Dubai startup wins shot at $1m Venture fund

Five GCC companies make it to the final round of global social enterprise competition

A social enterprise that gifts handcrafted rag dolls to orphans has won first place in the GCC finals for the $1m The Venture competition.

Dubai-based Dumyé, which gifts one doll for each sold, to be decorated by the children in art workshops held around the Middle East, beat four regional companies to win over the judging panel.

The company partners with a non-governmental organisation in Uttar Pradesh, India, to produce the dolls used in the art workshops. The business model aims to empower women in the community to become self-sufficient, with proceeds going into funding girls’ education.

“The judges saw the diamond in the rough and how they could help me get where I need to go,” said Dumyé’s founder, Sahar Wahbeh. “I have a lot of preparation to do before the final to get my plan in order and I’m really looking forward to sitting down with the judges and getting more detailed feedback.”

Next, Wahbeh will head to the global final in California’s Silicon Valley. There, she will compete with 16 other international finalists for a chance to win a share of $1m prize fund to help to develop her business.

Five regional companies made it to the final round, including two crowd-funding platforms, Pi Slice and EdAid; The [sameness] Project, an organisation developing and promoting social initiatives; and Arab Ecology, a start-up promoting sustainable practices. Each contestant presented their ideas to a panel of expert judges, while explaining who benefits from their company and what problem they are attempting to solve.

“Sahar Wahbeh told a very authentic, emotionally inspiring, strong business case based story,” said Soushiant Zanganehpur, strategy and special projects consultant at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and one of The Venture’s judges. “What we saw in this particular business was an opportunity to build up a case with an entrepreneur who was coachable and open to feedback. I think some of the other models were maybe too big and too far ahead and our ability to be catalytic was less prevalent.

“The most important thing is she has an emotionally bought in consumer demographic that absolutely loves her product because it is well-crafted, authentic and does good at the same time,” he added. “The good can be optimised and balanced out with the business case.”

The Venture is a competition for social enterprise startups, offering 17 finalists from around the world a chance to pitch for a share of a $1m prize fund during a week–long mentoring workshop in San Francisco.

Photo credit: Dumyé