The Vital Role of Venture Studios in the Startup Ecosystem

In today’s fast-paced and innovation-driven world, startups are at the forefront of technological and business transformation. However, building a successful startup from the ground up is fraught with challenges, from securing funding to accessing the right mentorship and resources. This is where venture studios come into play, serving as catalysts for startup success. Venture studios, or startup studios, are organizations that systematically build new companies from scratch, providing more than just capital. They contribute ideas, resources, and operational support to significantly de-risk the early stages of business development.

What are Venture Studios?

Venture studios are companies that specialize in building startups. Unlike traditional venture capital firms that invest in existing companies, venture studios assemble a team to develop ideas internally and then build companies around these ideas. They provide a mix of funding, expertise, and operational support to ensure these fledgling companies thrive. By being intimately involved in the startup’s operations, venture studios reduce the inherent risks of starting a new venture and increase the chances of success.

Benefits of Venture Studios

  1. Resource Efficiency: Startups built within a venture studio environment can leverage shared resources, such as legal, HR, marketing, and tech support, reducing the overall cost and burden of accessing these services independently.
  2. Expertise and Mentorship: Venture studios bring together experienced entrepreneurs, industry experts, and business mentors who provide guidance and insights that are crucial during a startup’s formative phase.
  3. Faster Time to Market: With an array of resources and expertise at their disposal, startups within a venture studio can develop their products and reach the market quicker than they might on their own.
  4. Higher Success Rates: The collaborative and supportive environment of a venture studio increases the likelihood of startup success. Statistics show that startups developed within studios have a higher survival rate than those that go it alone.

The Impact on the Startup Ecosystem

Venture studios contribute significantly to the startup ecosystem by creating a more structured path to success for new companies. They act as incubators of innovation, often focusing on solving complex problems that require substantial upfront investment and multi-disciplinary expertise. This model not only benefits the startups but also creates value for the broader economy by accelerating the development of innovative solutions and creating jobs.


Venture studios represent a powerful model in the startup ecosystem, offering a blend of capital, expertise, and operational support that is tailored to nurture businesses in their infancy. For entrepreneurs aspiring to bring transformative ideas to life, partnering with a venture studio can be a strategic move that mitigates risks and paves the way for sustained growth and success.

In an era where innovation is key to competitive advantage, venture studios are becoming indispensable partners for entrepreneurs who are eager to make a significant impact in their industries


EDB, Trade Capital partner to launch supply chain financing for SMEs

The MoU will see the creation of a working group to discuss new ways of delivering supply chain financing to small and medium enterprises in the UAE

UAE’s Emirates Development Bank (EDB) has signed an MoU with Trade Capital Partners (TCP) to create supply chain finance and working capital solutions for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country.

The partnership between the two entities was facilitated by Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 as part of a broader strategy that is aimed at supporting startups with commercial opportunities through its network of leading corporate and government partners.

The MoU will see the creation of a working group to discuss new ways of delivering supply chain financing to SMEs in the UAE.

Supply chain finance reduces the risk of supply chain disruption and enables both buyers and suppliers to optimize their working capital.

“We are constantly looking at new and innovative ways to support SMEs, which contribute more than 60 per cent of the UAE’s non-oil GDP,” said Shaker Zainal, chief business officer of Emirates Development Bank.

“Under this MoU, we will leverage our expertise combined with TCP’s platform to jointly bring more financing solutions to a wider range of businesses.”

EDB continues to deliver on its mission of fostering a healthy, sustainable, and self-reliant economy, with a mandate to approve Dhs30bn in financing support to 13,500 companies within five priority sectors – renewables, manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and food security – by 2026.

“SMEs are the driving force of an economy, and start-ups are the future drivers,” said Bill Crawley, founder & COO of TCP.

“In line with other government initiatives to grow and drive these sectors, this partnership will provide significant support to this ecosystem and provide trade finance alternatives to growing businesses.”

EDB supports SME ecosystem

Meanwhile, the EDB’s mandate includes the provision of financing towards the development of the UAE’s economy in five strategic sectors by 2026 – Dhs5m is to be allocated through credit guarantee schemes.

