Abu Dhabi – The Heart of the Tech Scene
To mark Hub71’s one-year anniversary, Kelsey Warner of The National conducted several virtual interviews with founders of Hub71’s startups and VCs. Here, we share with you snippets from that interview with Badr Ward, Founder of Lamsa, and his startup story.
We got to sit in on the interview with Badr Ward, the founder and CEO of Lamsa, an award-winning Arabic language learning app – one of the first startups that was born in Abu Dhabi – about his experiences in Abu Dhabi and as one of the first startups to join the Hub71 community. His perspective was invaluable as he set the Abu Dhabi tech scene during the virtual interview, sharing with us just how far along it had come.
Badr talked at length about the benefits of living and working in Abu Dhabi and how Hub71 has found its rightful place in the ‘heart of Abu Dhabi’s tech scene’. Lamsa, already a story of success and inspiration to many startups, was hungry to reach the next level. The Abu Dhabi-based startup sought after a holistic community with a supportive network of global like-minded founders, developers and techies, who understood what it is like to ‘go global’ with an idea.
Established in 2013, Lamsa delivers interactive educational content for Arabic speaking children with a Finnish EdTech framework and collaborates with educational and child development experts globally and across the MENA region. The startup found itself transitioning from being a secluded tech venture to becoming one of the biggest tech startups with 30 employees to-date in Abu Dhabi. Badr recognizes Abu Dhabi government’s economic accelerator program – Ghadan21, and the Hub71 Incentive Program, which offers subsidies across housing, office space and health insurance, as significant catalysts for growth and scale.
Since joining Hub71, Badr believes that the benefits have gone beyond financial: “We’ve been able to easily communicate with relevant government entities; build a true sense of community and solve big tech problems through regular discussions with fellow colleagues within the industry to learn from their experiences. This is what is truly important to us.”
To date, Lamsa has gained more than 17 million downloads and was ranked number one on Google Play and the App Store in the ‘Family & Kids Category’ across more than ten Arab markets. Through April, the UAE-based platform offered kids aged 2-8 free access to its games and activities for learning Arabic and simple math. From the beginning of this month, Lamsa now matches every paid subscription with one gift to a child in need.
Commenting on the school and daycare closures across the GCC as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Badr said that his company was timely to be in “the right place at the right time, working on the right problem.” Earlier in March, the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority – who also have an accelerator called Anjal Z based out of Hub71 – announced that it would offer children across the UAE unlimited access to the Lamsa app until April 30, 2020 along with two other innovative products; placing Lamsa’s innovative product in the hands of thousands of potential new customers. “This kind of interaction – at a time like this – is truly invaluable for the broader community.” Lamsa reported that it has received more enquiries from regional and international investors than ever before.
Badr shared with us that he had been working with education researchers from Finland and Germany on pedagogical research – the science of teaching. “R&D is an integral but highly expensive part of any EdTech venture.” Luckily for Lamsa, attracting top researchers to Abu Dhabi is becoming easier with knowledge initiatives set up by ADEK and Ghadan 21 like Abu Dhabi Research and Development Authority (ADRDA), a new entity mandated with the growth and development of a holistic and world-class Research and Development (R&D) ecosystem in the Emirate.
“For years I was preaching and telling everyone that Abu Dhabi is great, but people felt it was too far away. Now, the conversation has changed, they say ‘tell me more, when can I come visit?’”
For the immediate future, Badr said the aim for Lamsa is to simply “enable Arabic-speaking children to keep learning amid school closures.” Their fast response to the crisis today could prove to be a boom for the startup in years to come. “I really do wish for the fast recovery of school systems; but after this crisis, the role of teachers and technology will change and the whole world will come to realize that remote learning is not just a ‘nice to have’.”