Abu Dhabi’s travel and tourism leaders award $100k to four Fikra Labs winners

Announcing the Fikra Labs winners. (Images via Reine Farhat)

One month after announcing the 12 shortlisted startups to join a four-week training by Fikra Labs, an acceleration programme for the travel and tourism industry in Abu Dhabi, it was time to get ready for the final demo day.

Fikra Labs acceleration programme launched on April 1 by four partners: Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company (ADNEC), Etihad, Miral and Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. The programme is powered by Wamda and has Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) as an International Financial Center partner.

Over 200 applications were filtered and selected and 12 teams were shortlisted to join the bootcamp, three for each partner (read more about the shortlisted startups and the partners challenges here). The acceleration programme was held at Etihad Innovation Center, where teams attended various sessions related to understanding term sheets, local marketing, fundraising, the lean canvas model, idea validation, and testing among other topics.

“The person that struck me the most was HE Saif Seed Ghobash, the Director General of DCT. He has a lot of insights, very well aware of data and what needs to be done. The fact that they invited startups to come disrupt them promises a lot,” said Thaer Zuabi, cofounder of shortlisted startup AnabiVirtual, which uses VR technology in cultural sites. “Also Terry Jones [founder and former CEO of online travel agency Travelocity and the chairman of travel aggregator Kayak], gave a talk at New York University - Abu Dhabi which was quite illuminating in terms of what lies ahead for the industry and why we should start innovating from within before a new player can come and disrupt our whole industry,” he added.   

Before announcing the winners HE Saif Seed Ghobash and Wamda executive chairman, Fadi Ghandour addressed the startups and the public, stressing on the importance of supporting young innovators for the future of the economy.

Wamda's Executive Chairman Fadi Ghandour giving a talk on corporate innovation. (Images via Reine Farhat)

“Corporates are at the core of our economy, if you don’t engage them, if startups don’t find a formula to work with them, there’s something missing. Companies are partially not innovative, I used to say they are slow to innovate. This is a time to all think about how disruption is going to affect us,” said Ghandour. “Over years, CSR [corporate social responsibility] came as a PR story [for corporations]. So we end up with a statement that might get forgotten over a PR. CER [corporate entrepreneurship responsibility] tells people in the business of creating wealth how to engage and bring entrepreneurs inside, mentor them, and invest in them. Governments are saying we don’t want to employ you and that’s a good thing,” added Ghandour.

Having pitched directly to their respective partners during the morning, each of the 12 teams pitched again for five minutes in front of the crowd before the partners announced the winners.

Viafone, ADNEC

Founded by Soufiane Houri, Viafone built a chatbot that talks with ADNEC customers, gives timely information about events (exhibitions, conferences and corporate events) they are attending as well as activities to do in Abu Dhabi. The aim is to improve the customer’s experience.

“ADNEC works with organizers, exhibitors and visitors and wanted us to think of every single possible value added service that our solution (MICE Chatbot) can provide, “said Houri.

When it comes to what will happen following the demo day, the cofounder said he will continue working on feeding the chatbot with more scenarios to answer to “every bit of their needs long term or short term.”

“The solution [chatbot] will give us a competitive edge, increase our service offerings and bring a positive reputation,” said Derar Al Manaseer, director - strategy management and excellence at ADNEC.

Arabot, Etihad

Abdallah Faza and Kais Hassan developed Arabot in Jordan before applying to Fikra Labs. Their solution provides Etihad with a chatbot, located at several Etihad touchpoints, to get real-time feedback from customers or travellers and provide immediate solutions. “It was a great opportunity knowing about aviation, travel, and understand too many things about Etihad. They [Etihad team] are very dedicated, they are very serious, and very transparent,” said Faza. “We added complex conversation cases. The [travel] journey has too many cases, flight delay, luggage, so you want a tool to cover all of this.”

“We wanted to do Fikra Labs because we want to find a way to engage with the startup community. It's not an ideation exercise, if you got a good solution, I want to have an equity stake in you and I want you to implement,” said William Inglis, head of strategic projects at Etihad. As to what are his worries, Inglis clearly expressed that they are related to the risky nature of startups. “One might have a great idea but more risky but it’s all about managing these risks. With Etihad, we are moving towards an innovative culture, [to] do things more quickly, and accept failure.”

Scene, Miral

This city-discovery application allows users to search for activities or events happening in their cities and book them. To help Yas Island [one of Miral’s projects] visitors enjoy their journey more, the app featured Miral’s profile in Scene, and listed all the activities that can be done there. As it is not solely focused on Miral, the app will give the latter an access to a wider audience of visitors who are coming to spend some time in Abu Dhabi from different places around the world. Scene’s biggest challenge now is marketing and they will be using the money they won to acquire more users, according to Scene cofounder, Maria Gharaibeh.

Tapklik, DCT

Tapklik is a real-time advertising platform that measures the performance metrics of campaigns and use data to better target the audience. With DCT, they will develop solutions for the government and big enterprises and cater for data privacy and protection, said cofounder Halid Moussa. In the next six months, they will be launching their data management platform. “Winning [gave] us a strong strategic partner. What we proposed to them requires us to have a dedicated development team and force to deliver the data management within six months. Our team is so small and we are working on a quite demanding technical platform. We need to quadruple all the team to keep up with latest advancement in the adtech world,” he added.

Each of the winning teams received $100,000 of equity investment and are now getting ready to closely implement their projects with their respective partners. Here's a video summary of some of the most intereseting moments during the programme.


Video credit: Kamel Al-Asmar

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