Aviation industry startups take off at Intelak incubator in Dubai

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After an intense day of pitching, four startups with aviation industry-centric business ideas got to walk away with 50,000 Emirati dirhams each.

Eighteen pitches were heard on November 26 by senior executives leading innovation initiatives at the three partners behind Intelak – the Emirates Group, GE, and Etisalat Digital. The four startups chosen to be funded will also be spending four months at the new aviation incubator Intelak to undergo additional training to move their ideas into businesses.

The Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Centre-headquartered Intelak, which means ‘take off’ in Arabic, is a new initiative launched in September by the Emirates Group, GE, and Etisalat Digital to help entrepreneurs create products that improve the user experience of airplane passengers before, during and after their flights.

From left to right, judges Neetan Chopra of Emirates Group, Rania Rostom of GE and Francisco Salcedo of Etisalat. (Images via Intelak)

The week-long boot camp included coaching by experts on topics ranging from market validation to pitching, and was led by Aya Sadder, Intelak’s Incubation manager. The 18 startups ultimately pitched in a TV studio-like environment aptly named ‘Cabin Pressure’, reminiscent of the popular American startup pitching TV show, Shark Tank. Episodes will air on regional digital channels in the coming months.

The jury included Neetan Chopra of the Emirates Group, Rania Rostom of GE, Francisco Salcedo of Etisalat Digital.

The four winning startups were Dubz, Storagei, The Conceptualisers, and Team Tahseen.

Intelak incubator manager Aya Sadder announces the winning startups as the judges look on.

Sadder, said Intelak will start another intake of startups in Spring 2017, said the goal was to create a dynamic learning experience.

“For the bootcamp, our aim was to design an effective structure for the semi-finalists to gain from. As for the ‘Cabin Pressure’ session with our own judges, the quality of pitching and the excitement was a reflection on how hard all the teams have worked,” said Sadder.

Cultivating confidence

Dubz CEO Omar Abou Faraj, who stated that he quit his “dream job” in order to create a luggage pickup service startup with COO Samer Soboh and CCO Mustafa Maghrabi (all pictured below), credited his parents for instilling in him the willingness to take a risk.

Team Tahseen with Rania Rostom.jpg
Sanaa Iqbal Pirani (center) tells Intelak jury member Rania Rostom of GE about Team Tahseen’s unique added value as her colleagues Abdulla Mohammed Alshimmari (right) and Mohammed Farhan Aftab (second from left) look on.

“Being the eldest son of two entrepreneurs I am reminded daily of the fulfillment a person realizes by following their passion and building an organization from scratch that serves their personal and professional dreams,” said Abou Faraj.

The Dubz cofounders celebrated their win not by basking in the glory but rather by enthusiastically handing out cards with a promo code; good for 50 percent off their services until December 31.

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The Intelak award celebrated by the Dubz team, from left to right: CCO Mustafa Maghrabi, CEO Omar Abou Faraj and COO Samer Soboh.

Recipe for success

While Dubz frees up travelers to have time to enjoy their last day in a city by picking up their luggage and taking it to the airport, Team Tahseen’s app literally lets passengers upgrade their meals while on flights.

UAE national Abdulla Mohammed Alshimmari, who has previously launched several food-related ventures in Abu Dhabi and operates out of the Masdar free zone, told the judges that his team’s app lets travelers “eat business class while flying economy” and can help boost mediocre in-flight meal ratings that even some of the most reputable airliners are facing.

Sanaa Iqbal Pirani, who manages operations for Team Tahseen, highlighted the importance of sustainability in a recent comment she provided to the Masdar Institute.

Intelak mentor Tiberiu Iacomi, center, watches the pitches unfold from behind the scenes. (Image via Intelak)

“I have always been passionate about food waste and my Masdar Institute research reinforced the importance of addressing this issue here in the UAE. The Intelak competition has given us an opportunity to address this matter for the aviation industry while also helping to improve the passenger experience,” said Pirani.

The Conceptualisers, a team made up of five university students, came up with a solution for a reimagining of the classic airplane meal tray. Yadhushan Mahendran, the team lead,  told Wamda after the event that they wanted to “conceptualise solutions that are realistic, visionary and that set the market trend.” Looking to redefine inflight dining from the perspectives of the passenger, inflight crew, and even the airline itself.  They want to created something more lightweight, but still durable and practical.

“The concept is rounded in a fashion to please the entire ecosystem of clients,” said Mahendran.

Storagei presented a
remote baggage checking solution powered by a small IOT-enabled chip.

Positive pressure

The Improbable Agency cofounder Tiberiu Iacomi, an Intelak mentor who advised the 20 startups on their pitching strategies during the bootcamp, praised the Shark Tank-like final pitch to the judges and its psychological impact.

“Having the final judging organized in the conditions of a TV show put the teams under a sort of ‘positive pressure.’ Usually when you have positive pressure as an entrepreneur, you start growing and innovating,” Iacomi told Wamda.

Feature image via Pexels.com

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