A View From Inside the Dubai Future Accelerators

Last week marked the end of the third cohort of the Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA), a government-backed accelerator introduced in 2016, in which our startup, COM-Technologies, recently participated along with 45 other companies.

DFA pairs the world’s most promising innovators with Dubai government entities over a period of nine weeks to address the challenges of the 21st century through the development and application of new technologies. As the MENA region’s startup ecosystem continues to soar, DFA puts Dubai squarely on the map in the effort to promote entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships.

During the nine weeks, government entities work closely with their assigned companies to help them transform groundbreaking concepts and early prototypes into feasible, scalable pilot programs with the aim of serving society amid emerging modern challenges.

What do companies do at Dubai Future Accelerators?

If you’re considering applying to DFA, which garnered more than 4,000 applications for its third cohort, you can expect a fast application process which may involve a video pitch on behalf of your company, written forms and an interview. Once you’re in, the fun begins.

Each government entity has its own section where paired companies work, sometimes into the evenings and through the weekend, to achieve their objectives. In their sections, companies rub shoulders and establish a relationship with their assigned government representative who serves as the liaison between the company and the entity.

Cohort participants tend to bond over lunches and after-work gatherings, which offer great opportunities to take advantage of your proximity to other path-breaking entrepreneurs.

What does it look like on the inside?

The motto “Pulling the future forward faster” can be seen scrawled on various displays at the DFA grounds in Emirates Towers and can be heard echoed by any of DFA’s deeply committed program leaders during a presentation. Smart signage, bold wallpapers and design structures give the space a palpable “future Dubai” feel. DFA’s 3-D printed office, pictured below, is an icon.

Although contemporary in design, the campus radiates a homey ambience, complete with a stocked kitchen, open work spaces, welcoming lounging areas and meeting rooms.

Brilliant green wall gardens line sections of the campus while prototypes including an identity sensor that uses biometric scanners, a machine that turns humidity into drinkable water, and mannequins sporting smart, connected active wear make for an atmosphere fitting of its name.

How do companies benefit from participating in the accelerator program?

It is DFA’s goal to catapult promising revolutionary teams and technologies from the idea phase onto the path of real-world application readiness. While DFA generally do not finance the development of your prototype, they seek to facilitate your work by giving you access to resources and individuals in government who can accelerate processes.

By design, developing a working prototype within the span of just over two months is no easy feat. It is understood that most companies will not achieve this fully, but all of them will make tremendous headway in other essential areas on their DFA journey.

In addition to working alongside innovative minds from around the world and some of the gatekeepers in the Dubai Government, DFA regularly hosts scholars, VCs, futurists, and startup growth experts to share their knowledge and learn about us.

What tips do you have for companies looking to join DFA?

To become a part of DFA, your big idea should serve a cause that will positively impact the world and people in a way that is sustainable and feasible. Your idea should be backed up with strong technical capabilities and a deep knowledge of your landscape.

Once you’re accepted into DFA, take advantage of all of the face-time you get with your peers, project managers and government entity representatives. Weekly meetings and status updates with your entity rep ensure that both of you stay on the same page and are aware of your responsibilities. Use these meetings to keep your entity engaged and to build friendship.

Participants are also afforded exposure to other government entities who may be viable business partners in the future, and opportunities to identify synergies with other participating teams abound.

What was COM-IoT Technologies working on at DFA?

During the program our team worked with the Dubai Police to customize our intelligent traffic safety technology. We have been working on two solutions, Plug & Play Patrol (P3) and HORUS, which maximize traffic safety management through collision and violation detection using an artificial intelligence toolkit, GPS and LiDAR sensors.

We demonstrated the utility and potential scalability of our solution – which is also in a trial program with an IT firm in Portugal – resulting in the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Dubai Police. Now we’re conducting a pilot program in Dubai.

As a DFA program manager frequently reminded us during our weekly all-hands, “[DFA] is an artificial environment housing future-history makers from around the world”, the likes of which we would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

For participants who come with diligence and a breakthrough vision, the Dubai Future Accelerators serves as a one-of-kind springboard into the MENA startup ecosystem and a seal of approval from the Dubai government.