Badr Ward, founder and CEO of the world’s first Arabic-language educational app, Lamsa, is the classic example of an entrepreneur who built a business to solve a problem he faced himself.
The idea for Lamsa was born when Ward, who has an IT and computer software background, had experienced the gap in availability of learning and educational apps in Arabic for his children. Though both his children are fluent in English and Arabic, Ward wanted better and more modern options for educational tools in Arabic, as he felt it would help bring them closer to their culture and increase their chances of learning Arabic faster and in a more engaging and fun way.
“I couldn’t find much that was high quality, educational but fun for my kids, particularly in Arabic,” Ward explains. While there were plenty of non-Arabic educational apps, Ward says he couldn’t find similar tools that allowed his children to learn and love the Arabic language.
The entrepreneur began his research consulting Arabic-speaking parents and found that 30% of the Arab world population, now estimated by the World Bank at over 425 million people, is below 14 years old. This presents an incredible opportunity with a huge, untapped market for a provider of Arabic-language educational technology.
“I met a lot of parents and realised that a lot are facing the same challenge as I did: which is, despite globalisation and everyone wanting to teach their kids English, we still want their mother language to be Arabic. For us, Arabic is not just the language. It’s the culture, the values and the history; it’s the music, the arts and the identity. It’s very deep.”
So the app was born and Ward developed Lamsa, working with researchers in Abu Dhabi and Helsinki. “We chose Helsinki because Finland is quite advanced in the education field, specifically in early childhood development. We wanted to combine the passion and the ambitions of Abu Dhabi with the best practices that have made Helsinki one of the top global places in terms of educational rankings. We developed our own edtech framework, which guides everything we do in relation to the kids, the content, the parents and all of the stakeholders.”
A while after its establishment, and as Ward was looking to grow his startup, Lamsa joined the Hub71 community as one of its first residents. Hub71 is a tech ecosystem located in Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) on Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The sector-agnostic ecosystem fosters tech growth within the region and welcomes startups from around the world to create a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and tech creators. Ward is clear, as one of Hub71’s first startups, that he believes any other tech startup would benefit from plugging in to the Arabian Gulf-based ecosystem.
Today, Lamsa is the number one application for children across more than 10 Arabic markets on both the Google Play store and the Apple store, and is used by 17 million children around the globe, according to Lamsa’s own data.
While that success is down to seeing a gap in the market and filling it with an effective and high-quality solution, Ward also explains how integral the benefits and incentives of the Hub71 ecosystem have been for both the company and his own personal success.
“The WeWork space at Hub71 is the best space we’ve ever seen in the region, if not the world. The vibrant community gives you a lot of energy and inspiration to work productively and collaborate with other founders and developers. With innovation, you need to have the right space, the right environment, the right mindset and like-minded individuals surrounding you.
“The second thing is the support of Hub71’s leadership and ecosystem enablers, including the Hub71 team, the access that you get to Mubadala Investment Company [a UAE sovereign wealth fund] and its portfolio of companies, to Abu Dhabi Investment Office, Microsoft, and of course, other established businesses, investors and founders.
What Ward is referring to is the Hub71’s non-equity-based incentive programme that offers:
• 50% to 100% subsidies on housing, health insurance and WeWork x Hub71 office space for up to three years
• Access to a global pool of talent and visa schemes
• Access to market – regional corporations and government agencies
• Networking and mentorship events, with real outcomes and relationships formed
• Better access to capital and funding vehicles
Ward, like most of the other startup founders from around the world operating in Hub71, is keen to tell everyone how welcoming Abu Dhabi and Hub71 have been and, with an economic downturn predicted by most commentators and experts, Abu Dhabi seems to be a smart bet for all startups.