EDB unveiled the UAE’s first Agritech loans programme in June, an initiative that will see the development bank providing Dhs100m in financing support for the country’s vital food security sector.

The financing programme is designed to enable a sustainable and thriving national agriculture sector, positioning the UAE as a global leader in agricultural innovation.

The bank unveiled a comprehensive set of approvals for financing deals totalling Dhs424m during Make it in the Emirates Forum as part of a broader strategy to further diversify the economy and cement the country’s position as a global manufacturing hub.

EDB is playing a central role in supporting the UAE economic development agenda and is at the forefront of the government’s efforts to develop its non-oil economic and industrial base.

The bank is a financial enabler of the country’s economic diversification and industrial transformation agenda, toward building a knowledge-based economy.

The is working with 11 commercial banks for its credit guarantee scheme, which offers favourable financing solutions to SMEs.

These include the Commercial Bank of Dubai, National Bank of Umm-Quwain, Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Mashreq Bank, RAK Bank, National Bank of Fujairah, Dubai Islamic Bank and Emirates Islamic.

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Gennecs to invest $150m in building a multi-vaccine manufacturing facility in Egypt

Local pharma firm Gennecs will invest USD 150 mn to build a vaccine manufacturing facility in Egypt, CEO Adam El Daba told Enterprise. The factory will be able to produce 300 mn vaccines every year, making it the largest of its kind in the MENA region.

The vaccines: The company will produce jabs included in the country’s national immunization program, including for HPV, polio, hepatitis A and B, and others, co-founder and General Manager Nibal Dahaba told us.

The finance: The company is lining up capital from foreign investors including regional and global institutions, as well as family offices in Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, El Daba said.

Timeline: The factory will begin producing ready-to-fill vials by 2026 and is expected to start producing antigens for the vaccines by 2029 after it has received accreditation from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dahaba said.

Accreditation just got easier for Egyptian firms: Egyptian medical authorities received the WHO’s second-highest regulatory classification — the ML-3 level of national vaccine regulation — earlier this month, which allows local firms to apply to the WHO to have their products pre-qualified and listed for emergency use.

This will be essential for Gennecs’ export ambitions: The classification will eventually allow companies to export vaccines manufactured in Egypt. “WHO prequalification is a must if you need to be accredited and start being a global player,” Dahaba said. “It will allow us to export all over the world.” The company plans to export vaccines to all countries in the GAVI alliance, which includes most of Africa, Dahaba said.

Where things stand now: The company has acquired land in an industrial zone in Greater Cairo and completed the initial design phase for the factory, with help from an Italian construction firm CSV Construction, Dahaba said.

The facility will also have a research and development center and a “strain bank,” which catalogs different African disease strains.


Phlog Egypt launches its first e-photography platform that connects photographers with buyers

Egypt – Phlog launched its photo buyer platform that connects buyers and photographers worldwide. This platform enables photo buyers from marketing experts, agencies, and art lovers to purchase images for use in their designs or articles or their enjoyment.

Phlog is the first online platform of its kind in Egypt. It builds a community that motivates photographers to be creative and contributes to creating sustainable income for them. In addition, it helps brands tell their stories through the lenses of that community’s photographers.

The platform provides its services through two electronic applications. The first is the photographers’ application, which was launched on a trial basis in March 2022 and succeeded in reaching more than 21,000 users. This application had 23,000 photos uploaded to the application in the first 9 months of its launch.

A large number of prominent and influential personalities in the community attended the launch ceremony. The characters on this platform support artistic expression and believe in the concept.
During the ceremony, attendees enjoyed many interactive activities related to photography and artistic and musical performances. In addition, they experienced the application with the help of the Phlog technical support team.

“We seek to advance the content and photography industry in Egypt. The volume of purchasing images from websites globally reached $4bn in 2022. It is expected to reach $7bn by 2027,” said Khaled Taher, the founder, and CEO of Phlog.

Phlog organized many workshops to develop the capabilities of photographers on the application, in cooperation with the most prominent professional photographers such as photographer Nour Al-Rifai, Yahya Al-Alayli, and others, in addition to an exclusive photography workshop with famous photographer Kokla Refaat to photograph the artworks for the second edition of “Forever is Now” in the pyramids of Giza.

