Majid Al Futtaim, the leading shopping mall, communities, retail and leisure pioneer across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, recently announced the winners of the second edition of its Launchpad Accelerator Programme in collaboration with AstroLabs, DIFC Launchpad and Microsoft.

Supporting the UAE’s vision to become the most entrepreneurial nation by 2031, Majid Al Futtaim welcomed seven start-ups to its ecosystem from the climate tech, homegrown brands, and retail tech sectors.

“Post-pandemic we observed a significant uptick in the number of proposals we received. These inspired us to establish a well-structured approach for SMEs, both locally and internationally, to engage with us. Thus, we introduced the Launchpad Accelerator Programme, alongside prominent partners that shared the same vision,” Joe Abi Akl, Chief Corporate Development Officer at Majid Al Futtaim - Holding, told Khaleej Times.

Excerpts from an interview —

What was the idea behind setting up of the Launchpad Accelerator Programme?

At Majid Al Futtaim, we prioritise collaborating with entrepreneurs and SMEs. We recognise the significance of fostering local talent, and as a result, we frequently receive proposals from aspiring start-ups.

SMEs play a crucial role in the local economy, constituting 94 per cent of all companies operating in the UAE, and employing over 86 per cent of the sector’s workforce. In this vein, Majid Al Futtaim wants to support this growth, and our Launchpad Accelerator Programme represents a dedicated effort to identify and cultivate future partners.

This year, we ran the second edition of this programme and have strengthened our commitment to fostering entrepreneurship and supporting small and medium enterprises in the pursuit of innovation, creativity, and growth. The Launchpad programme reinforces our commitment to supporting the UAE’s vision to establish the UAE as the most entrepreneurial nation by 2031.

As we join the UAE on the road to COP28, we also wanted to look at companies that will make a positive impact on reducing emissions and championing innovative sustainability solutions. The category Climate Tech was introduced, and we have been able to attract global start-ups who are pioneering solutions in sectors such as waste management and sustainable building. The aim of this addition is that we can support the introduction of these solutions to the UAE, and drive positive change across our business, making a lasting impact on our customers, colleagues and communities.

What are the key milestones in the Launchpad Accelerator Programme?

This year, we received over 150 applications for our programme with submissions from start-ups in over 20 countries. After a dynamic and competitive selection process, we announced seven winners to join our growing ecosystem across three categories including climate tech, homegrown brands, and retail tech. We have chosen to work with SeaB Energy and Partanna, winners of the climate tech category, to pilot and scale their solutions which address issues including food waste management and decarbonisation, across the UAE and wider region.

Co-Chocolat, Majama, Saanté and SALAD were announced as winners in the homegrown brands category and will receive access to prime retail space within our malls, while The Floorr was selected in the retail tech category. Winning start-ups will receive access to mentorship and business growth incentives to strengthen their commercial viability. We look forward to working with these start-ups across diverse sectors to help them scale, while introducing sustainable and innovative new propositions to our customers.

Another milestone for this year is the introduction of DIFC Launchpad as a partner, joining AstroLabs and Microsoft. Through these partnerships, winners will have access to one-to-one mentorship opportunities on fundraising and corporate partnerships, introductions to VCs, and access to a diverse talent base, distribution partners, and co-working spaces.

What is the process of selection?

Ultimately, when evaluating any new business for the Majid Al Futtaim Launchpad Accelerator Programme, our primary focus is on identifying innovative qualities and potential. We are seeking companies that can articulate their commitment to sustainability, provide exceptional experiential customer service, go beyond selling a product of a product or a service by building strong brands, and actively engage with and contribute positively to the communities in which they operate.

Our assessment also considers the potential longevity of the business, and crucially, its alignment with Majid Al Futtaim’s purpose. The brand, product or service should serve as a meaningful addition to the Majid Al Futtaim ecosystem.

Then we look at the business plan, particularly how the company intends to leverage our ecosystem to scale. Passion and motivation are important drivers as we seek entrepreneurs who are not only committed to their brand but also to the growth and development of the region. In this way, we aim to select start-ups that have the potential to make a significant impact within our ecosystem and beyond.

What are the next plans?

Supporting start-ups is a key part of our mission at Majid Al Futtaim. We want to be with small businesses on their journey to create new products and services that could ultimately become our business partners and suppliers.

Looking to the future, we want to take the successes and learnings from the first two editions and continue to build the offering to be in a strong position to support the businesses coming to us, and our customers.

Our ESG commitments are key to our long-term strategy, and we want to engage more with international start-ups who are developing innovative and sustainable solutions in sectors such as climate tech, AI and prop tech, and introduce them to the UAE. There is also the potential to take the Launchpad programme to one of our operating markets. Egypt for example, could prove to be a market with great potential. Earlier this year, we facilitated pop-up activations in Egypt for two of the winning lifestyle start-ups from the previous edition of Launchpad, helping them reach new audiences. Majid Al Futtaim has operated in the market for 25 years and we are committed to building a sustainable and future-proof business in Egypt to take us through to the next decade and beyond.

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