Yolandi Brooks is looking to shake up the travel app sector. But first she needs to design a prototype, and for that the 32-year-old from Dubai must raise US$6,000.
Ms Brooks is among a small but growing group of residents in the UAE who are turning to crowdfunding sites, where individuals – often complete strangers — are offered a variety of rewards in exchange for funds that go towards starting new products, services or sometimes even whole ventures.
Her pitch, Qrated, is planned as a mobile app that will navigate tourists through key cultural and historic landmarks through audio tours in different cities, including the Al Fahidi district, Spice Souk and Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary within Dubai.
“Voice guides for the city, and even the region, are very limited, providing a gap in the market which we will be aiming to fill,” says Ms Brooks.
Yet whether or not Ms Brooks can actually earn enough funds to get her concept off the ground will depend, in part, on how much interest another start-up can generate — more specifically, a new crowdfunding platform called Mawwell.com.
Launching today, Mawwell is set to target entrepreneurs and funders in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Three of the first four campaigns that the site is spotlighting come from residents in the UAE, although more than 70 projects in total have been screened to date.
Other international crowdfunding sites already exist, including Indiegogo and Ulule, as well as Kickstarter, which surpassed $1 billion in pledges from individuals last month. But Joanna Truffaut, who is Mawwell’s founder and lived in the UAE before moving more recently to France, argues: “None of these international platforms have the deep knowledge that we have of the Mena [Middle East and North Africa] market — its subtleties, its challenges and its phenomenal potential.
“There is room for additional international crowdfunding platforms for creative and innovative projects,” adds Ms Truffaut, who says she is returning to live in the Arabian Gulf this year.
Mawwell first hinted that it would be coming to market about two years ago, when the volume of online transactions was growing rapidly within Mena but still small overall compared to Europe and North America. And few individuals then knew about, or supported, crowdfunding. “Back in 2012 the Mena market was clearly not ready,” says Ms Truffaut. “We decided to take the time necessary until we felt comfortable with the state of the market.”
While some individuals are still uncertain as to whether funders will bring dirhams to Mawwell, they are nevertheless taking a chance and posting their projects to the site.
Abdul Karim Siraji, a Dubai-based musician known as Aks, is trying to raise $10,000 to create Eclectic, an album that will blend vocals and instruments from a mix of countries such as the UAE, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The money, he says, will cover payments to various artists and cover production, recording, promotion and the creation of one music video. To sweeten the deal, his backers will get exclusive access to certain materials from the album a month before they are released to the public.
“I think it’s time to adopt the changing trend of how music is created and funded,” says Mr Siraji. “Crowdfunding helps independent musicians and non-commercial genres to be produced. Of course, this requires good support from the community that appreciates such music.”
Indeed, Mr Siraji, 30, says the greatest challenge standing in his way is ensuring word spreads through social media platforms to those beyond the UAE and into the wider Middle East.
For Gameguise, a Dubai-based game development company, the strategy behind using crowdfunding is a quite different. The business has already funded its take on Shahnameh, an epic Persian poem that is being transformed into a multiplayer online game designed to handle many players at the same time. Known as Seven Quests and expected to be released in June, the game will be free to play but will include certain purchase options and initially launch on select mobile phones and tablets.
The goal, now, is to raise $15,000 to develop new animations and videos “to further bring the game alive for players”, says Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, Gameguise’s 29-year-old co-founder.
While Mr Bozorgzadeh and his team know there is always the possibility that they will fall short of their target, he notes that at least on Mawwell they will “enjoy being in the limelight in a way which would be much more difficult to achieve on noisier platforms like Kickstarter”.
Follow us on Twitter @Ind_Insights