Phlog hosted the English photographer and international content creator “Max Glover” for a week to promote tourism in Egypt. He photographed the most prominent tourist attractions in Cairo Governorate, followed by a workshop for street photographers using the “Light Trails” technique.


Digital health platform altibbi raises $44 million in Series B

Dubai-headquartered artificial intelligence health platform Altibbi raised $44 million in its latest series B funding round to expand into new markets and boost its digital offerings as it seeks to become the first publicly listed digital health unicorn in the GCC.

The round was led by Dubai investment firm Foundation Holdings, London-based venture capital company Hikma Ventures and Altibbi’s existing investors including Dubai-headquartered Global Ventures and Amman-based Dash Ventures.

Founded in 2011, Altibbi is one of the region’s largest digital health companies with more than 20 million unique monthly visitors and three million consultations a year. The company has raised more than $50m in funds since its inception, with some of its other investors including Endeavor Catalyst, Middle East Venture Partners and Al Rashed.

Our objective is to support Altibbi to reach a superior position where its quality, exponential growth and trusted brand will enable them to be the first publicly listed digital health unicorn in the GCC

Abhishek Sharma, chief executive of Foundation Holdings

Altibbi plays a critical role in organising digital healthcare services, improving quality and convenience for patients, and reducing the costs of insurers and governments, said Jalil Allabadi, its founder and chief executive.

“Building an end-to-end platform and strengthening our geographic presence have always been strategic priorities … we are thrilled to complete this significant funding round, with the endorsement of leading financial and strategic investors with strong healthcare and technology expertise,” Mr Allabadi added.

Demand for digital healthcare services has grown amid the coronavirus pandemic and companies are tapping into this segment by refining their business models.

Demand for digital healthcare services has grown amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reuters
Demand for digital healthcare services has grown amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reuters

Healthcare spending in the GCC region is projected to reach $89 billion this year from $60bn in 2013, global consultancy firm KPMG reported.


Kuwaiti start-up justclean raises $6m as it aims to become super app for cleaning sector

Egyptian start-up FlapKap raises $1.2m to fuel growth

Healthcare providers in the Gulf are expanding as the population increases and the cost of treatment grows. Improvements in the quality of health care, along with rising demand for preventive care and digital medical services, are set to drive growth in the industry.

Start-ups in the digital healthcare space have seen growing interest from investors.

In October, Saudi Arabia-based tele-health start-up Cura raised $15m from local investors in an early stage funding round. The series A funding round closed with investments from Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed and information security firm Elm.

“Digital health care is witnessing unprecedented growth and we are set to sail into the golden age of health care and healthcare technology,” said Abhishek Sharma, chief executive of Foundation Holdings.

“Our objective is to support Altibbi to reach a superior position where its quality, exponential growth and trusted brand will enable them to be the first publicly listed digital health unicorn IPO in the GCC,” he added.

Altibbi, which has conducted 4.5 million telehealth consultations to date, has more than 1,500 certified doctors on the platform.

The new funds will be used to expand the platform’s offering into online pharmacy and diagnostics collection. The company also aims to increase its investments in machine learning to support doctors in providing precise diagnoses, referrals and prescriptions.

“Altibbi is re-engineering health care, shifting the focus from sick care to preventive health care so that patients experience better health, and reduced costs,” said Lana Ghanem, managing director of Hikma Ventures.


Ogram raises $3 million Series A round

  • UAE-based recruiting platform Ogram has announced a $3 million Series A funding round, led by Modus Capital and Aditum Investment Management, Dtec Ventures, and DAAL VC.
  • Founded in 2017 by Karim Kouatly, Shafiq Khartabil, Ogram is a digital staffing marketplace that enables businesses to book and manage staff on-demand.
  • The new funds will fuel Ogram’s expansion plans in Saudi Arabia and into Europe. 

Press release:

Ogram, the region’s first digital on-demand staffing platform has announced a $3 million Series A funding round, led by Modus Capital and Aditum Investment Management. Dtec Ventures, the investment arm of Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus, the largest tech hub and coworking space in the MENA region, and DAAL VC, among other strategic investors, also participated in the round to support the company with scaling ‘The New Workforce’ across the globe.

