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Alanoud Al Hashmi, the Emirati CEO of The Futurist Company, defines herself as “the daughter of Zayed,” which is a nod to the late H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE. “I believe it’s the best way to describe an Emirati woman,” she says. “It embodies the meaningful journey of our nation to challenge possibilities, in terms of making a desert the site of what is today a futuristic nation.” And this ethos also feeds into Al Hashmi’s enterprise, which is all about “turning future-facing projects into reality.”
This is perhaps best exemplified in The Futurist Company’s work in the agritech domain, which has been inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s efforts to promote agriculture in the UAE’s early years. “It was at a time when agriculture was an expensive and tiring task as people had to fight the harsh climate, but still Sheikh Zayed made it possible even though the first advisors told him it was impossible,” Al Hashmi explains. But how does traditional agriculture relate to agritech in a futuristic nature? “Both are driven by human need for a greener tomorrow, food security, and better techniques and tools to fulfil the growing demand, not only in the UAE, but globally,” she answers.
Having launched The Futurist Company in the midst of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Al Hashmi says her entrepreneurial journey has seen a lot of challenges, but the crisis has also helped confirm the company’s value proposition right from the start. “It helped us realize that the issues we’re facing today are so small and minor compared to the issues we’re going to face in 25-50 years from now,” she explains. “It helped us realize that we would like to work on future-facing projects that actually find a solution to some of these problems, and that integrate innovation with technology that will help us face these challenges in the future.” Al Hashmi points out that while businesses usually work on their five-year or ten-year plans, her team wanted to be ahead of the herd by tapping into issues that the majority are not even thinking of. “This is driven by the business environment that our leadership in the UAE have established,” she adds. “While other countries are planning for a decade or shorter than that, our nation is gearing to the next 50 years, and we decided to be part of the force achieving this.”
The business model of The Futurist Company is to work on problems for which the world is not yet prepared (such was COVID-19) by integrating their solutions into the initiatives of different entities of the world’s governments and policy makers, which will eventually enable humanity to face these challenges in the future. “In the future, humanity is going to struggle, so this is where The Futurist Company has developed its niche and its expertise, and this has led us into the specialist segments we are working in,” Al Hashmi explains. Although less than a year old, Al Hashmi says that The Futurist Company has garnered interest from investors, international technology partners, and the UAE government.
Alanoud Al Hashmi, CEO The Futurist Company
“When it comes to food security, climate change, renewable energy, augmented or virtual reality, or Wi-Fi segments, many solutions already exist in a way, but what we’re working on are the solutions and products that don’t exist as of yet,” she explains. “So, we’re developing something with cutting-edge innovation and technology that will change the way that we look at the future, and our attitude to existing technologies that we have today. This is why one of our key element is working with international experts, scientists, and thought leaders, all working together from all around the world to help us develop our solutions with the various cutting-edge technologies that we at at the Futurist Company already work with.”
This future-oriented mindset is a basis for Al Hashmi not believing in boundaries and any kind of segregation between countries, because, she explains, the challenges that the world might be facing in the future will require a collaborative approach to solving problems. “It’s the combined effort that we will all need in order to take to tackle these problems, because one country tackling them is not good enough,” she says. “We are believers in internationalism and working together.
She adds that the proof of validity for her global approach to scaling up her business is already evident through the way in which today’s companies work with governments. “It used to be governments initiating a collaboration, but now, it’s almost the reverse, because companies collaborate to initiate something for governments,” she explains. “It’s companies that are deciding what is going to happen in the future, and governments are embracing it, because they have realized that modern technology companies are working in a much faster and responsive fashion. Governments realize that they can’t really catch up with technology companies, and it is these companies that are going to be leading government initiatives, because they are so much faster in the way that they work, and in the way that they turn around things is faster.”
In line with that sentiment, Al Hashmi aims for The Futurist Company to be acknowledged and known as a part of a dynamic, fast turnaround-focused, and innovative technology segment, both in the UAE and around t he world. “Our goal is to build our projects here in the UAE, so that they can be branded ‘made in the UAE,’” she explains. “As an Emirati, this is a responsibility I hold on myself, and then when we go global, we will be able to donate to support others. When it comes to our agritech project, we are planning on donating and expanding our corporate social responsibility initiative to different locations around the world through this project.”
Alanoud Al Hashmi, CEO, and Paul Marsh, Chief Strategy Officer, The Futurist Company
With 15 years of experience in entrepreneurial projects in the fields of e-commerce and events as well as in executive roles in the UAE’s public sector, Al Hashmi describes herself as a challenger by birth, who has always loved to explore new untapped grounds. In her current endeavor, she is grateful for the support of Dubai SME, an integrated division of the Department of Economic Development that serves as a resource for support, information, and outreach for Dubai’s growing small and medium enterprise sector. “As a business in the UAE, we’re getting a lot of support from the government,” she says. “They are showing interest, and we’re going to work together to share the findings and the learnings from our projects, because our optimum goal is actually to develop a solution to tackle these issues when it comes to problems, such as climate change, renewable energy, and food security.”
As a CEO, her day-to-day tasks include keeping her team inspired about their strategic goals, while also publicly presenting her company in order for it to be known as the number one advocate for future-focused projects, and networking with the right people in the government and technology and innovation companies. “Right now, the work is pretty non-stop, and because we work with international partners, the time differences can mean that we sometimes have calls at 2am, but these things are necessary when we work with an international team,” Al Hashmi says.
“I consider it as just part of the ongoing progressive development required to keep up the momentum and to finalize the projects.” This mindset seems to what governs her opinion of the MENA region as a place to do business as well. According to Al Hashmi, the two important elements to consider in this regard are the huge size of the market, as well as the different cultures in many of its parts. “Understanding the scale of the market in its entirety, as well as understanding everyone’s culture (even beyond MENA) and working with people in a way that respects their culture is essential,” she explains. “Developing an understanding of our culture is vital to building your network and will allow you to be able to work with the right people, which is also very important.”
Her third point is more UAE-focused, with Al Hashmi emphasizing the UAE government’s support to business innovation again. “Particularly in the UAE, there is such a vibrant ecosystem for businesses. I hope that that ecosystem will be available all over the Middle East, but I would be lying if I say it will happen tomorrow. It’s going to happen, it’s just going to take time. I think the Abraham Accords is playing a role with how we’re going to be working with cutting edge technologies, and there’s going to be a lot of positive impact because of the regional collaborations.” In conclusion, she has a special piece of advice for women entrepreneurs in the region. “I’m going to be honest about this one, and I would say don’t care about what people are going to say about you being a woman in business,” Al Hashmi says. “Follow your passion, work with integrity, build your network, and again, don’t care about people going to say about you!”
The Futurist Company is working with some of the world’s leading technology expertsto bring a ground-breaking new agritech solution to the MENA
The Futurist Company CEO Alanoud Al Hashmi’s tips for entrepreneurs
1. Be ready to put in the work “Get used to two-day holidays. Entrepreneurship is a job that will run from 5am to 11pm.”
2. Don’t go at it alone “You will need support, so make sure that you find a supportive partner, because it can affect your life if you have a partner who doesn’t support you.”
3. Make the case for what you offer “Focus on data and research, and do surveys to learn whether there is a demand for what you are doing.”
4. The customer comes first “Get the best market information, particularly when it comes to the consumer. If you’re working with e-commerce or an end-consumer beta version, see if you can get all the information possible to understand their needs and wants.”
5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes “That’s the best lesson; that’s the only thing that’s going to help you learn. Make mistakes and embrace them, because without mistakes, we are not learning at all.”