An inventor who designed sight-saving technology after his grandfather went blind is among four aspiring entrepreneurs who won the chance to promote their business to a global audience.
Saif Al Darmaki won over a crowd of leading business figures by telling them he wanted to help the “forgotten millions” who have sight issues.
He was among four young entrepreneurs named as the winners of the Pitch@Palace GCC competition, held at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night.
They will go on to the global final in London in December.
The Pitch@Palace initiative, was founded by the UK’s Prince Andrew, Duke of York, to encourage innovation, and he attended the Abu Dhabi event.
Another successful candidates was Hala Sulaiman, who said she wanted her company, an educational programme that translates Arabic text to audiobooks, to become the “Audible of the Arab world”.
An app that links recruiters with jobseekers using algorithms, won over the judges, as did another app named Foodate, which aims to reduce food waste.
Mr Al Darmaki said his grandfather had gone blind owing to a condition linked to diabetes and that about 200 million others were at risk of a similar fate. He said his software, set up under his company Artelus, reduced the length of time it took to diagnose the condition.
"When I was 13 I noticed my grandfather was having sight issues," he said. "We took him to doctors but it didn't help. Two years later he was blind.
“The solution is using our detection system. Those with the disease will be referred to doctors. So far we have screened more than 32,000 people using our software, and helped save more than 7,000 eyes from blindness. Please help us deliver quality healthcare to the forgotten millions.”
The 14 finalists previously went through a two-day boot camp stage where they received expert tuition to prepare them for the final.
The Pitch@Palace competition, launched in 2014, has been embraced by the UAE in a drive to encourage more young people to enter the private sector, rather than taking on government jobs. It was expanded this year to welcome contestants from across the Gulf.
Of the finalists, eight were Emirati and the rest from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Hussein Al Nowais, chairman of Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, which organised the event in partnership with the Duke of York, said the competition would boost creativity in the UAE.
"We remain fully committed to continue our quest for excellence and become a role model at the local, regional and global levels in fostering a culture of innovation that encourages entrepreneurs to dream big and to equip them with the resources to transform this dream into reality," he said.
The Duke of York called on established business people and investors to make connections with those pitching ideas.
“Entrepreneurship and building businesses is a team effort,” he said. “We need to build a community that gets behind and encourages these businesses. What we are able to do is create a doorway for these businesses to move forward.”
Among candidates who failed to win a place at the final was the creator of a tracking system for camels designed to prevent road accidents.
Abdullah Al Qahtani, of Camels Mate, creator of a wearable, solar-powered GPS camel tracker, said: "I have lost some of my relatives in camel/vehicle collisions. So sad. In a small city in Saudi Arabia, 200 people die in camel vehicle accidents every year.
"I love camels, I own some. I want to protect people and camels at the same time. I just want to be supported and tell people about the camels. They are part of our history and our culture. We need to save them and save people as well."
The four winners will now prepare to pitch for funding at St James's Palace, London, at the global final on December 12.