Font Size

- Aa +

Wed 9 Dec 2015 09:11 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Focusing on the future of MENA’s digital start-ups

The launch of the SAP Startup Focus Programme has opened a new avenue for tech-savvy entrepreneurs to take the lead in innovation and creativity. Tamara Pupic reports from the event held at the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (DTEC)

Focusing on the future of MENA’s digital start-ups
Marita Mitschein of SAP’s global executive leadership, addresses the crowd.

The new revolution worldwide is data.”

That’s the assessment of Dr Severin Kezeu, inventor and CEO at SK Solutions – a Dubai Internet City-based company specialising in 3D anti-collision software.

“We are talking about digital transformation that will transform the world,” he adds in a statement that is incredibly well timed. A few days later HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, issued a law on data sharing.

Enabling Dubai to make a qualitative leap in the digital economy and e-smart services, the new Open Data Law, issued in October, has completed the legislative framework for turning the emirate into a smart city.

“When you bring all four technologies – big data, cloud computing, social network, and mobile technology – into your solution, you’re totally changing the way to solve a problem,” adds Kezeu.

“All companies and organisations will have to transform themselves, that’s the new era.”

The inventor is speaking on the sidelines of the first SAP Startup Focus event in the MENA region, held at the beginning of October.

SAP, a German-headquartered developer of enterprise applications and software, is present in 130 countries and serves 282,000 customers around the world. The two-day event in Dubai is the second major step the company has taken to support technology entrepreneurs in the MENA region.

Back in 2012, the foundation of the SAP Training and Development Institute (SAP TDI) signaled their intent to boost the business system knowledge and entrepreneurial mindset of the region’s students, graduates, and the experienced workforce.

“What we’ve concentrated on so far is nurturing entrepreneurial mindsets by taking unemployed youth and educating them in entrepreneurial and enterprise resource planning,” explains Marita Mitschein, a member of SAP’s Global Executive Leadership Team responsible for the investment strategy in the MENA region as well as SAP TDI.

While talking to StartUp, Mitschein explains that the abundance of youth in the region, of whom 100 million are expected to enter the labour market by 2020, has urged them to think of sustainable solutions.

“If you concentrate on finding them a job, that’s really good, but if you nurture some of them to become entrepreneurs, you’ll have a butterfly effect because they will be able to create more jobs,” she says.

“This is the reason we now go into this direction. The institute was founded in 2012 and since then we’ve created in-country value of $70 million across the MENA region. It’s a successful investment.”

Understanding that digital transformation requires business skills to merge with technology skills, the institute offers a tailor-made programme to bring SAP business skills to those who have a cultural and social understanding of the region. Furthermore, it serves as a think tank for knowledge exchange, co-creation and co-innovation.

The concept of ‘private-public-people partnerships’ to support education for employment was conceived when Mitschein moved to the region five years ago. “There is a win-win in all areas,” she explains.

“One win is for a person who is not unemployed anymore. That person is happier and has a more fulfilled life. So this is the win for a person, the people.

“The win for the private sector is that they find trained resources to work on their projects.

“And we take a little bit of burden off the government. And again, some of this talent goes back to the public sector, so it’s a win-win-win situation.”

The importance of this initiative was obvious during the two-day launch event at the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (DTEC).

Hosting more than 200 attendees, the event focused on start-ups developing a variety of customer-centric applications across big data and analytics on the SAP HANA cloud platform.

Globally, the SAP Startup Focus Programme counts more than 2,000 start-ups in 57 countries that have produced more than 175 production-ready solutions across 22 industries and nine lines of business.

“With the UAE and the MENA region in total having a vision of going into innovation and technology playing a bigger share, we thought we should bring best practices from around the globe to the region,” Mitschein says.

“Over 80 entrepreneurs applied for the two-day bootcamp. Then they’ll have two-weeks to pitch their project idea for HANA.

“The project ideas will go through the assessment centre and we will pick start-ups that we will enroll in our 12-month programme.”

In addition to learning how to develop new applications on the SAP HANA real-time analytics platform, the selected start-ups will gain access to free tools, support, expert training, and to more than 250,000 SAP customers worldwide.

