the lack of taxes allows us to compete for talent at a more attractive price point.”
Abdul-Malek has spent the past five years in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was inspired to create AlemHealth to provide top-notch healthcare across borders and class distinctions.
Husband and wife Morrad Irsane and Sharene Lee created Melltoo as a way for people to resell their valuable items they have no use for anymore — anything from an expensive purse that reminds you of an ex-boyfriend to a table you don’t use and want to get rid of.
According to Dhanusha Gokulan at the Khaleej Times, “Melltoo is also trying to encourage local artisans by selling their products on the app. …They launched the site in Dubai mainly to encourage and support the local business ecosystem.”
The primary focus of Pixelbug is growing the augmented reality and virtual reality scenes. On top of working with major companies, they’ve created Colorbug, which brings kids’ stories to life through AR.
Alaa Ameen at The Cribb explained how founder Dany El Eid’s background led him to the virtual reality space: “Throughout his life and career he was always passionate about bridging the gap between science and art and bringing that to a business. …The dean offered him help to get into Leo Burnett, a leading advertising agency, but Dany preferred to go down the entrepreneurial path.”
Founder Talal Bayaa decided to break into the health insurance industry in 2008 when he was trying to answer customer questions about costs and insurance while working at a bank.
“I started researching for answers, but I couldn’t find an easy platform to compare products,” Bayaa told Maysaa Al Ajjan of Arabnet. “Some of the banks had outdated information on their websites. Others had slightly rounded the numbers for marketing purposes.”
Today, Bayzat works to provide more transparency in the healthcare industry, so customers know they’re getting the best option.
Founder Saeid Hejazi knows there’s a lot of competition in the personal finance app market, but he created Wally as a way to provide content to your spending habits, not just report the numbers.
As he told the Vulcan Post: “Across all cultures, personal finance is a taboo topic, leaving us as individuals, in dark. With Wally, you can understand your patterns compared to people similar to you, while keeping your details private and secure.”
ShopGo provides ecommerce solutions for businesses that are nervous about going online. They cater to small businesses who are looking to expand, to larger companies that need a reliable platform.
According to Venture Magazine, “[Founder] Moe Ghashim…said he’s managed to tap into the growing interest in online retailing amongst offline businesses by offering them a one-stop-shop for all their e-commerce needs.” Ghashim essentially paves the way for already successful businesses to step into the digital age.
The focus of MumzWorld is to create an online marketplace and support community for mothers in the Middle East. It’s run by Mona and Bader Ataya, who were unhappy with the lack of information and selection for parents at their local malls.
Mona Ataya sat with Intelligent SME to discuss her life as a mompreneur: “Viewing situations in a different manner, making a difference and striving for excellence is how I lead my life and teach my children to do so as well. …Leading your life in this manner enables you to solve an equation or analyse a situation, perhaps in a different way.”
Founder Jon Richards moved to Dubai to run PropertyFinder.com’s UAE team, and struggled greatly as an expat trying to set up a bank account, get insurance, and even navigate housing regulations. So, he created Compareit4me to help expats have an easier time when moving to the area.
According to Kareem Chehayeb at Entrepreneur, “For consumers, it’s a free and useful platform, and for banks, it gives them access to what he describes as ‘educated users’: these are the people who have been doing their homework and are ready to start talking and make a decision soon regarding their finances.”
Lianne Gutcher at the National dug up a funny story of LaundryBox founder Fahad Al Kalooti sending a suit to the dry cleaner at the last minute for a 3 p.m. flight. “The assistant turned up on time — but with the wrong suit, and the jacket and trousers didn’t even match. I didn’t have time to do anything about it so I grabbed the suit. …It was so tight I looked like a breakdancer.”
This inspired him to create a better system through LaundryBox. Laundry, dry cleaning and shoe shine orders can be made through the app, with the promise of actually getting the right clothes back.
Careem works like a personal assistant, booking the right type of car and briefing the driver on directions and pick-up instructions. Founder Mudassir Sheikha told Vision that he wanted to raise the industry standard and offer quality transportation options that taxis in the area weren’t currently providing.
“The main driver for us was to build an institution in the region that would improve people’s lives,” Sheikha says. “That’s really what got us excited.” This way, customers don’t have to worry about their taxis finding them, or giving them directions on how to get there.
Fetchr is working to improve delivery on-demand in the Middle East. Whether you’re a small business looking to make deliveries but can’t hire full-time help, or just want to send a package across town, Fetchr will make sure your items get where they need to be.
Founder Idriss Al Rifai told Gulf Business about the demand he’s seen across the world for on-demand delivery: “The trend is clear in the US and Europe where technology brought the delivery experience to a whole different level. We want to drive the change in the Middle East and Africa and provide a better experience for the customer.”
