The Innovation Accelerator

Dubai Future Accelerators is helping to bridge the gap between start-ups and government, with a unique program to tackle key challenges for public sector through collaboration and innovation

Tags: Dubai Future Foundation ( Arab Emirates
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The Innovation Accelerator Dubai Future Accelerators creates a closing working relationship between startups and government innovators, says Belhoul. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  January 21, 2018

Governments today are hungry for innovation. A generation of new technologies is meeting the fast-pace of change and the demands of national transformation plans, putting more pressure than ever on government to find new ways of working. At the same time, those new technologies bring enormous potential for transformation in many different dimensions. For governments that are willing to embrace innovation, the issue becomes how to find the right ideas and the right people to turn technology into solutions for the real world.

Previously in the ICT sector, the incubation of new ideas has been the domain of the private sector. Many technologies and innovations may have originated in universities, but it has been private entrepreneurs and individuals who have brought ideas to market, and government adoption has followed behind. Forward-thinking governments are catching up to the importance of engaging with new technology, however, and nowhere is this more evident than Dubai, and programs such as the Dubai Future Accelerators.

Dubai Future Accelerators is part of Dubai Future Foundation’s initiatives, which also include the Museum of the Future, which is set to launch in 2019, Dubai 10X, and Dubai Future Academy. The Future Accelerators was launched in 2016 to bridge the gap between entrepreneurial ideas, startups and the real-world challenges faced by government entities. Running an intensive, nine-week ‘cohorts’, Dubai Future Accelerators takes startups and immerses them in partnerships with relevant government entities, to develop solutions to address specific challenges. Over one hundred companies have participated in the program so far, with thirteen government entities.

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Accelerators, said that the successful completion of the third cohort in November last year has demonstrated that the concept of Future Accelerators is working well.

“The results from the third cohort are the proof of the concept of the Dubai Future Accelerators,” he said. “Like the startups that come to us with ideas, the program itself was an idea that has been built from the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has pushed us to make the UAE a global lab.

“We have leveraged that vision, and I believe we have created a unique value proposition from an accelerator stand point, where we involve government decision makers into the formula of acceleration — which we call super acceleration.”

Since the inception, and the first cohort of Future Accelerators in September 2016, the aim has always been to make government and government personnel an integral part of the process. Each cohort consists of several challenges – there were 13 in the third batch, related to the 13 entities, mainly government, but the program has included private sector entities including du, Etisalat and Emirates airline, Belhoul explained.

The challenges are ninety-percent developed by the government entities themselves, he added, based on their organisation’s strategic goals and objectives, with the Future Accelerators acting as a technology advisor and providing research and outreach to the market. The program is technology agnostic, Belhoul explained, although programs align with Dubai’s strategic objectives such as the blockchain or 3D printing strategies, and cohorts also tap into impact-driven technologies including everything from autonomous transportation, to IoT securities, early childhood development, water harvesting, AI through facial recognition, DNA analytics, and desalination.

“Because we cover almost every department or industry through the participation of our government entities, whether it is health, transportation, security, energy — all sectors are covered, so the number of technologies that can come to us is vast,” he said.

Once the challenges are published and entries solicited from potential startups, the Future Accelerators team works with the entities to identify the right startups that will be selected to participate in the cohort.

“We basically assist them in the outreach; the challenge is defined, and then we leverage on our platforms and our relationships to identify global and regional solutions,” Belhoul said. “Based on that, we create a workshop, between the program management team from Dubai Future Accelerators, the Future teams of the government entity, and also some strategic Future Foundation executives, so we can leverage the investment team, which gives us a different perspective of the opportunity.

“Part of our learning curve was how we filter the opportunities. At the first stage, the Dubai Future Accelerators team will look at the [prospective] company, their financials and the founding team. We look at the operational side and how it fits the criteria of the program, and the government entity will consider how exciting the solution is for the challenge that they are setting.”

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