RIYADH: Saudi startup Uvera has been selected as one of the 12 finalists for the second edition of the global FoodTech Challenge, which is organized by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and Tamkeen, with ASPIRE as the lead partner.
The 12 finalists moved forward to the final stage of the competition where four winning startups will be selected for the pooled prize of up to $2 million from an initial submission of 667 applications across 79 countries, followed by a further shortlist of 30 finalists, according to a statement.
The final 12 startups represent markets across the UAE, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US.
Five of the 12 finalists focus on food production. This will include fog-based technology that delivers more nutritious crops with 95 percent less water, using food waste to create all-natural insect products to support food production, growing plant-based protein on non-arable land, and optimizing soil quality for maximum watering efficiency.
In response to the second track of the competition, which addresses the issue of food loss and waste, the other seven finalists developed artificial intelligence and Internet of Things systems to reduce and quantify waste individually and industrially.
One of the 12 finalists, Uvera, is a Saudi Arabian startup that created an IoT device for extending food shelf life within 30 seconds, coupled with an AI-powered app for maintaining food inventory and predicting food spoilage.
Asrar Damdam, the founder of Uvera, told Arab News that she founded Uvera intending to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030. “This is Sustainable Development Goal 12.3,” she said.
Uvera’s products are designed to reduce food loss and waste at both the household and retailer levels, she added.
Damdam said they applied for the FoodTech Challenge with Aurora, a smart IoT device for households. Within 30 seconds of using this device, fresh fruits and vegetables can increase their shelf life by up to 97 percent on average, she said.
“This product can help households reduce their food waste, and also be more sustainable,” she added.
According to Damdam, the startup is in the process of launching its second product, which addresses the issue of food loss in retailers.
“We are in the final stages of prototyping, and we believe that we can launch a pilot very soon, by the end of this year or by early 2023, which is perfect timing for us,” she said.
Damdam added that Uvera could benefit from being backed or participating in the FoodTech Challenge by accelerating the development of its product for consumers and retailers.
Among the support Uvera has received, Damdam said it has been offered a tenancy at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Research and Technology Park in 2020.
Since Uvera is a technology startup that needs to conduct a lot of biological testing on food products the tenancy, according to Damdam, helped them during prototyping and R&D. This positioned them well to enter the market at this point, she added.
Aside from accessing KAUST’s biology labs and prototyping facilities, Uvera also has offices there.
Moreover, Uvera received grants worth $160,000 from the Taqadam accelerator, MIT Enterprise Forum, and stc InspireU accelerator, as well as venture capital funding from the Kingdom.
As a scientist and Ph.D. candidate at KAUST, Damdam hopes winning the challenge will encourage other Arab women with technical backgrounds to start their businesses.
“I always try to spread the word about the support that I’m getting so that other women entrepreneurs and other women scientists get encouraged to do this, to start businesses,” she said.
If she wins the challenge, Damdam said she would invest in achieving the company’s mission in the UAE. “With the support of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, I believe that the 50 percent food loss and waste reduction mission could be achieved in the UAE. And the UAE could be the first country to achieve UN SDG 12.3,” she said.
In response to a question about the challenges she faced while applying to the competition, Damdam said that the challenge will come soon because the top 12 companies are very competitive. “I think the competition will be tough with these companies, and I wish that we make it to the finals in January after the pitching competition,” she added.
The selected startups have been enrolled in a six-week mentoring program with key local stakeholders in the UAE as part of the finalist phase, so they can gain insight into the country’s agricultural ecosystem and maximize their chances of integrating and establishing. Previous winners of the FoodTech Challenge, competition partners, and key players in the agritech ecosystem will provide mentorship.
This will include the MoCCAE, ASPIRE, track partners Silal, ADQ, and Emirates Foundation, as well as enablement partners Abu Dhabi Global Market, Competitiveness Office Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Residents Office, Hub71, Khalifa Fund, Ma’an, and Catalyst.