Ogram is a digital staffing marketplace that enables businesses to book and manage staff on-demand. Its cutting-edge technology has made job matching 160 times faster and 50% more reliable; thus, delivering compliant, reliable, and quality staff on-demand.

In 2020, amidst the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Ogram doubled its growth. In 2021, the company built on its earlier success and doubled once again. Persevering in their mission, Ogram is on track to tripling its business by the end of 2022.

As pioneers of ‘The New Workforce’, Ogram has been at the forefront of the global move towards flexible staffing and invested heavily in technology that allows businesses to hire at any time and workers from anywhere.

CEO & Co-Founder, Shafiq Khartabil commented, “We’ve only just started to scratch the surface of on-demand staffing – our end goal is to empower workers to take back control and to change the way companies hire. Being pioneers in a nascent economy has enabled us to capitalise on a golden opportunity and has truly cemented our commitment and belief that this is the future of work.”

He added, “Our strategy is to dominate the MENA region and European markets that are counter-cyclical, highly dependent on part-time work, and want to adopt flexible working patterns.”

Ogram’s mission is to enhance the lives of all its workers, by providing them with the tools and autonomy to create their own flexible work schedules – something that is now in demand following the shifts in ways of working during the pandemic. Ogram is progressively changing the way people and businesses work and hire, creating a new way of life.

Kareem Elsirafy, Managing Partner at Modus Capital said, “Ogram is working to tackle a problem that has been brought to the forefront of professional conversations over the past few years. The team has capitalised on a shift that was made during the pandemic, but has had long-term continuity as the workforce evolves its requirements, needs, and wants. We’re thrilled to take part in this funding round and partner with the founders to support them in breaking down outdated processes and pioneering new ways of working.”

Hans Christensen, Senior Director of Technology and Entrepreneurship at Dtec said, “Complementing the Dtec ecosystem, Dtec Ventures is committed to investing in promising early-stage tech companies that offer an innovative product or service. Ogram brings a unique solution, which tackles the increasing demand for a flexible global workforce that is available on-demand, as companies navigate new workplace trends. We are confident in their ambitious growth plans and their capability to execute accordingly.”

Ogram’s core values reflect its founders: positive, passionate, and determined – blending humility and compassion with scientific decision-making, which allows the startup to fulfil its vision of creating impactful projects that will make a positive change in people’s lives.

The startup, in fact, attributes part of its success to its own passionate, ambitious team, and flexible remote working culture. Ogram has managed to successfully leverage incredible talent from across the world and will continue to orchestrate further key hires worldwide.

The new funds will fuel marketplace growth for Ogram to expand into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Europe, with sights firmly set on Greece as the European launchpad.

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Introducing Telawa: The First Islamic Social App for Quran Reading and Khatma Management

In an age where technology intertwines with daily life, the launch of Telawa marks a significant milestone for the Islamic community. Telawa is an innovative app designed to enhance the spiritual practice of reading the Quran through social interaction and collective participation in Khatma.

What is Telawa?

Telawa is a pioneering social application tailored for Muslims worldwide. It provides a unique platform where users can create and manage Khatma— the complete reading of the Quran—either privately or publicly. This app allows individuals to join forces, read together, and complete the holy book in a communal setting, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose among participants.

Key Features of Telawa

  1. Ease of Khatma Creation: Users can start a Khatma in just a few clicks, inviting friends or family to participate, or they can join existing public Khatmas organized by others.
  2. Real-Time Interaction: The app facilitates live interactions among users, enhancing the experience of reading the Quran together. Participants can discuss and share insights, further enriching their understanding.
  3. Versatile Reading Options: Telawa offers various display options for the Quran, such as Page view and Ayah view, accommodating different reading preferences and making it easier for everyone to follow along, regardless of their reading level.
  4. Offline Accessibility: Users can download the sections of the Quran they need, enabling them to read and participate in Khatmas without the requirement of an internet connection.
  5. Competition and Memorization: The app also introduces a competitive element by allowing users to form groups to compete in finishing and memorizing the Quran. This feature aims to motivate users and promote regular reading and reflection on the Quranic text.

