Inaugural Cohort: A Year in Review
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
The first cohort of 5 retail tech startups arrived on a balmy Monday morning in late September, 2018. It would be another month until we officially moved into our space in Building 6 of Dubai Design District – until then, our makeshift office in Chalhoub Group would do. The first week of orientation included a welcome dinner overlooking the fountain at Burj Khalifa, a retail safari in Dubai Mall and a first round of speed-dating with brand managers from the Group.
Our collective tasks for the three months of the accelerator program were manifold; culture building, knowledge transferring, rapid experimenting and concept proving. With a small but mighty team of three, Dina Sidani, Haya Shaath & Rafi Dikranian – we scrapped our “job titles”, rolled up our sleeves and got down with the endless to-dos of launching a new initiative. Together, we formulated The Greenhouse Manifesto to ground us in our approach to work, guided by our purpose: growing and unleashing collective brilliance.
Establishing and living The Greenhouse values predates the arrival of the startups; it began with the first cohort of Ibtikarians (Chalhoub’s internal innovation lab). With Rafi as a pseudo-entrepreneur-in-residence, and Chiara (aptly nicknamed Baby Shark) – an ode her youthfulness coupled with a feisty and go-getter attitude. Today, Ibtikar is incubating 4 ideas at varying stages – more on that later.
Through interactions between startups and corporate sponsors (Chalhoub brand managers), Ibtikarians and The Greenhouse team; knowledge-transfer and entrepreneurial capability development were inevitable. The space allowed for organic interactions over coffee and lunch breaks, skill-sharing and critiquing. From a more structured perspective, we worked with our training partners, Astrolabs to develop workshops targeted towards both The Greenhouse members and select people across the Chalhoub Group. Topics ranged from setting up a business in the UAE to pitching, digital marketing to data science for managers. As part of our 2019 calendar of events, The Greenhouse will be hosting a multitude of events, talks, workshops open to Chalhoub Group employees and the entrepreneurial and creative communities – keep an eye out.
Our inaugural cohort of startups gained considerable traction working alongside corporate sponsors. The goal of this program is to connect startups (solutions) to corporate sponsors (opportunities) –working together to develop and implement their services across the brand, Group and region. To date, 11 POCs have been tested, and 4 out of 5 startups are returning for another 3 months to roll out their solutions. Most are also aiming to open offices and continue rolling out their solutions regionally.
An anecdotal indicator the encompasses the impact of the program, was when Martin Ponsan (Brand Analyst, Tory Burch) pitched on behalf of StoreDNA – one of the startups he was working with. This all-in buy-in and excitement towards new ideas and new ways of working is the truest example of organizational and cultural change.
As we look at the year ahead, we want to infuse the entrepreneurial spirit and momentum picked up in the last quarter of 2018; be it through sponsoring incoming startups, pitching ideas for Ibtikar, engagement at workshops and events, or simply just good conversations.