Published February 07, 2020
NYU Abu Dhabi Student Start-Ups Find Direction at startAD
Housed on NYU Abu Dhabi’s campus, startAD provides seed-stage tech ventures with the resources, support, and connections to launch, develop, and scale their innovations. StartAD gives student start-ups the opportunity to network with and learn from key stakeholders across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including corporations, angel investors, and other entrepreneurs.
An Entire Start-Up Ecosystem Under One Roof
In addition to student-focused youth entrepreneurship programs and bootcamps, startAD hosts on-site programs for corporations and investors. These programs give NYU Abu Dhabi student start-ups the chance to engage with an entire start-up ecosystem on campus and learn everything from market research to piloting. StartAD is also home to Al Warsha, an open-access prototyping lab that holds training workshops on some of the latest hardware technologies, including 3-D printers, laser cutters and scanners, and robotics.
How One Student Start-Up Embraced Change
As part of startAD’s Summer Incubator Program, which also welcomes student teams from NYU’s campuses in New York City and Shanghai, NYU Abu Dhabi student start-up Chameleon gained the experience and insight to take its ed-tech venture to the next level. Chameleon began as the result of a conversation between juniors Segun Omole and Tofunmi Kupoluyi. They were both interested in making coding and software development skills more accessible. In order to do so, they decided to address one potential barrier: language. “The syntax and learning resources of most programming languages require some familiarity with English. We conceived Chameleon as a solution to this problem,” says Segun, who serves as CEO to Tofunmi’s chief technology officer.
Chameleon’s platform acts as a transpiler. This means it translates code written in the coder’s native language to its English equivalent. This gives potential coders the chance to access learning resources and start coding without having to learn English first. “The Summer Incubator helped us refine our ideas without changing our goal,” says Segun. “We still want to increase access to coding skills, but we discovered the chance to have a bigger impact by targeting educational and infrastructural deficiencies in sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region.” Thus, Chameleon became a gamified digital learning environment for secondary school students. The team also brought senior Shamsa Al Najjar on board as chief operating and marketing officer.
An Impactful Approach to Entrepreneurship
Through startAD, the Chameleon team learned valuable lessons about a wide range of entrepreneurial topics, including legal matters, networking, and business strategy. But perhaps the importance of knowing their customers was the most valuable one. “We conducted nearly 350 customer interviews across six countries,” says Segun. “One of our mentors constantly reminded us to obsess over potential customers in order to understand how much they value the problem we’re trying to fix.”
These lessons helped the team adopt a systematic and impactful approach to their venture. “Not a single day of the Summer Incubator lacked direction,” Segun says. “Every moment was purposeful, and all of our actions had to be well-planned and intentional.”