Why Telawa Stands Out

Telawa is not just an app; it is a community builder. It leverages technology to reconnect people with their faith in a modern and accessible way. By providing a platform for collective Quran reading, Telawa helps strengthen the bonds within the Muslim community, encouraging cooperation and mutual support in achieving spiritual goals.


As the first app of its kind, Telawa is set to revolutionize how the Quran is read and experienced in a digital age. Whether you seek to complete the Quran on your own, with loved ones, or within a larger community, Telawa provides all the tools you need to engage deeply with your faith, making every reading a shared and supported journey.

For those interested in exploring this innovative app, visit to learn more and download the application. Embrace the change, and be part of a global community of believers who are turning to Telawa to enrich their spiritual lives.


Kenya’s Mondo Ride takes home $2m funding

Kenyan ride-hailing startup Mondo Ride has secured US$2 million in funding from investors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt to help it expand across the continent.

The second round of investment in Mondo Ride, which is competing with the likes of Uber and Taxify and is active in five cities across Africa, takes its total raised funding so far to US$5 million.

The startup’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Troels Andersen said it will be used to fuel further expansion and investment in its proprietary technology platform.

“This funding round will enable Mondo Ride to provide even more rides for busy, active people across the fastest growing cities in Africa,” he said.

“We plan to open in six new cities by the end of 2018, significantly increasing ride numbers. We were overwhelmed with interest in the funding round and plan to take many of the positive engagements forward to the Series A round planned for H1 2018.”

Ramesh Awtaney, founder and chairman of iSON Group, one of Mondo Ride’s anchor investors, said he believes the business is primed for growth.

“Mondo Ride is one of the most exciting new technology businesses operating in the large and fast-growing ride-hailing market in Africa and what the Mondo Ride team have developed over the last two years is hugely impressive, and we’re excited to be working together to create an African market leader,” he said.

“Mondo Ride is a great example of the type of founder-led, operationally efficient business that we like to invest in.”


UAE Startup Joi Wants To Be The Go-To Portal For All Things Gifts

The brain-child of Ritesh Tilani and Alper Celen, joi is a web and mobile gifting platform offering a variety of more than 1,000 refined selections.

f you always find yourself in a bind when it comes to figuring out a good, thoughtful gift, this MENA startup can help save the day. The brain-child of Ritesh Tilani and Alper Celen, joi ( is a web and mobile gifting platform offering a variety of more than 1,000 refined selections. The entrepreneurial duo built joi after noticing a lack of reliable gift platforms in the region-they sought quality and curated product selections, packaged as a one-stop shop covering everything from owers to cakes, with reasonable prices and guaranteed same-day delivery, done in “a presentable way that made the recipient truly feel special.” And it is this idea that drives their platform: “joi focuses on the sentiment behind gifting,” says Tilani, noting how other sites had made the process seem purely transactional. The sentiment behind sending a gift was lost along the way. It’s not just about delivering a package. It’s about making the person feel truly special.”

joi offers its users an intuitive interface that lets them focus solely on selecting the right gift, either from their desktops or their mobiles, and in case any help is needed, one of joi’s Angels (i.e. the company’s customer care representatives) are on hand via live chat or phone to assist with selection. The platform offers curated products from flower arrangements, eateries, gift baskets, novelty gifts like personalized jewelry and grooming products, and experience-based packages, even for same-day delivery when possible, with a weekly or monthly subscription for owers available. For enterprises, there’s also joi@work to exhibit appreciation for an employee or client’s loyalty, with even a “sorry-as-a-service’ package available to help diffuse an unpleasant situation, such as when a client encounters a negative experience with a company’s service.

