In a special half-hour programme CNN’s Startup Trail explores the startups making their dreams a reality in Abu Dhabi, from the tech giants navigating a public traded company, to the climate activists using the Emirate as a launchpad to the world.

Farm2Table is a catering and consulting company focusing on sustainable agriculture and organic produce. With the UAE currently importing 90% of its food, agriculture-based startups are receiving investments as a top priority. Jessica Queitsch, the founder of Farm2Table, spent years cooking in kitchens in Paris and Tokyo before moving to Abu Dhabi to take advantage of the startup scene. She says, “Being here is such an exciting time because there is so much that is happening in a sense of creativity and startups, and you have the openness to kind of do what you want.”


Entrepreneur Nadim Habr founded Designhubz, a company which provides augmented reality solutions for e-commerce brands and allows users to try on products virtually before purchasing them. To scale his business, Habr is looking to secure funding, which he believes is one of the most challenging aspects of startups, “It’s really a complete hustle, like everything else in a startup. But having renowned backers like the ones we already have, and the right partners is a crucial part because it’s a network effect.”

Habr is part of Hub71, a government initiative aimed at attracting startups, which has helped more than 100 companies since its launch in 2019. Ahmad Alwan, Deputy CEO of Hub71, says, “We have all the right infrastructure, all the right support, all the right enablement elements to support the growth of a startup.”

With more than 200 islands making up the city, Abu Dhabi was the ideal place for startup Archireef to launch their regional headquarters. Founded in Hong Kong, the company aims to accelerate the recovery of marine ecosystems by placing 3D printed tiles on the seabed. Co-founder Vriko Yu explains, “For coral to settle in a sea bed, they need to have a stable substrate, but they don’t have roots by themselves. So what we are creating is basically renovating an inhospitable environment to a liveable substrate for coral to regrow.”

Like many companies that move to Abu Dhabi, Yu tells CNN that she sees the city as a gateway to the wider region, “Making the decision to build a regional production hub here is because first, we know that the market is here and also it has the feasibility and convenience to travel, to expand, to transport our product outside of the UAE to the rest of the world as well.”

While Abu Dhabi is attracting foreign founders to set up their businesses in the region, it’s also encouraging homegrown startups to dive into new markets, like Badr Ward and his startup Lamsa. Lamsa is an interactive ed-tech platform geared towards developing and teaching young children. Since launching in Abu Dhabi in 2014, Ward says he has raised $10 million dollars and grown Lamsa in more than 20 countries, “We continue to look for the right partnerships, the right investors that would allow us to grow Lamsa into a global proposition covering key markets.”

Finally, the programme highlights Anghami, the music streaming platform headquartered in Abu Dhabi. The two founders Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib made headlines this year when they listed their startup on the NASDAQ. Maroun speaks about this milestone, “It was a great moment honestly. We felt that we are really bringing with us a whole nation, literally. It was the first Arab tech company to reach that milestone. It was something.”

Maroun says that now is when the real work begins, “What you want to do is actually making a bigger impact and keep growing. That’s what keeps us going, and no matter how old you become, you still have something that, you need a purpose. You have something that you are trying to achieve, so I don’t think it will differ, whether you’re two, three years old, or 10 year old company.”

With more than 70 million users on their platform, Habib says they’re focused on evolving Anghami from streaming music to a fully integrated entertainment platform, and on providing inspiration for the next generation of startups, “We hope that we will allow the Arab people to be proud that you can build a company from scratch in the region and you can get to the NASDAQ. You can compete with giants. I hope other companies will start from here and go worldwide, and way bigger than what we’ve attempted so far.”

Alwan sums up the potential of the region, “We’re going to see incredible technologies, companies that graduate from Abu Dhabi programs and initiatives. It is taking shape and it’s phenomenal the progress that we’ve been able to achieve in a short amount of time.”

Startup Trail airs on Saturday 26th November at 15:00 GST on CNN International

The show also airs at the following times:

Sunday 27th November at 06:30 GST, 09:30 GST and 22:00 GST

Monday 28th November at 03:30 GST