Kezeu is already familiar with the benefits of this platform.

Despite setting up his company in France in 1991, he moved the headquarters to Dubai in 2008 and considers SK Solutions – a pioneer in Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation across 11 countries – to be just at the beginning.

“We consider ourselves as a start-up because what we are doing is the very beginning of our future,” he says.

As the first SAP-approved start-up from Dubai, Kezeu explains that his product Asteroid Risk Management Platform, an IoT platform providing the first contextual data engine for safety, security, performance, and risk management, was developed in cooperation with SAP’s Palo Alto branch.

“We knew that one of the challenges was to have a real time database and the second was to bring a predictive feature to our different applications because our work is about avoiding accidents by predicting them. We do that in real time,” he says.

“We were looking for a platform that would have both features. Three years ago, in 2012, we went to Palo Alto, met with SAP and started using HANA technology. HANA was the right platform.

“We started working together to upgrade my solution and move it from proprietary technology to HANA. This was our co-innovation project.”

Speaking at one of the panels during the event, Kezeu shared with other tech entrepreneurs his experience with HANA. Talking to StartUp, he says: “When we talk about digital transformation, Dubai is a smart city, so how could you manage a smart city without all the technologies we are using for digital transformation?

“Dubai should be a leader worldwide in terms of digital transformation, but to do that all start-ups in Dubai have to take this new approach.

“And start-ups have a big potential in this field because we don’t know who will be the future big player. We don’t know. Maybe SK Solutions, but also maybe a start-up that doesn’t exist now.

“That’s why I’m telling to all start-ups in Dubai to move forward. Don’t waste your time on traditional IT, move into digital transformation, especially IoT. And there, SAP HANA is the right platform to build your application.”

A recent report by SAP and Stephenson Strategies stated that an increasing demand for innovative solutions that can analyze data from sensors, mobile devices, and objects connected to the internet, could bring potential “value at stake” of $14.4 trillion.

Looking specifically at established businesses, a McKinsey & Co study showed that digital transformation initiatives could boost annual growth rates and cost efficiencies of up to 10 percent by 2020.

When asked whether larger companies were open to seizing opportunities brought with digital transformation by cooperating with local start-ups, Mitschein says: “They believe that you cannot have all the knowledge that they really need to come up with a solution on the bench.

“That would mean that you either have people sitting on the bench because at this moment in time you don’t need this knowledge, or you are short on knowledge because you can’t hire somebody who is out there and able to solve your issue.

“More and more companies understand that it’s time to network and cooperate in knowledge, and there’s open door for start-ups.”

Similarly, she advises local investors to include investing in local tech start-ups into their retirement plans. “I would suggest to them that whatever their plans for retirement are, they’ve always been told to diversify their investments, and I think that whatever business we do in the future, technology will play a big role,” she says.

“The beauty is that young start-ups and future leaders will have the globe as the playground. So I would really recommend to investors to take a closer look at the incredible talent that we have, at our future leaders, and to really take a look at digital transformation that all businesses are going through.

“Instead of investing into a building hoping that a tenant will come in, the world will be networked in a completely different way and people who have invested in this [tech start-ups] are already ahead of the game.“

Commenting on the issuance of the new Open Data Law, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and general supervisor of Dubai Smart City, said, “The new law will unify Dubai data and remove the last legal obstacles for those interested in investing in the digital economy.”

The new law will create opportunities for collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship between government and non-government entities by making the data accessible to researchers, investors and service developers via an integrated platform.

“If I were an investor today, I would focus on start-ups working in digital transformation field because that is a new oil,” Kezeu asserts.

“Why are most of these companies in Silicon Valley becoming worldwide players? It’s about mentality, mindset, to invest in technology you have to take the risk. With start-up companies, we need to believe, trust, and understand what the plan with that feature is.

“Don’t judge start-ups by what they are doing today. You need to understand the value and the future of a start-up.

“Dubai can have start-up that will be a worldwide player. Don’t look only at the local market, we have to think globally from the beginning.”