Techstars, a global accelerator programme for start-ups, concludes its first programme in Dubai this week. Three of its entrepreneurs pitch their companies to Arabian Business
Founder Benjamin Balazs
Based in Dubai
I started Soluki two years ago to allow Arabic speakers to easily develop websites. Arabic is spoken by almost 400 million people and is the world’s fourth largest community online.
But in terms of websites and content, Arabic is not in the top 10 worldwide. The problem is that Arabic runs from right to left but computer code is left to right. What we’ve done is eliminated the code and created a platform that allows you to build a website with your phone, and also helps you get traffic, convert social media followers into customers on your site, and then give you newsletter options and CRM solutions. It’s the entire ecosystem that we need to create for Arabic users.
We met almost 60 mentors in three weeks, which gave us exposure to many different opinions. We realised we had to redefine the narrative of how we pitch. We have built the technology and now we have to explain how it complies with regulations and works with other companies, such as payment gateways; how it can empower Arabic speakers to create content; and how it can be used for e-commerce.
A large part of this process is educating customers on what they can do with this technology. According to a study by McKinsey, there are 20 million unofficial businesses in the region. We want to empower them to use this platform to their advantage.
Company Omni X Labs
Founder Muthla Al Sayer
Based in New York
Most businesses today have eyes on their customers in the form of surveillance cameras, but they’re not a using them as an intelligent eye to capture moments and insights, which allow you to better serve them, capture them or even identify other markets. OmniX Labs enables businesses to create a hyper-relevant experience for their customers.
A great example would be McDonald’s Drive-Thrus, which generate 60 percent of the company’s revenues, yet they cannot tell if the customer comes once a year or twice a week. If I knew that your lifetime value to me is, for example, $50,000, then I would look at you differently, serve you differently and think about creative personalised solutions. There are many things you can do with this information. It’s like a real-time customer survey.
We’re talking to telcos, service centres, billboard operators, retailers, building management operators... To pick a specific example, retail stores are blind in terms of a person walking in and walking out – they only know their point-of-sale. But what if the attendant was really bad? How was the approach? Do women feel safe in the store? You can get all these interesting insights by using machine vision to process the feeds in real time, collecting movements, sentiments, flow.
We’re looking at many things: gender, age, mood – you can see if your customers are neutral, happy or upset. But we do not do facial recognition; we’re monitoring crowds rather than people, which has also led to us talking with the people running smart city initiatives in places like Dubai and the US. The data is so powerful that you can put this information in the cloud and have other people solve problems.
Company TPS Engage
Founder Bogdan Savonea
Based in Romania, UAE, New York
We describe TPS as being to outdoor advertising what Facebook is to online advertising. We’re opening the doors to the small- and medium-sized businesses that are currently locked out of a very effective medium due to the high costs of advertising on static billboards. These companies form up to 80 percent of Google and Facebook’s advertising revenue, yet you go on the street and there isn’t a single outdoor advert for a small local business.
The second problem is that you see the same content on billboards in different cities, and that doesn’t make any sense in today’s world. So we’ve partnered with OmniX to put cameras on the billboards that gather data from the street to enable an advertiser to run contextual campaigns that react and engage in real time. This information is based on what cars are on the streets, the weather, and in some cases we can predict the mood of people. It was a perfect fit for our companies; from the first day we met on this programme, we made this plan.
As well as knowing when to change the content on the screen, based on what is happening at that moment, the software also calculates the value of the billboard at that particular moment based on who is advertising and who sees the message. We’re trying to get from the world of unquantified theoretics and into the world of reality and industry.
This is a great model to disrupt a very old industry and we’re not just about advertising, we’re about empowering communities. Billboards shouldn’t only be used only for advertising. They can provide a real-time communication channel between communities, and we’ve seen how open the government and businesses here are to making this happen.
Our role is to provide a self-service, point-of-sale platform, and also provide the data points that allow advertisers to get as much information about their campaigns as possible. Right now you will get some theoretics – you know there is rush hour traffic in the morning, but is your message effective? The idea is that the more you tell people something that’s relevant, even at a group level, the more they react to your message.
We’ve been operational in Romania for almost a year and we will expand our operations in Europe. We are focusing strongly on the UAE and MENA region because there’s so much opportunity here. And then we’ll be starting in New York City and then the West Coast within a month. The technology is extremely easy to deploy so we can have a market up and running in ten days. Our ultimate goal is to have screens all over the planet. So if you’re a sausage company in Germany and you want to promote your product in Australia during Oktoberfest, you can do that within five minutes. It should be a global network that is accessible by anyone from anywhere.
The exchange rate is about 10 percent a year, globally. And once a company starts to go digital and sees the results then they move very fast with that transformation. A good example is London, where the whole road from the airport to the city centre is now digital. Worse case you get a yield of 48 percent, while in the best case you get your money back in under 11 months. Screens range in price from $500,000 to $2m. And roughly it would cost over $140,000 for a year in London. But you really don’t need round-the-clock advertising. You just need very specific moments. So for over 90 percent of the advertisers, two or three hours in a day can be more effective more effective than 24 hours.
Vijay Tirathrai, managing director, Techstars Dubai
Techstars is a US accelerator and venture capital fund with a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. We have 40 programmes around the world and each one takes the form of an intense three-month accelerator, where ten entrepreneurs get access to our global network of mentors, angel investors and VCs.
The co-founders are tech entrepreneurs from the US. They saw the opportunity to help other entrepreneurs to succeed through mentoring and connecting them with other people.
In the 11 years since it was founded, Techstars has invested in over 1,200 companies and 90 percent of them are still active, with a value close to $80bn, which is remarkable because 90 percent of new companies don’t last beyond five years. So we’re very excited about our business model. We feel we have cracked the code in how to best help start-ups at a very high risk stage.
And this is backed with skin in the game. We invest $120,000 in each company, in exchange for six percent of their market cap, which means we’re committed to them for a lifetime. It’s not an academic exercise.
Here in Dubai we have partnered with Ginco’s investment arm. We’re located at Dubai Future Accelerator in Emirates Towers and this location, as well as our affiliation with Area 2071 [the UAE Centennial Plan to make the country the world’s leading nation by 2071], gives us easy access to the relevant authorities.
We started out in January and finish with a Demo Day on April 17, where the companies will engage the community, pitch their ideas and meet investors from around the world.
Visit techstars.com to apply for any of the 40 worldwide programmes. Applications open in July for the next Accelerator course in Dubai. Demo Day takes place on April 17.