Just Falafel is one of the UAE's success stories.
The number of start-ups in the UAE is swiftly increasing, especially in the digital arena, with budding entrepreneurs receiving support from seed investors, mentors and even the government.
The established ones are also starting to see results.
Dubai-based e-commerce website Cobone.com was recently acquired by US-based investment firm Tiger Global Management for an undisclosed sum, while Just Falafel, another celebrated UAE success story, is now looking at opening 20 stores across the UK.
“Dubai is a business market, and to get things done and to be taken seriously, you need experience, reputation and contacts,” explained Omar Christidis, the founder and CEO of ArabNet.
“The elements that you need to be successful in the UAE include business contacts/relationships, solid team with previous experience and good reputation in the market and financing – Dubai is expensive and you need to be able to afford rent (so you can register your company) and compete with the high salaries that are paid in Dubai.”
Here are 10 companies to watch in the UAE start-up scene, in no particular order.
Sector: Consumer services
Established: May 2012
Souqalmal, Arabic for money market, helps consumers to compare over 1,000 products online including credit cards, car loans, insurances, mobile phone plans, schools and nurseries in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
The site says that its aim is to create a transparent market place and empower consumers.
Established: December 2011
Founded by four men holding senior corporate jobs in the UAE, GlamBox is an internet-based company that offers women the chance to try the latest high-end beauty products. Interested women can subscribe to the service – starting at Dhs50 per month – and the products are then delivered in a pink box.
“Our vision is to become the beauty hub of the Middle East, whether it’s to learn about a product, try a product or buy a product,” Shant Oknayan, one of the founders told Gulf Business late last year.
Sector: Content creation
Established: December 2011
Qordoba is a content creation company that provides localisation and language technology solutions. It employs 550 linguists, writers and editors in 30 countries.
“The Arab world is under-equipped to bring quality Arabic language content and innovative software to global audiences. We want to make accessing new markets fast as well as affordable,” says founder May Habib.
Sector: Personal finance app
Established: March 2013
The personal finance iPhone app, launched earlier this month, already has 10,000 downloads, with over 9,500 active users.
Wally helps users anywhere in the world keep track of what they spend and the details, in their own currencies. The free app is now being developed for Android, and translated into global languages.
Sector: Social sports networking
Duplays Sports Services, founded in Dubai in 2007 to provide a social sports league platform, has managed to attract 40,000 members. The company recently received a second round of angel investment totaling $800,000 to further develop its web platform and fund regional expansion.
Sector: Jobs search
Established: April 2012
Freelance skills site, Nabbesh, which has a registered user base of over 5,000 members, aims to connect those who need talent with those who can get the job done.
The site’s founder, Loulou Khazen Baz, won du’s The Entrepreneur show last year, and told Gulf Business that she plans to invest her Dhs1 million prize money into staff recruitment and branding.
Ananasa, which means “for the people, by the people”, is an online platform for Middle Eastern artists, craftsmen and designers to commercialise their handmade items across the world.
Zania Kana’an, who co-founded the website with her sister, told Gulf Business that in the future they hope to set up ‘Ananasa’ sites across the world.
The Dubai-based e-commerce platform was founded by Mona Ataya, a ‘mum’, and offers over 300 brands and 60,000 products for new mums.
“From faster delivery times, to bespoke orders and customised gift registries, the complete satisfaction of our customer is at the forefront of everything that we do,” Ataya told Gulf Business.
Established: March 2011
Earlier this month, the e-commerce site announced that it had expanded operations outside the UAE to reach the entire GCC and South Asian countries of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
JadoPado, which offers electronics and IT products such as smartphones, tablets and games, welcomes over 115,000 visitors and more than 485,000 page views on a monthly basis.
Established: June 2012
RoundMenu, launched by the co-founders of Zawya, is an online service that offers discounts of up to 50 per cent at some of Dubai’s most popular restaurants.
Accessible through a website and a mobile app, RoundMenu allows diners to browse by cuisine, location or by hotel. No registration is required, and the promotion voucher is sent via SMS to present at their chosen restaurant.
The company soon plans to expand into other GCC countries and the Levant.