Photo: Dubai skyline by day showing Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa. Nikada/iStockphoto.com
*Correction: Deletes "and DIEDC" in Para 18 because of repetition in mention of 'DIEDC'
DUBAI - A first-of-its-kind Islamic lifestyle mini bootcamp aimed at supporting start-ups and entrepreneurs in the sector will be the first of more similar initiatives for the Islamic economy, Saeed Mubarak Kharbash, head of strategy and planning at the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC) told Salaam Gateway.
The bootcamp was run by the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), with the support of the DIEDC and took place 12-16 November at the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (DTEC). It was organised by Rainmaking Innovation, the umbrella company of the global network of start-up accelerators, Startup MENA and Startupbootcamp.
According to Kharbash, the bootcamp was launched after Dubai’s “refreshed” Islamic economy growth strategy for 2017-2021 re-focused on Islamic lifestyle as a dedicated sector.
“It was at the beginning of this year that we reshuffled the initiative. Before we had seven pillars, and now we have three, which includes Islamic lifestyle [as well as halal and finance],” said Kharbash.
DIEDC’s initial strategy at its establishment in 2013 rested on seven pillars: Islamic finance; halal industry; standards and certification; family-friendly tourism; digital infrastructure; Islamic arts; and fashion and design. The refreshed 2017-2020 strategy now streamlines the last four sectors into a dedicated Islamic lifestyle pillar.
DIEDC initially focused on the other pillars, such as working on fintech with the Dubai International Financial Centre but it now intends to hold separate similar programmes for each pillar, according to Kharbash.
“One of the main initiatives we have [as DIEDC] is having an Islamic economy accelerator. But you can’t club fintech with halal with lifestyle – you cannot have one accelerator for everyone,” he added.
The Islamic lifestyle bootcamp was designed for ambitious early stage lifestyle start-ups and entrepreneurs that have been operating between a year and two years.
Ten start-ups from different countries were invited to participate after a round of interviews following a public call for submissions.
The five-day programme covered interactive and practical training sessions on topics including lean start-up and business model design, growth hacking, fundraising and pitch practice, one that Kharbash stresses the importance of.
“I was listening to the instructor during the session: how to pitch is not as important as who you are pitching to,” he said.
“You have to do your homework. There’s no point discussing the values of a company, to a ‘numbers’ person, for instance,” he added.
Hans Henrik Christensen, Director of DTEC and Silicon Oasis Founders (SOF) at DSOA added, “There’s a lot of basic training in there, and they’ve had [international expert facilitators] sharing their knowledge and experience.
“This bootcamp is prepping them to pitch for money, organise their company, and get ready to take off. Usually, that’s what most bootcamps are all about,” said Christensen.
One of the bootcamp’s mentors was Peter Gould, Design Executive Officer at Dubai-based Zileej, who told Salaam Gateway that the human aspect of these gatherings is also crucial.
“[An event like this is about] people – being around a community of like-hearted founders and mentors is so important for inspiration and encouragement. Of course, that in parallel with the specific tools and processes of how to grow their startups,” said Gould.
INVEST FIRST, RETURNS LATER
The aim of the bootcamp is not profit but about empowering young start-ups with the required skillsets that in return could boost growth across the Islamic economy sectors.
“We have been partnering with DIEDC and Thomson Reuters to run the Innovation 4 Impact during the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES), which didn’t take place this year, so we asked, ‘What should we run instead this year?” said Christensen.
The Innovation 4 Impact competition was first launched by Thomson Reuters and DSOA at the GIES in 2015 for entrepreneurs and start-ups to pitch their products or services to a panel of experts for a chance to win $20,000 in cash and a combination of incubation services worth $10,000.
For DIEDC, the bootcamp is about growing the global Islamic economy. “[F]rom day one of being established, we have been about growing the Islamic economy. We travel at least ten times a year to different countries to share information and knowledge about the industry; what we do is try to show people the opportunity the Islamic economy presents,” said Kharbash.
DIEDC hopes more start-ups will want to travel or move to Dubai to expand and operate their business.
“You could call [the start-ups involved in the bootcamp] the ambassadors of Dubai, because when they go back to their countries [they will pass this knowledge],” said Kharbash.
“Five years down the line, if we do this and we grow it every year, in the fifth year when you talk about the Islamic lifestyle, it will be a bigger umbrella. It will be known outside. It will have a presence outside,” he added.
“We know there’s a big market out there, not necessarily in Dubai yet, but we’re trying to attract this market to us. The return that we do think we are getting from it at the present is awareness about this market.”
DTEC offers subsidies to start-ups operating in Islamic economy industries, and Christensen said the centre is growing to include more offerings.
“We have tons of ideas of how we’re going to improve it, more accelerators, more incubators, more funding opportunities, more investors on site, and a lot more mentors on site,” he said, adding that the centre is due to expand into Dubai Silicon Park when it launches around Q1 2019.
Kharbash said the next step after the bootcamp is to continue communication with the start-ups involved and analyse which ones require investment.
He said that if the start-ups are prepared for investment, then DIEDC is ready to make the connection.
So, will the bootcamp return next year?
“Because we have the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES) next year, so we’ll see how this goes. But, for sure we have to do something on Islamic lifestyle,” said Kharbash.
“We have at least seven initiatives that focus on Islamic lifestyle. We said that this year we’d do a bootcamp to test the market to see what the needs are, which is why we have asked these start-ups involved for their feedback. We want this feedback so we know what we’ll do next year.
“Next year, we’re also planning to do one on the halal sector. This bootcamp is the start for now.”
WHAT THE START-UPS HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE BOOTCAMP
For Mehnaz Anshah, co-founder of the Dubai-based Bismillah Babies, she and her other two co-founders felt the bootcamp was a “great opportunity to gain professional insight into how startups work generally and understand the current Islamic lifestyle market.”
“The bootcamp has given us a great deal of clarity on what direction to move in, what changes we need to make and where to start in that journey,” said Anshah.
Ikbal Hussain, founder of Islamic GPS that works out of the United Kingdom agreed. “The experience we had was very positive. Within the five days we learnt a lot about how to build a successful startup, as well as meeting other startups from across the globe which only highlighted the potential of the global Islamic economy.
“You can be incredibly innovative, but often what makes and breaks a startup is the business side, which we wanted to improve on from workshops, talks and one-on-one advice.”
Adla Alhaddad, creative director of perfume company ADLA/Brewing Potions – that operates between Dubai and Australia – added that she took away “vital aspects regarding the business model canvas, branding and customer relationships which are key for a new start-up.”
Hamad Rashed Alshamsi, founder of the UAE’s Khair Keys said that it was much more than just focusing on the Islamic economy. “I thought it’s going to be more focused on the Islamic economy side, which pushed [me] from the beginning to join the camp,” said Alshamsi.
“But what I found is much greater – it focused on that, but also taught as many basic things for us as entrepreneurs, especially the monetising stage. It also taught us how to deal with the people around us.”
The remaining startups involved in the bootcamp were The AJALA Project and Salaty from the UAE, Qirtas and Innoras from Saudi Arabia, Australia’s Happy Brain Education and The Muslim Class + SUBHITAHA from the United States.
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