UAE-conceived gadget set to launch

Start-up firm Infinitec, maker of a device capable of "unlimited" storage, will begin shipping the product assembled in the Emirates by month's end.

United Arab Emirates- Dubai - March 1, 2010:

BUSINESS: Chief executive officer of infinitec (cq-al. Desk, the 'i' is lower case.), Ahmad Zahran (cq-al), premieres the Infinite USB Memory (IUM) Drive at the Liwa Heights Towers in Dubai on Monday, March 1, 2010. Amy Leang/The National
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The start-up Infinitec, based in Dubai, is preparing to capture the wallets of gadget fans worldwide when it begins to ship its USB device by the end of the month. The company has sold a few hundred of its Infinite USB Memory (IUM) drives after starting to accept pre-orders at the start of this month, and is securing distribution deals with resellers, said Ahmad Zahran, the chief executive of Infinitec.

"We started pre-orders 24 days ago and immediately the shop went live. It was spectacular," Mr Zahran said. "After five minutes we started to get sales. This happened at 1am ? and since then we've got more than I expected." Priced at US$129 (Dh473), the IUM resembles an ordinary USB drive but does not contain any memory space. It connects electronic equipment that reads traditional flash drives such as computers or video consoles over a wireless connection, thus providing "unlimited" memory.

The device attracted significant media attention from the popular gadget blogs Engadget and Gizmodo when it was introduced in February. Since then, Mr Zahran has been putting the final touches on the IUM with several manufacturers and software developers around the world. The device's software was built in the US, its hardware design comes from Canada and manufacturing is completed in Malaysia. The IUMs are then shipped and assembled by a company in the UAE. "The IUM is truly a global story," Mr Zahran said. "Our core business doesn't exist here and we have to outsource everything ? but I wanted to keep this in the UAE somehow and I'm happy we could put the final piece of the puzzle here." Infinitec will be closely watched by local entrepreneurs. Mr Zahran said it was the first hardware gadget made in the Arab world and, if successful, could eclipse the achievements of other technology start-ups in the region.

Maktoob remains the barometer of success in the region after its $164 million acquisition by Yahoo. But Mr Zahran says he is lucky to get to this point. For months, it appeared Infinitec may not be able to meet its summer deadline to ship the device because of financial and technical constraints. The struggle to find any investors willing to provide additional funds to help him lower production costs has forced him to focus on individual buyers rather than the reseller market in the drive's launch.

Like many entrepreneurs, Mr Zahran and his business partner David McKern did not have enough capital to get better rates from their manufacturers, leaving them strapped for cash and with a lack of inventory. "If you look at our sales, the majority of them are in the US," Mr Zahran said. "We haven't had many people in the Arab world show interest in the product. "They support the company but this business is not understood in this part of the world and that's what has scared off investors."

Mr Zahran said he was in contact with electronics resellers in the US, UK and South Africa but "not as many as I want to have". He is optimistic the IUM will become popular and Infinitec will make its goal of 15,000 unit sales by the end of the year. "We're making this whole thing from scratch," Mr Zahran said. "We have the intellectual property rights, we've built it, we've prototyped it and it's never been done in the UAE before."