DUBAI: Scores of start-ups occupied the Boulevard mall at Jumeirah Emirates Towers on Tuesday in hopes of attracting investors and increasing their profile.

The first Arab Youth Startup Marketplace (AYSM), organised by the Arab Youth Centre and Abu Dhabi investment company Mubadala, aimed to put young entrepreneurs in touch with potential investors.

Opening the event, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, said, “Young people are the most precious wealth and main driver for development and finding innovative solutions to the challenges. Investing in their ideas and expectations is the best investment for the future.”

He added the UAE’s leadership believes in investment in youth as the nation’s human capital, and worked to enable them to participate actively in various spheres of life and strengthen their role in designing the future.

The Arab Youth Centre says the event, which runs until Thursday October 5, is intended to showcase innovation, allow knowledge-sharing through networking and to empower young adults.

It’s intended to become an annual event.

These are the profiles of the some of the UAE startups we’ve talked to:

Meet the locals

Abdulla Al Matar and Khadija Behzad, co-founders of cultural tourism start-up Meet the Locals, said their employee induction programmes aimed at introducing new expats to Emirati culture and to life in the UAE had already attracted significant corporate interest within an hour of the event opening.

Behzad said the pair started the firm a year ago to increase interaction between Emiratis, tourists and residents.

“One of the services we provide is organising cultural events, for example cultural meals where expats can come and try Emirati food with Emirati people,” she said. “Also we do tours in different areas — we have a group of certified Emirati tour guides. And we also provide services for companies.”

Meet the Local’s corporate services include tours for overseas delegates visiting the UAE as well as inductions, Behzad said, adding that the firm offered its services in multiple languages.

Al Matar said the pair’s primary aim at AYSM was to raise their profile and to network — specifically they hoped to meet other start-ups with whom they could collaborate, and people who could make their business easier to operate.

“It’s been very interesting so far,” Al Matar added. “We know what we want to provide, we know our direction, the Expo is coming and we’re solving a big problem, which is that the population of expats is getting higher and higher.

“Today we have met some other start-ups we can cooperate with, especially those related to travel and tourism. Some investors have been around and liked it.”

Al Matar’s priorities, emphasising publicity and networking over attracting investment, was shared by the other start-ups Gulf News spoke to.

WideBOT

Cairo-based WideBOT, which provides platforms enabling firms to build their own multilingual AI chatbots to interact with customers across multiple platforms, recently graduated from an Egyptian incubator. Its first product, a menu maker intended to allow restaurant customers to order meals through Facebook, is already on the market.

Chief Technical Officer Ahmed Omar said the second product, a more general chatbot builder, would be out in the near future.

WideBOT, he said, was looking for moral and technical support more than investment. “Of course we’re looking for investors for financial support, but that’s secondary,” he said. “The event itself is quite interesting and the support we’re getting here is phenomenal. It’s early, and its going to get better as time passes.”

With WideBOT having competed successfully in start-up competitions in Egypt and the UAE, Omar said he was also keen to help mentor students and other young people interested in starting their own firms.

Eat

Eat, an online platform allowing customers to book restaurant tables, feeding in to a restaurant’s table management system, has already signed deals with Trip Adviser, Google and other relevant websites that put their booking button on client’s listing pages on those platforms.

“Essentially, we’re centralising all the channels through which restaurants acquire customers, and tying that to the table management system,” said Eat co-founder Nezar Kadhem. At AYSM, he said, “we want to meet like-minded entrepreneurs, we want to meet the press to tell them what we’ve been up to — we’ve been quite hush-hush. And we have several existing investors coming, so it will be nice to catch up with them.”

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