Idea too small? Think bigger

The Life: Mashrur Nabi arrived at Startup Weekend in Abu Dhabi armed with an idea. When his mentor told him it would be difficult to scale he went away and thought bigger, coming up with an idea that won the competition.

Mashrur Nabi. Courtesy photo
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Mashrur Nabi arrived at Startup Weekend Abu Dhabi, a business competition held last month, hopeful that its judges would spot the potential in his plan.

But on the first day of the contest he was told that his idea was too much of a niche concept to be commercially viable.

"The original idea was to do with learning and development," explains Mr Nabi, who works in the training industry and enjoys his job but has always hoped to start his own business.

"It was basically like a training platform," he adds.

However, Mr Nabi struggled to explain this idea to his mentor at Startup Weekend within 15 minutes, and he realised that he stood no chance of summing it up in front of a panel of judges in a shorter period.

Moreover, the whole point of the competition was to come up with a business idea that could be scaled up.

"I think [Mr Nabi] left that day realising that [the business concept] wasn't going to happen and it was going to be something very interesting but it was going to be much smaller," says Karim Helal, Mr Nabi's mentor, a co-founder and the chief executive of, a website that helps companies with tendering.

Mr Helal urged Mr Nabi to think bigger. And he did.

Lying awake that night, Mr Nabi, 30, was struck with a different idea - one that went on to win.

Four weeks earlier, Mr Nabi's mother had suffered a stroke, so the topic of health was on his mind. "[My idea] came to me on Friday morning at 4am," says Mr Nabi. "I couldn't sleep and I was thinking and thinking."

That was when he conceived of a mobile phone application to reward healthful living.

He announced it at Startup Weekend in Abu Dhabi later that morning and subsequently worked with a team to fine-tune the idea, which functions like a customer-loyalty system.

But Mr Nabi's system, which awards points for healthy behaviour, is not just about buying food that is good for you. It also includes rewards for enjoyable but healthy activities.

"Every time you exercise and go to the gym, bowling, horse riding, you get points and then you build up enough points to redeem them at participating outlets or for… concerts [for instance]."

It is often difficult to track activities, including how frequently a person performs a certain exercise, and Mr Nabi says his system helps to keep such records.

The next step is to seek the participation of companies, which could be from almost any sector - barring those marketing products that are not wholly healthy, such as fast food.

Participating outlets could include a zoo, for instance, as people are likely to be physically active as they walk among the exhibits.

The system Mr Nabi has devised works by using black-and-white quick-response, or QR, codes that can be scanned via mobile and are released to participating outlets.

The concept is different from Foursquare or Facebook Places, which "check" people into various locations, because you do not have to be on-site to do so, Mr Nabi says.

With his system, he adds, "the participating outlets actually verify that you have done the activity or bought something and you can scan the code".

The idea has the potential to be big, says Mr Helal. "It's genius," he says. "I honestly think what he has has the potential to have as much impact as Facebook has, or Twitter has, but on the living-healthy kind of app."