Hundreds Apply for the Fikra Labs Acceleration Programme

MENA startups to leverage technological advancements to drive forward Abu Dhabi’s travel and tourism sector

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 7 April: Registration for Fikra Labs, an acceleration programme aimed at driving innovation and fostering entrepreneurship in the Abu Dhabi travel and tourism sector, has officially closed and the selected startups are now embarking upon a four-week incubation programme. Launched in early February as part of the UAE Innovation Month, the programme was led by four of Abu Dhabi’s top organisations – the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, Miral, Etihad Aviation Group and Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) – supported by Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and in collaboration with Wamda.

During the one-month registration period that ended in March, hundreds of MENA startups registered their participation in the Fikra Labs programme. This was then followed by a screening process before the selected startups moved forward to receive unparalleled mentorship opportunities and the chance to win a potential monetary investment, as well as an opportunity to structure their business in the capital’s international financial centre Abu Dhabi Global Market.

With technology continuously shaping the way travelers interact with destinations, the shortlisted applicants were tasked with the important mission of harnessing the power of technology to pitch creative solutions that tackle the different partners’ business challenges. Enhancing the visitor’s experience – from the moment they book their ticket to arriving to Abu Dhabi – was a key focus as applicants moved forward through the various stages. Partners were looking for ideas that best tackle these challenges and support them in establishing Abu Dhabi’s credentials as the leading hub for world-class tourism.

Each partner will select one winner to work with directly after the programme is over. The ultimate reward for each winning startup is a potential $100,000 investment by the relevant partner, as well as the unique opportunity to work directly with one of Abu Dhabi’s leading organisations and become an integral part of the Emirate’s travel and tourism landscape.

H.E. Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, said: “On behalf of all the partners involved in this programme, we look forward to working with creative minds who will drive innovation and further elevate Abu Dhabi’s position as the leading global hub for travel and tourism. As part of our mandate to promote Abu Dhabi as a destination of distinction, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, joined efforts with Miral, Etihad Aviation Group and ADNEC, supported by ADGM, to identify technology-enabled solutions that would support all partners to continue providing visitors with the best experiences. We have high expectations from all applicants as their ideas will play a pivotal role in driving the government’s vision forward, fueling more growth within the travel and tourism segment, and raising the emirate’s profile on the world map of leading tourism destinations.”

Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Etihad is honoured to be joining forces with major government and private sector partners on the important Fikra Labs initiative, which highlights the need for collaboration to harness our individual strengths to be truly innovative, and to address our industry’s challenges head-on with a single vision. It is gratifying for us all to see so much focus placed on the support and development of our local talent, on entrepreneurship, and on nurturing the disruptive potential available in this creative pool, building a more holistic value chain representing the travel and tourism sector across the emirate. We understand that we must continuously adapt to drive innovation in the wider aviation industry and contribute to the economic growth of the UAE.

“Etihad is deeply invested in the programme, as both a partner and co-creator. We have used our own in-house talent to develop the Fikra Labs portal, challenging start-ups to develop effective solutions to collate and analyse customer feedback in real-time using advanced digital processes, AI analytical tools, and big data to develop customer personalisation.”

All applications received were reviewed by a screening committee composed of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, Miral, Etihad Aviation Group, ADNEC and Wamda, and scored according to pre-established judging criteria and scoring metrics that included a thorough understanding of the business challenge they are trying to solve, the relevance to the industry verticals, the potential to scale and become sustainable and the team’s strength, qualifications, and ability to deliver.

Applicants with the highest scores were then invited to a 30-minute interview with the committee to learn more about them and check if they had the required technical and leadership skills, motivation, commitment and resilience to make their startups successful. The 32 shortlisted startups then joined a two-day mini boot camp designed as an intensive workshop to help participants develop their business ideas and become pitch-ready. They pitched their business ideas to the screening committee who then chose the 12 final teams to be part of a four-week incubation programme. Before embarking upon this process, the finalists had the opportunity to meet with HE Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director General of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, and talk about the disruption within the tourism industry, and their Fikra Labs journey so far.

The final step of the programme will be a one-day event in which the finalists will attend working sessions with the Wamda team and industry experts to finalise their prototype, pitches and presentation decks. They will then pitch their ideas to the jury and participate in a Q&A session. The day will conclude with an awards ceremony, where four winners will be announced.

For more information on the Fikra Labs acceleration programme, please visit

About The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi:

The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi conserves and promotes the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi emirate and leverages them in the development of a world-class, sustainable destination of distinction that enriches the lives of visitors and residents alike. The Department manages the emirate’s tourism sector and markets the destination internationally through a wide range of activities aimed at attracting visitors and investment. Its policies, plans and programmes relate to the preservation of heritage and culture, including protecting archaeological and historical sites and to developing museums, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi supports intellectual and artistic activities and cultural events to nurture a rich cultural environment and honour the emirate’s heritage. A key role played by the Department is to create synergy in the destination’s development through close coordination with its wide-ranging stakeholder base.

About Miral:

Miral is Abu Dhabi’s creator of destinations, uniting people and places through unique, immersive and exciting experiences. Responsible for the development and management of Yas Island, Miral’s assets encompass entertainment, hospitality, leisure, sport, dining, retail and real estate destinations. Today, Yas Island is home to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, Yas Links Golf Course, Yas Mall, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Marina and seven hotels, including the flagship Yas Viceroy. For more information on Miral, visit

About Etihad Aviation Group:

Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, the Etihad Aviation Group (EAG) is a diversified global aviation and travel group comprising five business divisions – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates; Etihad Airways Engineering; Etihad Airport Services; Hala Group and Airline Equity Partners. For more information, please visit:

About Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company:

Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) is playing a vital role in the Emirate’s ambition to become a leading destination for business meetings and events. Through bidding for and

hosting international conferences and exhibitions, ADNEC’s economic impact to Abu Dhabi is undeniably immense and is consistently rising year on year.

The Group is made up of Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, Al Ain Convention Centre, ExCeL London, Capital Gate, ADNEC Services, Capital Hospitality, Hyatt Capital Gate, Aloft Abu Dhabi and Aloft London ExCeL.

About Abu Dhabi Global Market:

Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) is a broad-based international financial centre, playing a pivotal role in positioning Abu Dhabi as a global centre for business and finance. It serves as a strategic link between the growing economies of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia and the rest of the world.

Comprising three independent authorities – the Registration Authority, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority and ADGM Courts – ADGM enables financial institutions, investors, corporate headquarters, service providers and entrepreneurs to thrive together and operate within a trusted international regulatory framework based on English Common Law, and with access to flexible and cost-effective legal vehicles, set-up services and ecosystem support. Since its inception, ADGM has been awarded the “Financial Centre of the Year (MENA)” for two consecutive years for its initiatives and contributions to the financial and capital markets industry in the region.