Masdar City, the regional home of technology innovation and R&D in Abu Dhabi, and DANA, the Abu Dhabi-based venture builder and investment platform have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to advance food security at the national level, contribute to agritech sustainability, and support the UAE in meeting key objectives in line with the National Food Security Strategy 2051.
Under the agreement, Masdar City and DANA, which supports women-led startups across the sectors of agritech, energy and water solutions, and circular economy, will build its first Abu Dhabi-based beta site in Masdar City. The beta site will test the feasibility of early-stage agritech projects that can be developed and piloted in Abu Dhabi. The beta site will focus on local and regional startups with solutions between the ‘pre-seed’ and ‘Series A’ development phases upon completion.
The MoU was signed by Abdulla Balalaa, Executive Director, Masdar City, and Zada Haj, CEO of DANA, at an official ceremony in Abu Dhabi.
Commenting on the new partnership, Abdulla Balalaa said, “R&D has always been the catalyst for bringing innovative projects to life, driving essential reform, and delivering positive change across industries and society. As the only planned and approved R&D cluster in Abu Dhabi, Masdar City, will ensure these outcomes continue and play a central role in shaping the sustainable industries of tomorrow by welcoming startups and supporting their projects as they transition from creative concepts to effective forces for good in their designated fields.”
“Our partnership with DANA represents the latest step toward meeting this mandate, and we are delighted to make the official announcement. This beta site will be an invaluable hub for the enhancement of the agritech sector where innovation and technology – led by women – once again prevails as the winning combination behind long-term sustainability and success,” Balalaa continued.
The beta facility will promote local innovation and provide a next-generation platform for startups to showcase the potential of their homegrown agrifood solutions ahead of market entry. It will also ensure companies from the UAE, and wider MENA have the infrastructure and guidance required to overcome food security challenges and resource scarcity in desert locations. In doing so, several National Food Security Strategy 2051 priorities will be boosted, including enhancing local production, enabling sustainable food production through modern technologies, and diversifying food sources via partnership development.
Masdar City and DANA will collaborate to ensure the beta site fulfills its potential as a pioneering studio and springboard for agritech innovators with cutting-edge solutions. Attention and investment towards the most promising solutions emerging from the site will be prioritized.
The partnership has already begun engaging with venture capitalists and incubators from across the MENA region to offer services to portfolio companies as the agritech sector grows. The regional agriculture market is projected to grow a compound annual growth rate of 5.7% through 2026 while increasing food demands, and long-standing food security challenges also amplify the need for innovative breakthroughs and solutions.
Zada Haj, co-founder and CEO of DANA, said, “We witness the Abu Dhabi ecosystem’s potential on a daily basis. However, the option for hands-on testing of the tech solutions in the field is often missing. For the agritech sector, a pivot is more than just a new line of code, so the product needs to be tested for its feasibility, accessibility, and affordability as early as possible.”
Operating for nearly two years, DANA – founded by three women – has served as a venture builder and investment platform for women-led desert tech startups since its establishment. As a result of DANA’s focus on female entrepreneurs, the new beta site will emphasize the importance of providing opportunities for the UAE’s female founders to scale, which aligns with the UAE National Agenda surrounding women empowerment.
When completed, the site will consist of 1,700 square meters of greenhouses, net houses, and open field farming, displaying diverse approaches to the sustainable production of crops in the desert. Furthermore, the beta site will focus on developing solutions with the potential to overcome water scarcity, irrigation, greenhouse cooling, and soil cultivation and regeneration challenges, as well as testing the resilience of new seed varieties.
With many startups already submitting applications to test at Masdar City, construction is set to begin in July 2022 before full-time operations are set to start by Q4 this year.