Health plant: UAEU team finds new use for desert flora
Startup Aroma Niche being developed, having hit on the idea of extracting original aromas of native species to create chemical-free, luxurious and locall- produced healthcare products
A team of entrepreneurs from United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) is aiming to use plants of the desert to bring a new, environmentally-friendly dimension to aromatherapy, aligning local cultural heritage with alternative healthcare.
An ambitious team is developing a startup company, Aroma Niche, at UAEU's Science and Innovation Park (SIP), a unique research hub and student innovation incubator, having hit on the idea of extracting the original aromas of native species of desert plants to create chemical-free, luxurious and locally-produced healthcare products.
"Aroma Niche is a reflection of our deep appreciation of the UAE," explained Suzan Marwan Shahin, a PhD candidate in horticultural science at UAEU's College of Food and Agriculture and founder of the startup company. Shahin conducted a study examining the native plants of the UAE, which then became the topic of her dissertation.
"Surprisingly, there was a distinguished aroma diffused from plant material, and I was amazed how a desert plant could produce such a wonderful aroma. I started searching for the reasons why and I found that the plants survive harsh environmental conditions by producing valuable organic materials, such as essential oils, that act as defence phytochemicals."
Shahin directed her PhD studies in this areas and created the first databank for essential Emirati oil-bearing plants, along with her best friend, Rahaf Ajaj, who is also a PhD candidate in horticultural science at UAEU. The databank was compiled over more than two years of extensively reviewing literature on around 800 species native to the UAE. Of these, 135 are considered to bear essential oils.
Once it was completed, Shahin and Ajaj looked at how the data could be used not only as an information tool, but also as the foundation for a new startup business. When UAEU launched its Challenge for Innovation competition in 2016, the two friends put forward their idea to establish an innovative aromatherapy business based on native UAE plants. They won the competition, and their startup company is now registered in SIP's incubator programme.
"We attended many potential professional workshops and meetings designed by the SIP to guide us in how to develop our idea and convert it into a real, profitable business. We have succeeded in creating different prototype lines, including herbal tea, coffee, essential oils and massage oils, and we will soon participate in international events to raise funding." said Shahin.
"This luxury brand will be unique, based on both a solid scientific background and great cultural values, which will be emphasised by the fact that it is created from native UAE and GCC plants."
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