Masdar News

Masdar City and DANA Sign MoU to develop beta site for innovative agritech pilot projects and testing in the UAE

07 Jun 2022

• Agreement will support startups in developing solutions that combat food security issues and accelerate agritech sector progression

• Founded by women, DANA serves as a venture builder and investment platform for women-led desert tech startups 

• New facility is set to be operational in Q4 2022 

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 7th June 2022: 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.

Commenting on the new partnership, Ahmed Baghoum, Acting Executive Director, Masdar City, 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,” Baghoum, 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 partnerships development.

Masdar City and DANA will collaborate to ensure the beta site fulfils 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 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.

About Masdar City
Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s most sustainable developments. It is a working model for cities around the world in environmental, economic, and social sustainability, and continues to push the boundaries of innovation. The City hosts Abu Dhabi’s only planned and approved R&D cluster; Masdar City Free Zone, which is a growing hub for sustainability-focused innovative businesses; and a residential neighborhood with restaurants, shops, sporting facilities and public green spaces. Masdar City is home to companies dedicated to developing innovations across the sectors of renewables, space, energy storage, artificial intelligence, agriculture, health, and mobility. These include, the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the UAE Space Agency, the regional headquarters of Siemens Energy, G42 Healthcare, the Advanced Technology Research Council, several Fortune 500 companies, hundreds of entrepreneurs, a startup accelerator program via The Catalyst, and the world's first university dedicated to artificial intelligence: the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence. Masdar City has also pioneered two generations of autonomous vehicles and continues to extend the frontiers of alternative and sustainable transport.
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About DANA
DANA is an Abu Dhabi based venture builder and investment platform for women-led startups in desert tech, including the sectors of agritech, foodtech, water solutions, renewable energy, and circular economy. The DANA bespoke program works hands-on with startups between pre-seed to series A from the MENA region for 8-14 months, coordinating POC and feasibility testing at beta sites, business model construction and financial modeling, implementation of AI tools, legal consultation and company registration, and business development for MENA markets. 
The DANA Venture Builder is currently working with 6 companies from the UAE, Palestine, Israel, and KSA, 4 of which have witnessed over 3x increase in valuation during the acceleration period. DANA’s founders are bringing disruptive solutions that can scale easily and practically in the untapped markets of MENA, with an emphasis on Egypt, KSA, Pakistan, and Morocco. 
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