With operations in UAE and KSA markets, joi works with well-liked brands as merchant partners, such as jones the grocer, Lime Tree Café, Edible Arrangements, Godiva and Magnolia Bakery. On the tech front, they’ve built the joiCam feature on the app to allow senders to record a video or audio message for recipients to play, and reply to it too. Users can also check on their gifts’ delivery status through SMS or push notifications, make use of a calendar feature to mark significant days throughout the year, and also enjoy a notification service for special days with suggested gift ideas. There’s also the automated and intelligent joi Assistant, which recommends gifts based on the recipient’s characteristics and preferences. On top of all of the above features is the startup’s dedication to offering quality customer satisfaction, which, Tilani says, is one of joi’s core USPs. Ensuring their portfolio has a special touch of “joi” in all aspects, their customer care is ensured by joi’s Angels, and gifts are hand-delivered by Agents of joi in concierge-style uniforms for recipients to feel special too.

The joiCam feature on the joigifts app allows senders to record a video or audio message for recipients to play, and reply to it too.
Source: joigifts

Fun fact? These Agents of joi don’t just deliver physical gifts, but also experiences, like singing telegrams. Be it with a Happy Birthday medley, Jingle Bells for Christmas (dressed as Santa Claus, of course), or Nat King Cole’s L.O.V.E for anniversaries (which turned out quite popular for Valentine’s Day), Tilani says such efforts leave their gift recipients feeling extra special. However, the joi team have had troubles resulting from these offerings as well- on a Valentine’s Day, for instance, after receiving more orders than expected, they ran into delays in delivery. But joi’s response afterward is what is noteworthy: the team called every inconvenienced customer, with even Tilani and Celen joining in to apologize, explain the circumstances, and offer solutions.

“[We] managed to convert some of these unhappy customers into loyal joi patrons with our honesty and sincerity,” Tilani says. Launched in late 2015, the co-founders call joi’s development stage as a “challenging time.” They wanted to launch with complete features from the start, so it took longer as they had to build the backend with the web and mobile web versions first, followed by a mobile app. They utilized a full stack of marketing and analytics tools, and opened in Dubai with just a call center as customer care, and an operations team with two agents and delivery vans. As a startup reliant on logistics, outsourcing delivery was an option; however, since the startup aimed to make the receiving of gifts an experience by itself, assigning such a vital feature to a third party was out of the question.

Finding the right talent was also an early hurdle for the startup, in addition to getting brands on board. What got them through? “Perseverance and believing in the vision were the keys there,” Tilani replies. The platform’s customer base addresses the needs of those looking for convenience, quality and value for money, and so far, they’ve made their mark. The team found that their users are loyal: “Once someone uses joi, they keep coming back on a regular basis. So, the challenge is, just getting them to try it once,” says Tilani, and added they’re utilizing online marketing channels to target customers. Today, joi has grown from its launch market in Dubai, to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the UAE, and Riyadh, Jeddah and Medina in KSA. Owned by enhance, a UAE-based holding company with backing from Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups, as well as angel investors from the US, Europe and the GCC, joi is currently in the process of finalizing a seed funding round of US$1.5 million.

With operations in UAE and KSA markets, the joi team works with well-liked brands as merchant partners.
Source: joigifts

As someone who has been familiar with the MENA ecosystem for a while now, Tilani believes that it is today a better environment with more startups, entrepreneurs, investors and global players. He notes, “Convertible notes are becoming the norm, which speeds up fundraising; the lack of which, was the main reason I had to shut down one of my previous startups.” He still sees a need for more government entities to step up in decreasing red tape and costs of starting new business, including funding and supporting early-stage startups. As for joi itself, Tilani says the plan is for it to explore new markets, and developing more apps with new features is also on the agenda. AI is also an area they’re interested in exploring, as they hope it would increase engagement and loyalty, particularly in being able to intelligently predict a user’s needs and offer recommendations without prompt. In the near future though, joi Luxury, a new sub-brand would be launching for a different clientele, with its customer base and marketing strategy differing from the main portal.

At the same time, Tilani says that they’re working on strengthening their tech for more tools to boost their customer service, while also upgrading its delivery and routing process. In the longer term, the platform wants to step up by enabling users to send gifts globally, as well explore including a gift concierge service, bots to provide relevant suggestions, and leverage big data to identify trends to offer better products to its customers. “We think there’s a real opportunity to innovate in this space by using technology, not just at a regional level, but also globally,” Tilani says, noting the opportunity for joi to become a household name in the MENA (and beyond) when it comes to gifting- and from the looks of it, joi could be well on its way to becoming just that.


