Sheraa and Ministry of Culture and Youth Call for High-impact Startups across MENA in a Bid to Boost UAE’s Creative Economy


  • The newly launched Access Sharjah Challenge focuses on the Cultural and Creative Industries 

  • Applications for the challenge are open until October 10

  • Two winning startups will be announced at World Conference on Creative Economy in Dubai and given access to an equity-free prize pool of $100,000 divided into prize money and the opportunity to implement their solution in Sharjah


The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) and the Ministry of Culture and Youth have launched the Access Sharjah Challenge with an equity-free prize pool of $100,000 open to top startups from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The platform aims to empower conscious entrepreneurs invested in creating innovative solutions in the Cultural and Creative Industries.

H.E. Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth


Inspired by the United Nations Assembly’s declaration of 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, the competition is in line with Sheraa’s mission to support startups in the creative sectors, and to support innovative, creative, and tech-savvy startups from around the region by connecting them with the private and public sectors to reach their target market and stimulate innovation in the UAE.


In strategic partnership with the Sharjah Museums Authority, Alef Group and Air Arabia, the competition is looking for innovative startups operating in the following sectors under the creative industry: Cultural & Natural Heritage; Performance & Celebration; Visual Arts & Crafts; Audio Visual & Interactive Media; Design and Creative Services; and Books & Press.


Startups fulfilling the following criteria are encouraged to apply: the startup is revenue-generating, has at least one successful implementation of their solution, at least one full-time founder and is headquartered in the MENA region.


The challenge offers a myriad of benefits; starting with a grant of up to $50,000, composing of $25,000 towards an implementation contract to bring their projects to life at Alef properties and Sharjah Museum spaces, $15,000 in cash and $10,000 towards business setup support; in addition to operational business support services including discounted office space and banking services; mentoring from Sheraa’s in-house team and their community of mentors; and access to market.


Applications for the challenge are now open and will be accepted until October 10, of which ten finalists will be shortlisted and will receive the opportunity to pitch their ideas and innovations on stage at the upcoming Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF). The winners will be announced at the World Conference on Creative Economy (WCCE) 2021, organized by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, held at Expo 2020 Dubai.


Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) said, “We are pleased to launch this pioneering initiative, which seeks to attract and connect successive generations of conscious entrepreneurs and their unique ideas to Sharjah and the UAE. The underlying objective of this challenge is to allow the top startups in the creative and cultural fields to benefit from the growth opportunities in our innovative and impact-driven local economy, which has succeeded in bringing new ideas to life in a variety of sectors – from heritage, art, culture and design to media, publishing, photography and film making.”


Bodour Al Qasimi emphasised that the Access Sharjah Challenge pays homage to the emirate’s deep-rooted history and leadership across various creative sectors, while promoting its stimulating and holistic environment for the pursuit of conscious entrepreneurship. This in return would help drive economic diversification, sustainable development, and cement the UAE’s global positioning as a leading hub for creativity and innovation.


Commenting on the initiative, H.E. Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, said, “This initiative contributes to our collective mission to help our youth leverage opportunities that the Cultural and Creative Industries offer. These industries have huge potential to help overcome economic and social challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and reinforce the UAE’s resilience, as well as its adaptability in the face of the rapid changes we are facing today.”

Access Sharjah reiterates the UAE’s message to startups and youth, locally as well as globally, that our nation is on a steadfast track to accelerate post-COVID recovery within the creative economy to diversify opportunities and boost job creation. We are moving towards a knowledge-based economy to make positive social and environmental impact and realize our long-term vision for strategic socioeconomic development and sustainability.”

On her part, Najla Al Midfa, CEO of Sheraa, commented, “The Access Sharjah Challenge was created to support the growth of MENA’s high-caliber startups by offering them a platform to impact not just their communities, but the world at large. For its third edition, the Access Sharjah Challenge is set to recognize founders leading the charge in building a thriving creative economy.”


She added, “At Sheraa, our vision is to deepen the culture of entrepreneurship by nurturing impactful ideas and promising talent with the potential to create lasting change. And, with Sharjah known as the cultural capital of the Arab world, there is no better place for innovators in the creative economy to call home.”


Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA), asserted that SMA’s support for the project launched by Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa) to empower emerging companies, is in harmony with SMA’s commitment to collaborate and partner with organizations that promote innovation and the emirate’s position as a leading platform for pioneering entrepreneurship, and an environment that nurtures creativity and talents of all kinds.


She pointed out that being committed to the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah regarding the importance of investing in future generations and sustainable solutions in order to enhance the development of the cultural sector, SMA has always focused its work on supporting creativity, encouraging knowledge and innovation, and developing the potential of youth in particular.


Adel Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer of Air Arabia, said, “Promoting creativity and innovation is always top priority in setting our strategy and plans. The Access Sharjah Challenge initiative aims to support and connect innovative startups in Sharjah to build a better future. As a strategic partner, we look forward to original and path-breaking ideas by innovative startups across different sector which will lead to building a better future together.”


Issa Ataya, CEO of Alef Group, said, “Alef Group is delighted to be partnering with Sheraa in promoting innovative start-ups and entrepreneurs that have the potential to scale up and be part of a growing SME ecosystem in Sharjah, boosting the emirate’s position as a leading hub for entrepreneurship. We have long been supporting initiatives that support small and medium-sized enterprises in their growth aspirations as part of our corporate social responsibility commitment.


He added, “Through this, we are actively participating in the government’s efforts to promote collaboration and cooperation between public and private sector entities that will have a positive impact on the development of the economy within the Emirate.”


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