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Challenge Cup

Judges Q&A: Challenge Cup Regional Dubai

Challenge Cup Regional Dubai commences at 6:00 PM on Thursday, Feb. 11, which is so soon! Some of the event’s esteemed judges shared their insights about the region, what they’re looking for in startups’ pitches, and what they’re looking forward to learning more about.

Competing startups take note, and anyone hoping to catch the pitching and judging in action should join us or follow #1776Challenge along online!

Ruba Al Hassan

Ruba Al Hassan is a senior advisor at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C. and cofounder and chairman of the Global Youth Empowerment Movement. Her passion for youth empowerment and entrepreneurship and expertise about social development in the U.A.E. further qualify her to judge the startups’ pitches.

What do you think is your region’s top entrepreneurial strength?

Our region’s strength lies very much in the untapped potential of our youth and in the success and inspirational story that is Dubai.

Our region has the world’s highest youth unemployment rate. Yet, despite this or perhaps because this causes such a great need for entrepreneurship where youth can create opportunities for themselves, entrepreneurs and especially inspiring women entrepreneurs are coming out of the most unlikely of places like Gaza, Cairo, and Jeddah.

We live in a tumultuous region, to say the least. Yet, Dubai has managed to embody the very essence of the entrepreneurial spirit in its risk-taking strategies, unlimited ambition, and determination. The U.A.E. stands as a beacon of hope for the future of the Middle East and a symbol of what is possible when an innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem is supported and encouraged to flourish.

What criteria are most important to you when judging a startup pitch like the ones at Challenge Cup?

I am all about impact and must admit am slightly biased to those startups with a compelling positive social impact who can show that they can scale well in our region and globally and are working on solving real problems.

What are you most looking forward to learning about the startup competitors?

I am most excited to learn about what’s behind the founders’ motivations, what they are passionate about, and their entrepreneurial journeys — the purpose or mission behind the startup and the entrepreneur.

Saud Al Nowais

Commercial Counselor for the U.A.E. to the U.S., Saud Al Nowais, focuses on strengthening the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries. Al Nowais’ work in foreign trade and investing makes him a vital asset to the judges panel.

What do you think is your region’s top entrepreneurial strength?

The region’s number one strength in my opinion is the geographical reach and the youth demographic. When you look at the areas that the U.A.E. connects with, including MENA, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, you are looking at close to 3.2 billion people, almost 43 percent of the world’s population, and within this you have 54 percent of the world’s youth as majority of this region is dominated by youth under the age of 25.

What criteria are most important to you when judging a startup pitch like the ones at Challenge Cup?

The ability for startups to scale and scale quickly outside of their launches and local markets is important. Startups that are solving problems and have identified gaps where technology can help fill those voids. I always say, “If you don’t have a problem to solve, you don’t have a project.”

What are you most looking forward to learning about the startup competitors?

Dubai is such an international city. I think it is going to be very interesting to learn about the stories and backgrounds of the founders and how they identified the issues they are trying to solve.

Chris Schroeder

Chris Schroeder is a venture investor and author of Startup RisingSchroeder invests in consumer-facing innovation and mentors and advocates for global entrepreneurship. He is a known leader in the region and will help ensure deep understanding of the local context on the judging panel.

What do you think is your region’s top entrepreneurial strength?

It is near impossible to put it one thing. Among the best, there is a drive to work around any circumstance, not waiting for government or policy-makers to get things “right.” They just keep moving. Related to this — a keen understanding not only for hyper-local needs and sensitivities (Arab language, last-mile distribution) is not only key but can be expansive across a market of 340 million-plus people.

It’s important to remember that much is different country by country, region by region, but that which uniquely bonds is well understood on the ground. In addition, these are mostly mobile first societies and come up with creative ways to build connections and create powerful innovations, which will eventually go global.

What criteria are most important to you when judging a startup pitch like the ones at Challenge Cup?

Like any pitch in life, it starts with the entrepreneurs. Their drive and courage. Can they imagine doing anything else?  Can they walk through walls to get things done but be smart enough to customer real data to pivot when necessary? I look for their potential to lead teams, their hyper focus on awesome products, how they have thought through the business case — and even on questions that they’ve not necessarily have the answers: have they thought about key factors that could affect their businesses?

The idea is that I most often look for a basic test: does it make someone’s life better, easier, faster, more connected, more affordable, more needed than before. Will it offer network affects of the more people come the better becomes the experience and more people come. And I look for that crazy idea that may not fit a criteria but a great team will just have interesting things worth supporting.

What are you most looking forward to learning about the startup competitors?

I learn every time I’m with tenacious people looking to do the statistically near impossible. I love expanding my understanding of regions I have some grounding in, seeing how technology is building societies bottom up with new innovation, and, of course, figuring out how I can help!

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