Wanted from the Middle East: the next Apple or Microsoft

In the past some of the greatest technology companies, including, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, emerged from humble garages in the United States.

But these days, some expect a new wave of tech ventures to arise from emerging markets such as the UAE and other countries in the Middle East and Africa. Some organisations are also awarding big bucks to find the next generation of change-makers from new markets.

Global Innovation through Science and Technology (Gist), ChallengePost, XPrize and Hult Prize collectively have already awarded millions of dollars in their quests to discover new start-up ideas, which often have a significant tech component. And they are planning to offer even more money, and other support such as mentoring, to nurture companies to the next level.

“We focus on early-stage entrepreneurs who have already set up a venture and have signs of traction,” says Ovidiu Bujorean, the senior programme manager for entrepreneurship and innovation at Gist.

“We have judges who are very experienced entrepreneurs and investors that provide validation for [winners] to attract additional funding from local investors or government-backed support.”

The Gist initiative, which supports ventures that are fewer than five years old in key areas such as IT, health care, energy and agriculture, provides funding, training and mentoring to a select group of entrepreneurs across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

One of its competitions last year was held in Dubai, where a local company called AdvanTag, which also has an office in Canada and has been incubated in Doha, received an honourable mention.

Launched in December 2012, AdvanTag tries to make it easier to collect and redeem loyalty rewards while eliminating hassles such as blackout dates, points that expire and other conditions. The service, which is free to join, provides partner companies with a single loyalty platform where shoppers at certain stores and restaurants can immediately redeem rewards.

“Our main focus market is the Middle East at the moment,” says Mo Shahin, AdvanTag’s 33-year-old co-founder and chief technology officer. Yet he is also exploring opportunities to take AdvanTag to other parts of the world. Some of these possibilities arose after the company participated in the Gist contest, as well as in the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Arab Business Plan Competition in Abu Dhabi in 2012, where AdvanTag was a semi-finalist.

“We like to be around other entrepreneurs and to help to grow the entrepreneurship community within the region, and that is why we participate in these events,” Mr Shahin says.

“Although winning a prize at such events is a good thing, our aim is not just to get the prize,” he adds. “We go to these events to get feedback from experienced mentors as well as build new relationships to help us in the future.”

ChallengePost is another idea catalyst in this sector.

Government agencies and software companies use this online platform to help address various social problems. A few years ago, the World Bank challenged software developers to utilise data and tackle some of the most pressing development issues in the world. The winning team, from Australia, earned a share in more than US$55,000 in cash prizes for developing an app that visualised and compared data points for more than 3,000 economic, social, human development and other indicators.

All told, more than 100 entries were received for this particular challenge from 36 countries, including nearly a third from Africa. One participant who won an honourable mention in the contest went on to lead the Kenya Open Data initiative, which made Kenya the first country in Africa to release government data freely available to the public through a single online portal.

The XPrize Foundation is perhaps the industry’s most well known funder of innovative competitions.

This 18-year-old nonprofit group positions itself as “a facilitator of exponential change” and helped to launch the $1.5 billion private space industry by creating a competition in this sector to make flying in space more affordable.

The foundation is now trying to help overfished and polluted oceans, and it warns that oceans absorb about one quarter of the carbon dioxide that human begins release into the atmosphere, which changes the chemistry of the water and makes it more acidic. Over time these changes will imperil ecosystems, says Paul Bunje, a senior director at the foundation.

“That’s where technology comes in,” he says. “It’s not sufficient for solving ocean acidification, but necessary for those tools to be created.”

In September, XPrize launched a $2 million challenge to spur innovators to create pH sensors to better understand ocean acidification through new technologies. Some of the teams behind innovative ideas have emerged from India and Indonesia, and Mr Bunje says the winning tools could end up being used by researchers as well as tourism industry workers or just regular individuals in bodies of water such as the Red Sea.

“With reference to the Middle East and North Africa, I do expect really great ideas to come from everywhere,” Mr Bunje says. “Sometimes we need innovators coming from places like the UAE who are seeing the world in a different light.”