Like Compareit4me, Souqalmal works to provide greater transparency and comparison in the personal finance world. Customers can compare credit cards, loans, mortgages, and even cars to make sure they’re getting a good deal.
CEO Ambareen Musa was recently named an Endeavor Entrepreneur, one of 35 top entrepreneurs across 16 countries, and will receive mentorship and support from the Endeavor Organization to continue growing his startup. “At Souqalmal.com, we help consumers better understand all aspects of their personal finance decisions before they commit, and financial education is the underlying theme of our business strategy.”
Qordoba is a creation platform that works to translate more content into Arabic. It targets businesses that are looking to break into Arabic markets, and seeks to help Arabic speakers who are lost in a largely English digital world.
Christopher Schroeder for Pandodaily explains how founder May Habib came to develop her product. “It was reading the 2005 ‘UN Arab Human Development Report’ that it hit her. With over 80 percent of the Middle East’s 350 million people speaking solely Arabic, shockingly little global information resources — especially online — could be found in Arabic. Even five years later, less than 1 percent of all content online is in Arabic.”
This startup was founded by expats Ravi Bhusari and Davinder Rao, who wanted to play sports in Dubai and wanted to create a better way to connect different communities and organise teams. Nine years later, Duplays continues to bring people together, as Rao explains to the KippReport.
“Today, we service more than 5,000 people weekly in our sport leagues, 10,000 employees per month in our corporate programmes and 50,000 people per year in various branded events.” That’s a lot of growth from two guys who just wanted to form an ultimate Frisbee league.
Founder Loulou Khazen Baz left her job of nine years to pursue entrepreneurship when she discovered there were virtually no outlets for in the area to connect skilled employees on a contract basis. Since then, she created Nabbesh, a freelance marketplace, with more than 45,000 freelancers in 130 countries.
Baz was recently highlighted as PayFort’s Entrepreneur of the Month, and explained who inspired her to start her company. “I started thinking about all the women seeking work life balance, youth looking to get integrated into the workforce and employed, men and women looking for extra income.” By creating a freelance marketplace, she is able to empower them to easier achieve their goals.
Sisters Rania and Zaina Kanaan wanted to create a marketplace so Middle Easten and African artists could sell their crafts and build a global audiences. There’s so much beauty in the Middle East, and so little of it travels beyond regional outlets.
Recently, Ananasa launched a bargain button, where buyers and sellers can negotiate a price. “Comparable to bargaining at a bazaar or souk, except in this case the negotiations are done electronically,” reported Jewish Business News. “…The sellers have the option to accept, reject, or counter-offer the price sent by the buyer so both parties can agree on the perfect price.”
This startup works to curate the best restaurants in Dubai and provide in-depth reviews and photos from customers. Recently, RoundMenu founder Zaid Jawad created the Restaurant Buzz Awards, which gave eight restaurants awards for their outstanding favor in the local community.
“In today’s world, social proof is one of the strongest indications of sound business health,” Jawad told Trade Arabia. “The Restaurant Buzz Awards help us go beyond just photos and reviews, adding a layer of recognition to both diners’ opinions in a transparent manner, and to the restaurants for living up to new social dining standards that customers seek out.”
InternsME has created a community of entry-level employees who are looking for experience and employment, but struggle to break through in the competitive environment. Job seekers can set up filters to find relevant positions, and follow tips to improve their resume and presence.
CEO Jean-Michel Gauthier explained his concept to Changeboard: “Employers can watch a one-minute video introduction of each candidate before inviting them for an interview.” This provides a needed face-to-face experience that a resume can’t offer.
Founder Mai Medhat is known as a super entrepreneur in her home country of Egypt, and has worked to build Eventtus into a global networking and event platform where people can create customised event pages, contact attendees, and engage them with questions and activities.
She recently sat on a panel with President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Think Marketing reported. “I heard that it was Startup week in Cairo. I wasn’t invited, but I went anyway with my friend … but we felt like it was hard to meet people, and there was a gap between organisers and attendees.”
Her friends ended up becoming her co-founder, and Eventtus was born.
Nutrition Souq is a marketplace that focuses on fitness and health in Dubai. Protein supplements and vitamins can be delivered to your door so you never run out, and you can learn and connect in the community to increase your health knowledge and achieve your goals.
Founder Damian Brennan explained to the Arabian Marketer why 2016 is an optimal time for his marketplace. “The light bulb moment came after visiting a nutritionist who recommended a range of sport supplements. But when I asked where to buy the products, I could not get a clear answer. Fitness supplements are also bulky and need to be repurchased on a regular basis.”
That was when he identified the need, and knew how to solve it.
There are only a few solutions that entrepreneurs are launching to solve problems in their community. It’s exciting to see them grow, and the region as a whole benefit from their work.
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