Rania Hadi, Director, Developer & Startup Programs | MEAI at Huawei, talks about various initiatives taken by Huawei to support startups in this region.
How would you describe the startup landscape in the region and globally?
In short, it’s a very active scene from a funding, technology, and ecosystem standpoint. According to Forbes Middle East, startups in the MENA region alone raised US $910 million in disclosed funding in the first half of 2021. The UAE launched the National Program for Coders, which aims to train 100,000 coders, support the setup of 1,000 digital companies over five years, and direct AED 4 billion of investment towards startups. Saudi Arabia has pledged investment of more than US $1 billion in startups through the Public Investment Fund, and Egypt Ventures provides funding, office space, and mentorship for selected startups.
Given the global challenges in the last several years, there has also been an increase in the number of entrepreneurs around the world launching startups that address societal challenges, and support economies and the overall business ecosystem.
What kind of initiatives does Huawei run for startups in the region?
At Huawei, we help startups achieve their goals and scale their businesses by providing technical support, access to toolkits, and exposure opportunities to a global audience.
The annual Huawei HMS App Innovation Contest (Apps UP) is our flagship competition for mobile app developers globally, where we encourage developers to create smart and innovative apps. We have set aside US$1 million from our US$1 billion Shining Star Program as prize money for this contest.
Through Apps UP, developers can access training & development information, along with workshops to take full advantage of and integrate HMS kits. The total prize is US$1 million globally; US$200,000 is allocated for the top 20 apps in each region, including the Middle East & Africa.
We also launched a new initiative in the MEA region designed to support 15 businesses to enable them to grow their app user-base effectively, through HUAWEI AppGallery.
For app developers and startups, such initiatives provide customized guidance on scaling-up apps. The Huawei team lends their expertise and support for developers to gain access to a new audience pool.
List out your recent programs for startups and narrate the response from the startups to your programs in the region?
Last year, the Apps UP competition saw entries from over 700 individuals and teams from more than 170 countries. The contest attracts a broad range of apps considering there are awards for eight categories. For example, entries into the ‘Best Social Impact App’ category have demonstrated the potential of technology to positively impact lives.
One of last year’s winners, My Pregnancy Journey App, was developed by a South African female entrepreneur to address the lack of locally-relevant content and assistance for expecting mothers. Another Social Impact category winner, Deaf Sign Language App, helps its users to learn sign language by word or phrase, facilitating communication with those who are hard of hearing. Additionally, Aman, a healthcare app from Jordan, which won the MEA App of the Year, is helping limit the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
How would you define the impact of COVID-19 on startups?
With rampant digitization, traditional business models were already being disrupted, and the pandemic simply accelerated this. Startups everywhere – and all businesses, really – were forced to reconsider their business and marketing strategies, and double-down on their visibility and presence across all platforms. As customers spend more time online, startups are prioritizing their online presence by going mobile-first; this includes focusing more on creating a seamless online experience for customers. Aside from implementing new e- and m-commerce strategies, this shift to digital demanded startups to focus on app-commerce, as apps take the lead in engaging customers digitally.
Can you enlighten our readers about the Huawei HMS App Innovation Contest (Apps UP 2021)?
The Huawei HMS App Innovation Contest (Apps UP 2021) aims to inspire talented developers across the globe to create seamless, smart digital experiences.
The competition covers five geographical regions – the Middle East & Africa (MEA), Asia, North America, South America, and Europe. A total of US$200,000 in cash prizes is available to developers in each region.
This year’s contest includes eight categories such as Best App, Best Game, Best Social Impact App, Excellent Student Award, Tech Women’s Award, Best HMS Core Innovation Award, All-Scenario Coverage Award, and Honorable Mention.
Multiple cash prizes are awarded in each category. Individual prize amounts range from US$3,000 to US$15,000. Entrants can compete individually or as part of a team with up to three members. Extra perks for winners include promotional resources on HUAWEI AppGallery, Cloud resources, and exclusive incentives for paid HMS Core capabilities.
UMX Studio’s King of Steering, its flagship mobile game, saw one million downloads in only six months since its release on HUAWEI AppGallery. I encourage app owners and developers to register and showcase their capabilities and achievements to a global audience. You could apply, win, and see your download count increase to a million or more!
How do competitions like Apps UP help incubate app and game developers in the region?
By competing in Apps UP, participants can leverage Huawei’s HMS Core, win a number of cash prizes, and have their app listed and profiled on HUAWEI AppGallery.
HMS Core provides basic services designed to simplify app development; it enables app developers to safely and seamlessly integrate features such as secure sign-in, in-app payments and downloads, ad placement, alerts, real-time positioning and cloud backup.
Being part of Huawei’s developer community also exposes participants to global best practices and innovation, and potentially drive awareness, partnerships, and continued success.
How can developers enroll for the competition?
In order to participate, entrants must sign up online on https://developer.huawei.com/ using their HUAWEI ID. Anyone new to Huawei Mobile Services and HMS Core can check out training courses and developer documentation that will help them get up to speed on the same website. Additionally, Huawei will host numerous training and experience-sharing sessions through local developer groups.
More details, including all the dates you need to know, can be found here.
How can aspiring entrepreneurs, startups, developers approach Huawei for support?
We continuously host a variety of workshops and trainings on our developer platform. Even, recently we hosted a series of workshops and training sessions at the DIFC Innovation Hub, during the HUAWEI Innovation Week, on-site and online. Entrepreneurs and developers gained valuable industry knowledge through courses and workshops on HMS kits and capabilities.
Developers can also join their local Huawei Developer Group and connect with other tech enthusiasts to learn from each other and acquire new skills.
Lastly, developers with expertise in Huawei Mobile Services will be recognized as Developer Experts. They will receive an official certificate and have priority access to new Huawei tech capabilities.
Share a recent success story in brief that could be a source of inspiration for the startup community?
KSA-based Yalla Group reported record downloads and unprecedented in-app purchase revenue since it released its flagship gaming app Yalla Ludo on HUAWEI AppGallery in August 2020. From its first availability on HUAWEI AppGallery in August 2020, until May 2021, Yalla Ludo has been downloaded more than 1.3 million times! The decision to embrace the Huawei ecosystem was a resounding success, and consequently, Yalla Group has also released the Yalla chat app on HUAWEI AppGallery.
What advice have you to offer to all the budding startups and entrepreneurs who wish to start a new venture?
My advice is to be solution-focused, and to innovate to add value. If you have a good idea that relates to a problem that many people face, get started, build intelligently, and iterate frequently. Take advantage of the wealth of resources and support that are readily available.
Enabling and empowering startups and developers is central to our business strategy. At Huawei, we seek to catalyse their growth by providing them with strategic guidance, exposure opportunities, and access to the tools, training, and technology necessary to make their venture a success. Our goal is to help developers throughout their journey and create more success stories from the region!