Sheraa’s Access Sharjah Challenge paves the way for a new era in UAE’s creative economy

Sheraa’s Access Sharjah Challenge paves the way for a new era in UAE’s creative economy

SHARJAH, 15th December, 2021 (WAM) -- The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Youth, recently launched the Access Sharjah Challenge, an integrated platform that connects digital startups to relevant public and private entities in Sharjah and across the UAE, with the aim of contributing to the development and growth of the nation's creative economy.

Under the presence of Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Sheraa, and Noura bint Mohammad Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, American University of Sharjah (AUS) professor Sohail Dahdal and Emirati founders Noura Kalban and Alia Lootah were named winners of the game-changing competition, during the challenge’s awarding ceremony.

In strategic partnership with the Sharjah Museums Authority, Air Arabia and Alef Group the challenge was launched to empower founders leading the path in building a thriving creative economy by building sustainable businesses.

Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa, said, "The Access Sharjah Challenge addresses one of the most critical as well as perennial challenges that startups all over the world face - gaining access to markets. The programme is designed to serve not only as a launch pad for innovative startups into the UAE and regional markets, but also supports their growth in the creative sectors while furthering the emirate’s vision to be a global destination for high impact businesses."

She added: "The applications and submissions we received from startups coming from all around the world symbolise the growing ecosystem of impactful ideas in the creative sector, and how each founder has the potential to create positive influences within the UAE economy and help stimulate innovation in the region. We look forward to helping the winners grow their ideas into full-fledged ventures that contribute actively to Sharjah’s and the UAE’s economy."

Access Sharjah Challenge consisted of two strikingly different contests –Al Makan Challenge, that invited innovative ideas to liberate artefacts and art from display cases and frames of museums; and Al Multaqa Challenge, that called for novel re-imagining of how people can come together in one place to belong in the moment and truly connect with one another.

Professor Dahdal won Al Makan Challenge, which was supported by Sharjah Museums Authority and Air Arabia, for his ‘5th Wall’; a first-of-its-kind immersive experience that breaks the boundaries of storytelling in substance and form and engages today’s youth in the story of their past with tools of the future. The 5th Wall places equal value on both story, technology and experienced 3D artists, developers, scriptwriters, and filmmakers work collaboratively to merge both story and tech to great effect.

Noura Kalban and Alia Lootah triumphed in Al Multaqa Challenge, supported by Alef Group, for the creation of the ‘Expression Room’ located at their ‘Medaf Creative Studio + Art Spaces’. At the ‘Expression Room’ where the floors and walls become an open canvas, budding artists can freely express their inner thoughts through art without any restrictions. The Medaf Studio was designed to ignite the creativity and curiosity of tomorrow’s innovators through multi-disciplinary art practices that target building and developing the skillsets of children as well as adults through art-related workshops.

Both winners received equity-free prizes of $50,000 each, which included $25,000 to bring their projects to life with the help of the supporting entities, $15,000 in cash and $10,000 towards business setup support; in addition to operational business support services including discounted office space and banking services; mentoring from Sheraa’s in-house team and their community of mentors, as well as access to target markets.

Speaking about their experience, Medaf co-founders; Alia Lootah and Noora Bin Kalban said: "We’re so thrilled to have been part of this journey with Sheraa. Participating in the Access Sharjah Challenge was a learning experience for us which allowed us to step out of our comfort zone to come up with a creative and fun solution that will re-imagine how people can truly connect with each other. At Medaf we aim to bridge the gap of creativity and make art accessible for people of all ages. We look forward to implementing this idea and sharing it with as many people as possible."

Sohail Dahdal, founder and creative director, Fifth Wall Immersive Media Lab, said: "We approached the Access Sharjah Challenge as an amazing opportunity to showcase our new handsfree AR platform. The theme of the challenge, to envision the museums of the future, was perfect for us since the core of 5th Wall’s mission is to create immersive media content that engages youth in cultural content. Winning the challenge has given us that extra push to achieve our goals faster. We are very excited to work with Sheraa and the Sharjah Museum Authority to bring our vision of future museums into reality, and right here in Sharjah."

The competition aligns with Sheraa’s mission to support startups in the creative sectors from around the region by connecting them with the private and public sectors to reach their target market and stimulate innovation in the UAE.

Manal Ataya, the Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA) said: "We believe in the importance of nurturing creativity in young minds. Therefore, SMA regularly organises workshops and activities designed carefully to engage youth in meaningful experiences that satisfy their curiosity and ignite creativity in their minds that would eventually lead to building a generation of critical thinkers and innovators."

"We are proud to partner with Sheraa’s Access Sharjah Challenge and support its key goal of empowering innovative, creative and tech-savvy startups to push the boundaries of the cultural and creative industries to strengthen the emirate’s position on the global cultural and creativity map as a destination of choice for creative entrepreneurs from around the world."

She added that SMA is always eager to foster local, regional and international partnerships that focus on serving its mission and the emirate’s strategy that aims to nurture a future generation of creative thinkers and enrich them with knowledge and life skills essential for economic growth and sustainable development.

On his part, Adel Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer of Air Arabia, said: "It was a great opportunity to support and participate in the Access Sharjah Challenge, that will promote the growth of promising startups with innovative ideas to shape the future and contribute to the overall economic growth of the emirate of Sharjah."

Issa Ataya, Chief Executive Officer of Alef Group, said: "As part of our strategy, Alef Group is keen to support youth in establishing themselves and developing their potential. We were delighted to participate in the Access Sharjah Challenge, a pioneering project aimed not only at empowering young entrepreneurs but also introducing them to the limitless opportunities across all sectors in Sharjah."

He continued: "The Access Sharjah Challenge is a resounding success; a feat achieved because of the close cooperation and solidarity among all stakeholders, coupled with the Sharjah government’s consistent support for and commitment to innovative projects and initiatives."

He pointed out that Sheraa’s vision for the challenge resonated with Alef Group’s strategy in terms of empowering the youth and encouraging entrepreneurship, and that the level of cooperation between all parties reflects the high value placed on supporting creativity and encouraging knowledge and innovation in Sharjah, particularly among the younger generation.

Participating entrepreneurs are 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.