Video Credit: Logan Fish, Sonia Shah, Anas Thacharpadikkal and Stefan Lindeque

An Abu Dhabi start-up has won the opportunity to take its business to the next level by securing flights worth Dh100,000 on Emirates Airline. EZ Shade is an innovative SME that creates low-cost ceiling light covers. The company’s product offers a simple solution to the common problem expats face of decorating their rental homes without investing too much of their income.

The products, which have already sold in thousands, are manufactured in the UAE. They are made from recycled plastic and non-toxic, environmentally friendly materials. They are also World Fair Trade Organisation certified. The patented covers require no tools to install and fit to a variety of fixtures. The team behind EZ Shade demonstrated their claim that the products can be installed in less than five seconds to a panel of judges at Emirates HQ in Dubai.

Sheikh Majid Al Mualla of Emirates Airline, right, and Mohammed Almezel of Gulf News, left, with Brian Wholehan of EZ Shade, the winner of Flying Colours, a competition for UAE-based start-ups Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque

EZ Shade was one of four finalists selected to present their SMEs to the panel at Emirates. The final was the culmination of a Gulf News competition called Flying Colours. The competition was designed to provide a platform for the UAE’s exciting start-up sector. It was conceived in partnership with Emirates Airline to discover and share the innovative ideas and stories of small businesses.

The four finalists were selected from more than 300 entrants, based on the merit of their concepts and the ethical and social values of their businesses. The pillars of Expo 2020 – sustainability, mobility and connecting minds - as well as the principles of the Year of Tolerance were used as references for deciding a winner.

The five judges included four representatives from Emirates Airline and the managing editor of Gulf News, Mohammed Almezel. Emirates was represented by Sheikh Majid Al Mualla – Divisional Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations Centre, Jori Bindels – Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing & Brand, Mohammed Alnahari Alhashmi - Corporate Sales Manager Dubai, and Joseph Alcantara – Marketing Communications Manager.

Following the announcement of the winner, Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, addressed the finalists. “I think that all four of you here are winners today and that’s the one thing you should know,” he said.

The three shortlisted runners-up included Reading Hub, which is Pakistani expat Sidra Jawad’s mobile app start-up. Reading Hub provides a platform for selling pre-owned books with the intention of making reading financially accessible for everyone.

HomeCycle, another finalist, offers a service where recyclable waste is collected, free of charge, from homes, offices and schools. Users can download an Uber-style mobile app and they are incentivised by rewards to recycle more. Describing the inspiration behind the business, Co-founder Micheline Thienpont said that when she and her husband moved to Dubai from Belgium, where people are fined for not recycling, they realised that they needed to provide people with the opportunity to recycle conveniently.

The final runner-up was Aqua Bridge, which is a sustainable aquaculture business that aims to reduce the pressure on wild resources and reduce the UAE’s reliance on food imports. Aqua Bridge was represented by Indian CEO, Mohammad Tabish.

Reflecting on what qualities the panelists were looking for from the winning SME, Sheikh Majid said, “We want the finalist to be very creative, offer something unique and show a vision of growth for the future.”

The eventual winner’s CEO and founder, Brian Wholehan, and Co-Founder Alan Chu, intend to use the tickets to expand his business both regionally and internationally. “I’m over the moon. We’ve worked very hard on this project for a long time and it’s awesome to see it finally pay off and make some progress. If we get our name out there, we can build this into a really huge company,” said Wholehan.

To follow the winner’s journey and discover more about the UAE’s SMEs visit Ideas Runway