Star Tech: 8X Ventures powers deep-tech growth in UAE

The VC fund seeks to bridge the critical gap in patient capital in cutting-edge technology in the country and the wider region



(Clockwise from top) Chirag Gupta, Vinod Agarwal, Esha Arya and Ajay Rajput
(Clockwise from top) Chirag Gupta, Vinod Agarwal, Esha Arya and Ajay Rajput
by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Fri 23 Dec 2022, 9:33 PM

8X Ventures is a deep-tech-focused Venture Capital (VC) fund, targetting start-ups that will fundamentally transform industries and economies through a robust scientific and research foundation.

“We believe that sustainable solutions are complex and interdisciplinary and require deep technical and market research. Capturing this value early enables us to impact long-term outcomes strategically. Investing in these technologies in select sectors can make a deep impact while generating high-risk adjusted returns,” according to Chirag Gupta, managing partner at 8X Ventures.

The VC fund seeks to bridge the critical gap in patient capital in deep-tech in the UAE and across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

“The fund has actively invested in India, the UK and Singapore. Once we invest, we work with them to scale their operations in the UAE and the wider region,” he said.

So far, 8X Ventures have made 12 investments.

“Out of these, five are deep-tech start-ups that are critical and relevant to the UAE and beyond,” he added.

Gupta lavished praise on the ease of doing business in Dubai and the UAE.

“Dubai and the UAE have long been a pioneer in the region for ease of doing business, ranking top in the Middle East and 16th globally in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report 2020,” he said.

He cited two recent initiatives that made talent availability easier in the UAE.

“For example, the young nation issued new licences and visas to attract precocious talents from freelancers to doctors and superannuated professionals. Talent Pass licence for freelancers is aimed at the creative community members, more specifically, the art, technology, marketing, media, education, culture, and consultancy industries.

"Or, consider the UAE's 10-year golden visa for entrepreneurs, inventors and scientists,” he said.

He said multiple initiatives by the visionary government have made entrepreneurship easier, such as the setting of the Ministry for Entrepreneurship and SMEs in 2020.

“The UAE Ministry of Economy recently launched an updated programme to develop 8,000 SMEs and start-ups by 2030. Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 created an incentive programme offering subsidies of up to $800,000 (Dh29,38,320) equity-free, to cover the initial costs of setting up. Seed-stage start-ups receive free housing, health insurance and office space in Abu Dhabi for two years. Series A companies receive 50 per cent off housing, insurance and office rent for three years,” he said.

Besides, the Abu Dhabi General Market (ADGM) has adopted some of the most progressive regulations for VC investments in the region.

Gupta, who has had a stint in Singapore and also studied in the city state, felt that Dubai holds a bigger opportunity over the Southeast Asian nation as far as the deep-tech start-up ecosystem is concerned.

“The UAE’s locational advantage is next to none, as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman are all bullish about making rich investments in quality deep-tech solutions. The access to these markets from the UAE holds the key,” he said.

Data shows that 31 deep-tech start-ups in the region have raised over $32.5 million (Dh119.37 million) until September 2021, which, however, pales in significance to Europe, India, China, and the USA.

Though the GCC may not have the first-mover advantage, it can leapfrog in technology and adoption,” Gupta said.

And 8X Ventures seeks to power that growth.

“We’re headquartered in Dubai and are uniquely positioned to invest/collaborate with deep-tech start-ups in India, Singapore and the UK and help them expand into this region’s markets. We’re on track to successfully launch four such start-ups (see box) that are going to make a key difference to the industries and economies in the region.” he said.

“The intent is to enable entrepreneurs to solve large and fundamental issues by operating at the convergence of technologies such as AI, Big data, 3D printing, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain,” he added.

Putting money where the mouth is

The 8X Ventures portfolio includes start-ups such as XYMA, Solinas, D-Nome and ZenPulsar. They are making significant contributions to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals set by the UAE while making a significant improvement to the quality of life in the region.

XYMA

XYMA Analytics addresses issues with conventional process sensors with its novel ultrasonic waveguide-based sensor technology. This helps industries to continuously monitor their process parameters with a patented industrial IoT with a vision to democratise its sensor-based process efficiency for industries and also provide plant-wide distributed and concurrent sensing solutions for data-driven decision-making. This is difficult using conventional sensing solutions. XYMA also has a soft sensing tool, which uses a physics-based model along with the sensor data to improve the measurement and prognosis of the asset conditions to the end-user.

ONGC, Reliance Industries, Shell and ExxonMobil are some of the global majors that have adopted their technology.

Solinas

Solinas Integrity, an Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M)-based deep-tech start-up, is resolving pipeline leaks and tank cleaning issues in the water and sanitation industry by developing next-gen pipeline integrity management solutions. Solinas has developed next-generation robots for internal condition assessment and defect detection in pipelines such as live visual inspection, surface analysis, crack and hole detection, etc. The robots can easily identify the location of the defects and perform analytics so that asset managers can take preventive maintenance actions, and consequently reduce losses. Multiple state governments in India have tested and implemented the solution.

D-Nome

D-Nome uses cutting-edge D-Lamp technology to make genomics-based diagnostics affordable and accessible. D-Nome has created a disruptive platform technology D-LAMP, one of the world’s first room-temperature (37 degrees Celsius) RT-PCR, completely eliminating the need for RT-PCR machines. D-LAMP is a one-step, easy protocol removing the need for skilled technicians. Using D-LAMP, diagnostic labs can now reduce their operational costs by 10x and deliver results 5x faster. D-LAMP is a versatile platform technology with massive market adjacencies, addressing a rapidly growing $40 (Dh146.92) billion screening & diagnostics market at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15 per cent.

D-Nome, which is making a major impact on all respiratory diseases, is also relevant for livestock screening and veterinary diagnostics, a big industry across the GCC.

ZeNPulsar

ZeNPulsar’s data-centric AI technology helps reinforce integrity and trust in social media, helping organisations to monitor online reputation campaigns, including disinformation and harmful narratives. The start-up analyses billions of data points from multiple social media platforms to extract unique value for the financial services sector, businesses, and governments. It’s cutting-edge data-centric AI technology clears the noise out of social media, and users can identify early market signals, emerging trends and viral narratives.

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Who are the brains behind 8X Ventures?

Chirag Gupta

Chirag Gupta is the managing partner at 8X Ventures. Prior to 8X, he has held leadership positions at 500 Global (the most active early-stage Venture Capital firm with $3 billion [Dh11.02 billion] assets under management or AuM), Careem (Mena’s first unicorn acquired by Uber at $3.1 billion [Dh11.39 billion] ), McKinsey (best management consulting firm worldwide), PwC and Korn Ferry. He has helped multinational companies (MNCs), small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and start-ups build and implement strategies. He has also partnered with governments of eight countries to grow their start-up ecosystem.

Gupta holds a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Singapore’s Nanyang Business School. He studied Business Analytics at Harvard University. He graduated in business studies from India’s Delhi University.

Esha Arya

Esha Arya is the general partner at 8X Ventures. She is also the vice-chairperson of JBM Group, a $2.2-billion (Dh8.08-billion) conglomerate with operations across 10 countries. She holds an MBA from INSEAD, France, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Boston University, USA. She also co-founded ThirdEye AI, a customised artificial intelligence (AI) solution provider for smart cities, smart logistics, smart mobility and industry 4.0.


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