The banner of theUCAN Initiative, which aims to handpick startups that made a decisive intervention in the aftermath of the pandemic. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) is launching a $250,000 prize for high prospect startups in the Middle East and Africa. The prize comes free of any equity requirements.

The ‘UCAN’ programme will home in on entrepreneurs who invested in creating tangible solutions for current and pressing global challenges imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak. To be eligible, startups must have a fully developed product or minimum viable product (MVP), showcase growth and impact, and be interested in expanding into the MENA market.

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Finalists will be selected in both categories, and winners in each track will be awarded a $100,000 grant each, while runners-up will receive $25,000 each.

In May, Sheraa launched a $1 million solidarity fund to help startups that were facing financial strain due to the coronavirus pandemic, through grants, commissioned projects and competitions.

“UCAN (which stands for Ubuntu Care And Nurture) reinforces Sheraa’s commitment to fostering a vibrant culture of impactful entrepreneurship," said Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa. "We want to support startups whose unique health-tech and food-tech solutions are meeting the urgent needs of not just the communities they serve, but the world at large.

"These talented changemakers are everywhere, and we aim to ensure they have a platform that elevates the impact they’re making.”

The UCAN initiative is looking for entrepreneurs working on socially-minded innovations specifically under the two tracks of ‘Healing the World’ for healthtech and ‘Feeding the Future’ for foodtech.

Taking up the challenge
The UCAN initiative is a follow up to the #UbuntuLoveChallenge – a global movement founded by Sheraa's Chairperson Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi and Africa 2.0 Foundation founder Mamadou Kwidjim Toure, to inspire changemakers to actively help their communities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.