Accelerating Dubai’s Smart City vision

October 2, 2018

What makes a Smart City? A well-articulated definition comes from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO): “Smart cities rely on integrated and interconnected strategies and systems to effectively provide better services and increase quality of life, ensuring equal opportunities to all and protecting the environment. A smart city continuously strives to improve social, economic and environmental sustainability outcomes. It responds to challenges like climate change, rapid population growth and political and economic instability by engaging with society, applying collaborative leadership methods, working across disciplines and city systems and using data information and modern technologies.”

About 40 mentors worked with 21 startups to give their feedback. Based on this, only 10 were selected to be part of the first cohort of the Dubai Smart City Accelerator.

Statista indicates that the spending on Smart City projects globally was $14.85 billion in 2015 and it will more than double to $34.35 billion by 2020. The number of Internet-of-Things installed base will grow from 4.91 billion units in 2015 to a staggering 20.41 billion units, of which 12.86 billion devices are in the consumer segment alone. Of these, smart homes will constitute about 32 per cent of the base, smart commercial about 31 per cent, the auto segment between 14 to 16 per cent share and utilities about 14 per cent.

These statistics become an excellent framework for understanding why Dubai is well-poised to be a leader among 177 other Smart Cities. To quote Todd OBrien, CEO of Mena Startupbootcamp: “Dubai is a world-leading city of trade, tourism and innovation. Its investments and ambition to become a truly smart and intelligent city is an example to all around the world.”

Startupbootcamp is partnering with the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, du, Visa, Smart Dubai, Dubai Chamber, RIT University and Orange Business Services to curate and build the innovation hub that supports the Dubai Smart City Accelerator initiative.

To frame the Dubai Smart City Accelerator, eight verticals have been identified – four technology verticals and four sector or trend verticals. Each of these verticals reflect the vision of Dubai as a Smart City. The technology verticals are the Internet of Things and connectivity, ‘Open City’ data, blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. The sector or trend verticals are urban mobility, sustainable living, smart government and smart retail. Within this framework, the Dubai Smart City Accelerator initiative set about identifying the right talent base for the first cohort. Working over a four-month period, Startupbootcamp scouted and identified talent from around the world, consistent with the verticals.

Over 1,000 startups applied for the programme. Of these, only a 100 were selected for video interviews. The team travelled to 18 cities. Of these, 21 made it to the final selection. About 40 mentors worked with these 21 to give their feedback. Based on this, only 10 were selected to be part of the first cohort of the Dubai Smart City Accelerator. The final cut took two months to complete. The selected 10 were put through three months of rigorous acceleration. Typically in such a three-month period, a year’s worth of work gets done. The teams were challenged to move the needle in all aspects of their business, resulting in spectacular outcomes. The teams went through an intense programme that included among other things 200 hours of mentoring, one partner day, two weeks’ investment in business model development, three hours in a fundraising workshop and another three-hour leadership workshop, 50 hours of entrepreneur-in-residence coaching, 41 hours of pitch training and three days of sales training. This intensity resulted in over $670,000 worth of investments and growing, over 40 partnerships and clients in the pipeline and at least 20 proof-of-concept initiatives.

Here are the 10 from the first cohort – Astron which aspires to address resource management inefficiencies for asset and property management; Buseet which intends to provide a mini-bus solution to tackle the lack of decent and affordable transportation options during rush hour times, leading to traffic woes caused mainly by middle-class commuters driving their own vehicles; CivilCops which looks at leveraging AI to enable citizens to use their mobile devices to report civic issues and social problems in public service deliveries; Docswallet which intends to enable users to get digitally certified copies of documents on blockchain from their official sources as well as store and organise them in a document wallet in order to submit/share them as required; Friendycar which is the first peer-to-peer car borrowing in Mena that aims to disrupt the mobility and auto-insurance market; Grid which is a freight and logistics marketplace powered by machine learning and IoT that attempts to solve the complexity of the system, thereby enabling instant freight quoting and maximum utilisation of all logistics assets; Intellitapp that aims to convert the 80 per cent plus footfall in retail locations that does not actually purchase by using machine learning to enhance their in-store experience; Responcity that offers a location-based citizen-engagement platform through smart tags which validates door-to-door services, thereby solving locating addresses for people as well as entities like government and businesses; Smart Sensor Devices which has an air quality system that is intended to help organisations and people acquire awareness about cleaner air in Smart Cities, thereby improving the health of citizens; and finally Verismart which pitches itself as a global digital identity platform that is powered by AI and blockchain to make the know-your-customer (KYC) autonomous and more secure for the users of utilities and financial service providers.

The applications for the next cohort in the Dubai Smart City Accelerator initiative will close on July 16, 2018. Entrepreneurs would do well to access the website and apply for this intense programme.

The writer is founding partner at Bridge DFS, a bespoke financial advisory firm ( Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy. He can be contacted at

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