Dubai Expo officials call for more UAE and GCC projects to bid for $100,000 grant

Early December deadline for global Expo Live programme that is looking for companies creating social change

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -17January 2017 - Yousuf Caires, vice president of the Expo Live that has received hundreds of applications of start-up projects from clean drinking water to renewable energy to help communities around the world as part of the Expo 2020at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center. Ravindranath K / The NationalID: 94823 (to go with Ramola Talwar story for Business)
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Dubai Expo officials are on the lookout for creative and innovative companies that are changing lives, effecting social change or improving the environment as part of an Expo Live programme that is open to global competition.

With a week left for submissions to secure a $100,000 (Dh367,300) grant in the third round, the project has already begun working with 45 winners across 30 countries.

The deadline is set for December 2 – the UAE’s National Day – and the Expo has called for more local and regional organisations to come forward.

“We are really looking to pass the message to UAE and GCC based start-ups because we feel it’s a strong opportunity for them to get financial assistance and access to the Expo where they can meet and interact with the right people and companies,” said Yousuf Caires, vice president of Expo Live, Expo 2020 Dubai.

“We have received many applications from the region, we just want to see more of it. We would like to see more young Emirati, UAE-based or GCC companies that have found issues they want to solve through their businesses here, challenges specific to the UAE or the region,” he said.

“We are looking for companies that were founded and designed for a purpose. For us that is like a jackpot because this is the story we want to tell at the expo, about change makers from our region dedicating themselves to fixing an issue.”


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Since the launch of a pilot programme last year, the recipients in five continents span a wide variety of sectors including education, waste management and renewable energy.

They include literacy programmes for Afghan women and girls, solar-powered cold storage for the perishable crops of Indian farmers and a UAE group teaching English to thousands of workers via smart phone application.

Many successful business initiatives are less than five years old with clear, fully developed plans, Mr Caires said. People with early stage concepts are encouraged to register their companies and return.

“We are not accepting just individuals with ideas. It needs to be somebody who has made the jump and is trying to secure some support to get it off the ground, to get it to grow and get it to market,” he said.

A long-term link with the Expo will ensure funding and cooperation continues as the company grows.

“The programme offers an initial grant of $100,000 and if the start-up performs well we are interested in providing further opportunities. We are ready to fund more if they remain committed,” Mr Caires said.

“They become part of the Expo family and we want to make sure that they grow.”

Yousuf Caires, vice president of Expo Live, visits a project in Zambia which won funding from Expo 2020. Courtesy Expo 2020
Yousuf Caires, vice president of Expo Live, visits a project in Zambia which won funding from Expo 2020. Courtesy Expo 2020

The applications are open in a six-month cycle so those who miss next month’s deadline can prepare for submissions next year.

Those shortlisted from online applications are invited to Dubai to pitch before an evaluation panel that whittles down the list to make the final set.

“Expo Live’s Innovation Impact Grant Programme is already showing inspiring and exciting results. I am confident that with the support of Expo Live, the successful projects will make a real impact in their local communities, and potentially globally,” said Aman Merchant, chief executive and co-founder of Impact Hub and Expo Live evaluation committee member.

Most submissions are digital projects but some lack an intrinsic social purpose.

“We tend to receive tech-oriented solutions that are fantastic if they are dedicated to reduce a gap or provide greater access to people who don’t have access to certain services. We welcome more of this,” Mr Caires said.

“For those that already have a business but lack a social initiative, they are made to understand the Expo Live concept. We help them understand why we are pushing for social impact, why it matters. Everybody wants to make money but who is it that wants to leave an impact on the way people live or on the environment.”

Expo Live explained:

The Expo Live programme began with a pilot project last year

Applications for the third round are open until December 2

In the first round, from 600 applicants, 168 were shortlisted, with 33 selected to pitch their projects in Dubai of which 29 secured a grant of $100,000 each

In the second round, there were a similar number of applicants and companies shortlisted, of which 18 were invited to Dubai and 16 projects won the grant

Expo Live is open twice a year for submissions with the aim to support projects that have a social benefit with funding and business guidance

The programme has so far attracted more than 1,100 applicants from 107 countries

Projects include:

Afghan Institute of Learning: Women and older girls are taught to read and write using mobile phones instead of pen and paper. Health and hygiene is part of the classes. The Expo Live grant will expand the number of literacy classes in rural and urban areas.

Land Life: A Dutch start-up aims to plant up to 50,000 trees annually to restore arid land worldwide using 'cocoon,' a low-cost, biodegradable tree planting solution that reduces water required. It is being used to reforest areas in Zambia, Cameroon, Peru and Chile. The grant will help the company scale up, set up local operations to achieve greater impact.

CoolCrop: A low-cost cold room has been developed that is powered by solar energy to allow farmers to store perishable produce for up to six months. This will allow the company to set up more cold rooms and reach small farmer cooperatives across India.

CaribePay:  A financial tech start-up that provides a 100 per cent cashless payment service using cash cards and apps. It is designed so that neither the seller nor buyer requires a bank account. It allows transactions anywhere, at any time, without electrical power or internet access.  Funding will allow CaribePay to expand into other Caribbean countries, and later into Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Smart Labour: The app teaches blue-collar workers in Dubai to speak in English and to learn educational, plus safety information in their own language. The cash injection will help reach workers across the UAE by also teaching life skills on the mobile phone so they can access video tutorials at any time.