First prize in entrepreneurs contest is four months in Dubai

The Life: DP World's Turn8 seed accelerator is aiming to help put Dubai on the map as a hub for innovation.

Yousif Al Mutawa, chief information officer at DP World, says Dubai is thinking of becoming an innovation hub. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Why would the world's third- largest port operator set up a seed accelerator programme to encourage entrepreneurship around the world? Because last month, Dubai's DP World did just that.

There are two reasons for the creation of the Turn8 programme, according to Yousif Al Mutawa, DP World's chief information officer.

First, while the ports business hasn't really evolved much since containerisation in the 1950s, big changes are expected.

As 3D printing technology improves, for example, the way goods are manufactured and delivered around the globe may alter dramatically.

Products ranging from shoes to cars might be mass manufactured on the spot - jeopardising the existence of the companies that benefit from the current situation in which 80 per cent of the world's goods are transported by sea.

"3D printing is one of those breakthrough technologies that will impact on supply chains and manufacturing," says Mr Al Mutawa.

"We need to step beyond traditional business improvement and incremental growth. Let's push the limits of our minds beyond what we think about."

Second, DP World is proud of its history as a company with vision.

"Innovation is really one of our core values - it's always been on our agenda," says Mr Al Mutawa.

The Turn8 programme was originally intended to run inside DP World.

But as time went on it seemed that the accelerator could have a larger impact if it reached beyond the company's walls. Innovation is one of the key elements of Dubai's bid for Expo 2020 and DP World executives thought this was a way they could support the bid.

"Strategically, Dubai is thinking [about becoming] a hub" for innovation, Mr Al Mutawa says.

"There was a lot of focus on real estate and tourism and other sectors but how do we produce knowledge and intellectual property here? That is missing today."

The Turn8 accelerator was launched on April 29. It is being managed by Innovation 360, a Dubaimanagement consultancy.

DP World also made the accelerator a stand-alone entity to distance it from the "conservative" culture that characterises port operators.

"You need to start accepting some failures," Mr Al Mutawa says. "You should accept the fact that when you put [up] your money, it's not like an investment into a project; everything you put [in] might completely disappear."

Nevertheless, DP World employees are encouraged to submit idea proposals to Turn8. Of the 10 places in the first cycle, it is expected five will go to local teams and five to international teams.

The initial cycle will last a year. The first four months are being spent scouting for 10 participating teams in countries including the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Ukraine and the United States.

Those with the best ideas will be invited to Dubai for four months, given workspace and mentoring, and a maximum of US$24,000 to develop their ideas.

At the end of this four-month phase, teams will ideally emerge with a business-grade investment plan. The last four months of the cycle will be about trying to find funding from banks and venture capitalists, including backers in Silicon Valley.Then, hopefully, the process will start afresh with another bunch of teams.

At the investment stage, Turn8 may decide to incorporate the start-up into its main business, or grow the business in adjacent markets, or provide capital in exchange for equity even if the business moves out of Dubai.

The selection panel consists of Afzal Khalfay, vice president of IT at DP World; Kamal Hassan, founder of Innovation 360; and Bruce Ferguson, professor of practice, engineering systems and management at Masdar Institue of Technology.

Critics observe that the difficulty for people in getting long-term residency in Dubai makes it less attractive to innovators.

"We would love [the new businesses] to stay in Dubai," says Mr Al Mutawa. "This is our first preference and we will try with our partners to give them special packages for this and get licensing. But with some investors the condition is the company has to be in the US. That's where we are open."

Turn8 (its name is a fusion of ideas including gravity and infinity) has decided that submissions must come within certain themes: travel, trade, supply chain management, shipping, transport and logistics.

"Themes [include] environmental and social responsibility and safety because these [are some] of our core values," Mr Al Mutawa says. "Hopefully this [programme] will [also] make the world is a better place."

Learn more about the selection process, including how to apply, at