A consortium of four Abu Dhabi organisations including the Department of Culture and Tourism and Etihad Aviation Group have partnered with venture capital firm Wamda Capital to launch an accelerator programme for travel and tourism-focused start-ups.
Four winning start-ups will be awarded a $100,000 capital investment from the partner organisation most relevant to their business. The Abu Dhabi organisations also include Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company and real estate developer Miral.
The initiative — called Fikra Labs ("fikra" means idea in Arabic) — is also supported by the emirate's financial free zone, Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), which hopes to house winning start-ups at its new innovation centre on Al Maryah Island, which is set to open in the second half of 2018.
"As part of our mandate to promote Abu Dhabi as a destination of distinction, [us four] have partnered with Wamda to launch this programme to encourage start-ups to tackle specific challenges in the emirate's travel and tourism sector," said Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi.
The emirate is working to grow its travel and tourism industry despite global and regional headwinds in recent years. A record 4.4 million tourists visited Abu Dhabi in 2016, an 8 per cent increase from the previous year.
Like other Mena countries, the UAE aims to widen the contribution of start-ups and small to medium enterprises to its GDP as it seeks to diversify its economy and lessen dependence on oil revenues.
Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030 economic growth strategy sets out plans for regulatory reform to encourage the formation of start-ups. Several initiatives have been launched to incentivise and support entrepreneurs. These include the region’s first sustainability-focused start-up incubator, the Catalyst, backed by renewable energy company Masdar, and Area 2071, an incubator for futuristic technology companies and start-ups.
Start-ups from across the world have until March 5 to register for participation in the Fikra Labs programme. All applications will be reviewed by a screening committee comprising representatives from each of the four partners plus Wamda Capital, and scored according to pre-approved criteria.
Those with the highest scores will be invited to a 30-minute interview with the committee to further judge their ideas, then a shortlist of 32 start-ups will attend a two-day "boot camp", or intensive workshop, to develop their ideas.
The screening committee will then choose 12 final teams to be part of a four-week incubation process, after which four winners will be selected at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Each partner will contribute $100,000 each.
Wamda Capital, headed by former Aramex founder Fady Ghandour, funds Mena-based technology start-ups through its growth stage $75 million investment fund, Wamda Mena Ventures I, the largest of its kind in the region. The VC firm will not put up funding for Fikra, but will provide administrative and mentorship support to participating start-ups.
Fikra Labs was launched at an event in Abu Dhabi on Monday as part of UAE Innovation Month, during which a programme of events, workshops and exhibitions will take place across each of the seven emirates to promote innovation.