From fresh produce and blockchain to artificial intelligence and smart city solutions, India has become a key source market for Dubai's growing startup ecosystem.
When Shan Kadavil set up his e-commerce startup FreshToHome in 2015, his humble idea was to deliver “100
percent” pure and fresh fish, chicken and other meat directly to a customer's doorstep, cutting the clutter of the middlemen as well as staying clear of the carcinogenic chemicals that such perishables are typically loaded with to extend their shelf life by many months.
But five years later, the Indian tech entrepreneur is as busy as ever - having raised $11 million in Series A funding last year and $13 million to date in total, courting nearly 500,000 customers across India and abroad and doing direct business with 1,500 fishermen across 125 coasts in India.
“We are trying to Uberize farmers and fishmen in India. We are giving them an app - around which we have a US patent - for commodity exchange. What farmers and fishermen do is they bid with us (as mandated by local laws) electronically using the app,” Kadavil said in an interview with TechCrunch.
The startup has not only built its own supply chain network of 1,000 people, 100 trucks, and 40 collection points, but in pre-Covid era became one of the biggest clients of Indigo and SpiceJet airlines. “The Meat and Seafood segment in India is pegged to be a $50 billion market, but we have to keep in mind that it's a highly fragmented industry. FreshToHome is not only trying to streamline the industry, they're also using technology to revolutionize the way the industry functions by disintermediating the supply chain, eliminating the middleman and working directly with the fishermen and farmers in a market place model, to make fresh and chemical free food accessible to the masses at large,” said Tushar Singhvi, Director of CE Ventures. With the cold-chain market in India estimated to grow to $37 billion in the next five years, Kadavil says that his company has already become the largest e-commerce platform for meat with $1.73 million in GMV sales each month.
But along with India, much of the start-up's fresh produce now routinely heads out of the country as well - to the
shores of the Arabian Gulf in Dubai. FreshToHome is one of the several Indian start-ups who have successfully set up shop in the United Arab Emirates, attracted by the country's tech boom, tax breaks and focus on building a futuristic, knowledge-based economy.
While both India and the UAE enjoy a strong trade relationship that extends from imports and exports to talent and cultural heritage, in the past few years that bonhomie has consolidated into bilateral investments in technology spanning several sectors - from start-ups, food security and cyberspace to healthcare, fintech and other digital ecosystems. Abu Dhabi's Mubadala, for example, recently invested $1.2 billion investment in Jio Platforms.
According to Dr Ahmed Al Banna, the UAE Ambassador to India, Indian startups are keen to leverage the UAE's position as a strategic trade hub to expand their reach in new markets, especially in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. The UAE's Startup and Innovation Strategy has worked to attract start-ups from India and other nations, Dr Al Banna said recently at a roadshow organised by Dubai Startup Hub in New Delhi.
Dubai Startup Hub - which was launched by Dubai Chamber in 2016 - is an online platform to connect startups, entrepreneurs, developers, venture capitalists and students, enabling them to learn about new opportunities and create new partnerships that stimulate economic growth. It recently announced the launch of the Dubai Technology Tour, which aims to drive collaboration between the UAE and India in the areas of fintech and healthtech - and which enabled five entrepreneurs representing promising Indian financial or healthcare technology startups to pitch their businesses to investors, corporates, and fellow peer founders in the UAE to scale their ventures.
The group of selected founders representing Indian scaleups recently had the opportunity to connect with relevant UAE stakeholders, including investors, corporates, and peer scaleups, as well as pitch to bring their innovative business concepts to the UAE market.
“India is not only a market of strategic importance to Dubai and Dubai Chamber, it has also become a key source market for Dubai's growing startup ecosystem. The country has become a test bed for blockchain, artificial intelligence and smart city solutions, and we have seen many Indian startups enter the Dubai market in recent years that have brought with them innovative business concepts,” said Omar Khan, Director of International Offices at Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
According to Dr Al Banna, many Indian startups are also inspired to invest in the UAE and emulate the success of
home-grown UAE unicorns such as Careem, which was acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion, and Souq, which was bought by Amazon for $580 million.
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With UAE-India bilateral trade soaring past $60 billion, India is the second largest trading partner of the UAE, while the UAE is India's third largest trading partner after China and the US. With more Indian start-ups eyeing the shores of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the base for their regional operations, the next bright spark in that ever-growing trade relationship is bound to be driven by entrepreneurs like Kadavil and his ilk.