Can you tell us about the concept behind Catalyst, its core priorities, and some of its recent milestones?
Catalyst is a start-up accelerator that was officially launched in 2017, but traces its roots back to 2014, when it was initiated by Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, who was then the CEO of Masdar. Abu Dhabi's leadership wants the Emirate to become a dominant global start-up and innovation ecosystem. At the time of inception, we had the plans and roadmap in place to be part of the Masdar ecosystem. When you look at this ecosystem, it had the Masdar Institute, which was located at the time in Masdar City before it merged with Khalifa University. Now, we have the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence. We aim to attract innovative game-changers that positively disrupt peoples' lifestyles with their inventions. In addition to this, the other criteria we apply is that the start-up must be sustainable and focused on some of the following pillars: clean technology, energy efficiency, energy storage, agriculture technologies, e-mobility, and food security. When Catalyst was established, we had three applicants that came directly from the Masdar Institute. One was De L'arta, a botanical science and chemistry-related start-up. They came with a business idea that flourished into two distinct concepts. We also have Solva, the first to introduce electric motorcycles for delivery purposes in the UAE market. The third is BonApp, which falls under the theme of food security since it helps locate food before its expiration date at discounted rates. They have their own systems and algorithms and are now developing smart tagging to obtain more data.
How would you summarize the benefits that the Catalyst program offers to prospective start-ups, and what incentive programs do you have in place for eligible participants?
We provide funding and mentorship to organizations that have the potential to commercialize their innovative ideas. Catalyst provides accommodation for international start-ups, office space, legal, HR, and ICT-related support and mentorship. We also aim to give commercial knowledge and open new markets for ideas. What's more, we don't just focus on the UAE; we think about how some of our participants can expand into overseas territories. Catalyst is an excellent proposition in terms of location; we are located next to Abu Dhabi airport as well as major ports and KIZAD. The city itself is only 25 minutes away. Abu Dhabi's free zones and e-government services make it convenient for investors to set-up businesses. Catalyst was formed to integrate these formalities for start-up pilots. We can conduct all the due diligence with the board, shareholders, and professional workforce. We then evaluate and value the company before deciding whether or not to support it. This method provides greater transparency for start-ups as it gives them a much clearer picture of how to become a formalized entity. 2020 represents an exciting time for start-ups, and we are expecting Expo 2020 to be an interesting game changer for the region.
Is there a perception among investors or the business community that clean technology solutions are not a good financial investment?
This is a perception that has changed throughout the investment community over the last decade. Many clean technological solutions have proven to be a good bet for investors. What's more, with the utilization of data and other disruptive technologies converging, there is more openness from many traditional sectors about exploring, deploying, and investing in these. When we look at clean technology, the investments may not be tangible today; indirectly, however, they can create economic, environmental, or social benefits. Every start-up is a different case study. We look for unicorns, and two or three of ours will be unicorns since they are patent-generating companies.