Access Sharjah Program: Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center awards ‘Little Thinking Minds’ $100K equity-free grant to boost business development in Sharjah

- ‘Little Thinking Minds’ shortlisted out of 14 global digital publishing Startups in the Access Sharjah program

- Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center received over 250+ applications worldwide for entry into the Access Sharjah program

The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), has awarded its first Access Sharjah winner, ‘Little Thinking Minds’, a $100K equity-free grant. ‘BoBu’, ‘Narrativa’, and ‘almentor.net’ in second position, were presented with a $20K equity-free grant. 

Sheraa dedicated the inaugural edition of the program, which was launched in celebration of Sharjah World Book Capital 2019, to those working in the publishing and digital content sector. This was done to support the emirate's vision of investing in the knowledge industry, with a strong focus on embracing pioneering and innovation-driven efforts.

Launched late last year, Access Sharjah is a global platform that connects digital start-ups to relevant public and private entities in Sharjah and across the United Arab Emirates. Participating entrepreneurs were given access to Sheraa’s team of experts and network of global mentors, business set-up support, rent-free co-working spaces and free licensing, a pool of skilled human capital and media coverage. 

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Head of the Advisory Committee of Sharjah World Book Capital (SWBC), said: “Investments in entrepreneurs in the publishing sector is an investment in the future of the international book market. The aspirations of these businesses, combined with their sustainable products and services, drive the growth and success of the publishing industry. It also stimulates cultural entities to embrace projects and initiatives which advance knowledge and culture.” 

"As Sharjah serves a year long stint as World Book Capital 2019; the SWBC Committee had set a number of goals to achieve in 2019–20. Most notably, enabling access of all segments of society to books and knowledge, and fueling the publishing industry’s growth. To attain them, the Emirate organized a host of activities, including large-scale cultural events which received the firm support of both public and private institutions. Sharjah entities have added to our efforts by devising excellent initiatives, including Sheraa’s Access Sharjah program which is a fitting testament to these efforts, and a clear example of how all our cultural projects and companies are guided by a collective vision – to facilitate people’s access to knowledge and pave the way for new investments in publishing,” Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi added.

After the COVID-19 crisis and due to travel bans, the program was delivered online, including remote pitch training, mentorship, and final pitch day with external judges.

Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa, said, “Access Sharjah was created to solve one of the most critical challenges that start-ups face, which is gaining access to markets. The program serves as a launchpad into the Sharjah and wider UAE market, supporting the growth of innovative start-ups as well as furthering the emirate’s vision to be a global destination for high impact businesses. For the first edition, we focused on start-ups in the book and digital content space, in honor of Sharjah being named UNESCO World Book Capital 2019. We received over 250 applications from around the world, and are proud to announce, ‘Little Thinking Minds’, ‘BoBu’, ‘Narrativa’, and ‘almentor.net’ as winners. We look forward to having these high-caliber start-ups call Sharjah their home and shall continue to work with them as they grow their ventures.”

Additionally, Sheraa’s partners, Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone (SPC Free Zone) and Emirates Publishers Association (EPA), lent considerable support towards helping the start-ups scale and enter new markets.

Salim Omar Salim, Director of Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone (SPCFZ), said: “Entrepreneurs and SMEs are driving the publishing sector worldwide. SPCFZ is committed to aiding their ambitions, as we give them access to world-class business and production facilities, help them build profitable businesses, and offer an optimal environment for innovative content creation. Our mission is defined by the collective vision of Sharjah’s cultural entities, which are working together to advance the UAE’s publishing landscape, especially furthering its digitization efforts to meet the aspirations of global industry stakeholders.” 

“I extend warm congratulations to the winners of Sheraa’s Access Sharjah program. As Sheraa’s partners, we are strongly committed to supporting them as well as all other entrepreneurial talents in the field to fulfill their career objectives, while enabling them to contribute to Sharjah’s and the UAE’s creative economies,” he added.

