Abu Dhabi's Fikra Labs accelerator selects 12 finalists, embraces hospitality innovation

A group photo with the partners and the 12 shortlisted startups. (Images via Wamda)

Weeks after announcing Fikra Labs, an acceleration programme for the travel and tourism industries in Abu Dhabi, 32 startups out of 200 were chosen to attend a two-day bootcamp on April 1 and 2 at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC). The bootcamp briefed participating startups about the challenges of the programme and allowed them to pitch their solutions, before being shortlisted to join the acceleration programme.

4 partners, 4 challenges

Each of the below four leading companies joined forces to launch an acceleration programme for MENA startups based in Abu Dhabi, to help them come up with innovative solutions for the travel and tourism sectors in the Emirate. Below the challenges of each partner: 

Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC): Their challenge is related to the customer experience. “We have three types of customers [attendees, exhibitors, and organizers]. Their needs are different and the journey is different, so we must understand the journey,” said Derar AlManaseer, director of strategy management and excellence at ADNEC.

He explained how they want startups to help them improve each customer’s journey. From a visitor’s perspective, they want to make it easier for event attendees to arrive to ADNEC, park their cars, find a hotel room, enjoy a quick internet connection and avoid the queues. From an exhibitor’s perspective, they want to facilitate the process of renting a space, accessing utilities, furniture, and stand building, getting banners, and catering, among other facilities. As for event organizers, it gets more complicated as organizers must have a direct relation with exhibitors, they own their data, they must provide an event layout and manage registration, in addition to space selling, among other services.

Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT): Georges Kalliamvakos, digital development unit head at DCT, addressed the audience with three statements: Improving user experience, measuring their impact and data measurement, and alignment with marketing.

Startups during the icebreaker session. 

Miral: For Strategy and innovation lead at Miral, Nazeel Juvale, the focus is on focused on improving the customer’svisitor journey on to Yas Island,  - part of a broader 2022 vision to attract 48m to a Abu Dhabi’s flagship leisure and entertainment destination.Miral project, and building the infrastructure..

By 2022, Yas Island is expected to attract 48 million visitors, more than 100,000 corporate travelers mixing business with pleasure, 4,000 room bookings and around 10,000 Yas Island homes, according to Juvale.

“We are not only looking at optimising things for the visitor only, but also to raise awareness of Yas Island and knowledge of its assets experiences. Another key consideration for us is transportation, both getting to and around  raising awareness, connectivity, and transportation to Yas Island. “It’s important to enable our visitors to reach us and the Island is accessible, but we want to raise awareness of how accessible Yas Island is,” said Emma Penn, Associate Manager, Strategy and Innovation at Miral.

Etihad: Getting real-time customer feedback was key for Etihad, according to Michael Savio, portfolio management at the airline company. “Usually we do that with surveys, or people go online to answer a 20-min survey. Our challenge to you is to do better than that,” he said. “Our challenge is that it’s not real-time, so we can’t directly address them. We only get feedback when the service is bad, we want to hear when it’s also good.”

Prior to sitting with their corresponding partners and discuss their solutions, participants were asked to come up with a startup idea using these three words: Apple, elephant, chair, as an icebreaker to get the imagination flowing. You’d be surprised by some of the ideas that came out!

Then they had a 15-minute one-on-one chat with the challenge partner. This was crucial for both parties to discuss any iterations and changes in the solution prior the final pitching session on the second day.

Rabih Elkhodr coaching attendees on how to pitch effectively.

The tip of the iceberg

To get them ready for the final demo session, soft skills trainer and public speaking coach Rabih Elkhodr gave a pitching 101 session on how to present a business idea, how to stay relevant, and to get the audience’s attention.

The first 30 seconds of every pitch are crucial, he said addressing the audience. “You are pitching to people who have seen it all, so you might lose their attention and never get it back. Don’t start with saying who you are, and what you like. Even though we tend to do that naturally. This might work somewhere else, but for business pitching, you need to start strong,” he advised.

In business pitches, body language isn’t the only important element. Others must include stating a very clear solution from the beginning, the problem you are solving - “make it so important” - the need or opportunity, and traction.

That said, entrepreneurs must do their best to stay relaxed and avoid being too anxious on stage. In this context, Elkhodr compared public speaking to the tip of the iceberg, which looks big above the surface, but even bigger below. Here, the speakers’ on-stage stress and anxiety are more impactful than the stuttering and hesitation and sweating that they reveal on the outside. To solve that, they must practice deep breathing, talk slowly and clearly, pause sometimes to stress on important statements, trim down content to the basics and avoid making too many gestures.

“Don’t write the script to memorize it, it’s just to make a sequence. Avoid saying the word sorry, even if you made a mistake, because you are putting the spotlight on your mistake. Avoid starting all over, especially while practicing. Don’t cover a lot of content on the slides because the audience’s natural reflex is to read,” he said.

...and the 12 shortlisted startups are

After practicing their pitches in front of the bootcamp mentors and peers, it was time for the entrepreneurs to go to their one-on-one pitching session with partners, who will ultimately choose three winners. Startups had 15 minutes, including a Q&A, to present their final solutions. Members of the jury also included a technical person from ADNEC, DCT, Miral or Etihad, to assess the technical execution.

Below are the 12 teams listed by alphabetical order.

1- Anabivirtual, Miral: It builds virtual and augmented reality experiences in the cultural heritage and touristic domains.

2- Arabot, Etihad: It aims to help business partners improve their customer experiences, automate their processes, and reduce their operational costs through building helpful chatbots that can handle all services through one conversational user interface.

3- Cogtalk, Etihad: It offers customized Artificial Intelligence services, by combining AI with customer experience (sales and customer care).

4- Dicedream, Miral: This video game publisher, known for releasing games like including The Sky Falcons, has launched a platform called ‘Reality’, to design a game that will be played by visitors, families, and citizens on an area of one square kilometre of land.

5- Kill My Routine, ADNEC: It is an online platform that matches events with the user’s mood. It does so by curating the most relevant events, breaking them down into their components and tagging them with an emotional outcome. Hence, users will receive more personalized recommendations based on multiple characteristics, including age, personality type, fitness level, emotions, and so on. The more events a person attends, the more personalized it becomes.

6- Noah International, Etihad: It is working on developing an AI-powered chatbot for getting feedback with a two-fold functionality: Enabling guests to communicate with the airline in real time and collecting extensive feedback from guests.

7- Scene, Miral: This iOS mobile app is an AI-powered social discovery platform for entertainment and city experiences. The platform consists of mobile and web applications automating entertainment discovery, planning, ticketing and community engagement (online-to-offline).

8- Tapklik, DCT: This platform aims to serve advertisers and publishers in the region, by analysing the campaign performance, planning campaigns based on existing parameters or external streams of localised data and increasing the overall performance and ROI for both advertisers and publishers.

9- TravoTech, ADNEC: This platform is an online travel agency builder that has two interfaces, targeting customers and businesses. It enables inbound travel agencies to build their own travel portals from a back-office and choose a design as a dynamic website from many built-in templates.

10- Via Fone, ADNEC: It offers an array of services to the customers including customized loyalty programs, couponing, and cross promotions.

11- Wasla, DCT: Wasla is a fintech-based business linking customers to business systems, and offering integrated and programmatic marketing solutions for services, media, and hospitality sectors.

12- 360 Vuz, DCT:  It provides 360 degree tours, videos, and images for events and other occasions.

The shortlisted startups are currently undergoing a four-week acceleration programme ran by the four partners, at Etihad Innovation Center. Each of the partners will pick one winner who will win 100k of investment to develop the idea with them.

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