Rashid Al Kous, Executive Director of Emirates Publishers Association (EPA), said: “The EPA counts amongst its key objectives, the elevation of the UAE’s publishing realities and the creation of a nurturing platform for publishers to enable the advancement of the sector, regionally. To fulfil these goals, we have been hosting and participating in an array of key regional and global initiatives. Through this strategic partnership with Sheraa, we are opening the doors to more entrepreneurial talents seeking to enter the field, promote their presence in the UAE’s publishing market, and enable their role as partners in enhancing the local industry’s scope and competitiveness.”

Al Kous added: “Access Sharjah stimulates competitiveness and promotes an entrepreneurial business culture in companies venturing into publishing and other creative sectors. It also aligns with the overarching vision of the EPA, Sheraa and allied entities in Sharjah. This inclusive vision is inspired by Sharjah’s cultural project and signals an important new investment in its key pillars. I hope the program will enable entrepreneurs to leverage the emirate’s thriving business environment, harnesses key opportunities presented by Sharjah at its annual international events and fairs, and benefit from the local and regional initiatives which focus on the promotion of creative content creation.”

SHERAA ‘Access Sharjah’ cohort: 

Little Thinking Minds

Little Thinking Minds is a leading education technology company that creates advanced Arabic language digital solutions and platforms aimed at improving learning outcomes for school-aged children in the MENA region and beyond.

BoBu

BoBu is a unified and simplified software solution for book publishers to create mobile apps and games for children. It also allows children’s book publishers to create and/or convert books into interactive e-books through an easy-to-use drag and drop system.

Narrativa

Narrativa uses Artificial Intelligence technology to mine big data and generate news stories in English, Arabic and Spanish for its clients’ audience at machine scale. Its AI technology can automatically generate millions of news stories in one day.

almentor.net

An e-learning and professional development network serving the Middle East and Africa, that offers video courses and motivational/informative talks in both Arabic and English.

Kitab Sawti

Kitab Sawti is the world’s largest Arabic audiobooks library, providing audiobooks and podcasts through their user-friendly mobile app.

Arabic Digital Reform Institute (ADRI)

ADRI is an Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning system that searches the internet for open access research in English, acquires them, and automatically translates them into Arabic. Using AI logic, the system also corrects literal and formatting issues

Kotobna

Kotobna is the first self-publishing platform in Egypt and the Arab world, through which you can publish, promote, sell to and access the reader directly without the need for a medium (such as a publishing house).

Wajeez

Wajeez is an app that enables you to read the key takeaways from over 3000 non- fiction books in Arabic in 15 minutes or less.

We Love Reading

We Love Reading is an international organization that aims to foster a love for reading in children. They train women, men, and youth to regularly read aloud to children from their neighborhood, empowering them with the mindset of “I can”.

Abjjad

Abjjad is the first Arabic social network for readers, authors, and bloggers in the Middle East. The website enables readers to create their own virtual library, rate books, write their book reviews, add quotes to authors’ or books’ pages and enrich authors' pages with related information.

AR Engineering

AR Engineering provides a mobile platform for engineering students to view and interact with 3D models using Augmented Reality. The application has a library of various 3D engineering systems displayed for the students using AR. 

Quizzito

Quizzito helps schools and families gamify the reading process in order to encourage children’s reading rate. The platform offers games and quizzes related to the books being read, and students earn points that they can then redeem for tangible rewards.

Englease.com

Englease tries to positively impact the lives of 1 million people by providing them with the most affordable and relevant English learning tools. The platform offers live, online, unlimited, and certified (CPD) English classes delivered 16 hours per day, 6 days per week, by bilingual teachers (Arabic and English).

Arabee

Arabee is a fun, interactive, comprehensive and progressive multi-format Arabic language program designed to teach Arabic to children.


E-commerce deals in MENA-based startups have tripled from 2016 to 2019. Find out more details behind this trend and many more in our 2019 MENA E-commerce Venture Investment Report HERE