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Friday, May 17, 2024

John Francis Nurturing Startups Growth and Leveraging Technology

The modern world needs modern solutions, especially when we talk about businesses (specifically startups and entrepreneurs). There’s this surge of demand for technology and innovation that ZtartUp focuses on fulfilling. We got to know about ZtartUp and got in touch with John Francis, the CEO of Ztartup, to learn more about the Company’s services and approaches.

ZtartUp is a startup incubator and accelerator. The Company has a social media presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. With his ZtartUp team, John Francis aims to help the budding or growing businesses get innovative solutions for growth. They are also known as the “Multi-Sector Tech Business Incubator/Accelerator” in Dubai, UAE.

John Francis is a dynamic, impeccable, passionate entrepreneur, mentor, and investor focused on assisting startups and entrepreneurs. John Francis wants businesses to grow exceptionally with innovative approaches and helps look for effective solutions with ZtartUp.com.

Learn more about John Francis and his business approaches with ZtartUp.com through our interview below.

Explain the background of you and the Company in detail.

Ztartup.com is the first private sector entity to be ratified as a “Multi-Sector Tech Business Incubator/Accelerator” in Dubai, UAE. We help emerging startups/entrepreneurs gain access to mentors, training, shared space, professional assistance, capital, and other services that move them onto the fast track to success.

By fulfilling this mission, we contribute to job creation and enhanced economic health for the Emirate of Dubai. We aim to nurture innovation, entrepreneurial development, and sustainable economic growth in Dubai, UAE, with a particular focus on the fields of Technology, Trade, Services, Sports, Films, Music, and Arts.

With over 40 years of experience in technology, governance, and policy, I’ve come to don several hats. I currently serve as the CEO of Ztartup Network, Director of Startup Village, mUrgency INC, and MU Holdings.

As a champion of finding tech-oriented solutions, I am passionate about helping companies establish and scale up in this fast-changing world. In this endeavor, I am also a part of organizations that align with my larger goal of leveraging technology to solve global challenges; some of them include Digital Government Society, Govt. Blockchain Association, Welcome Ai, IEE, Singularity University, Openexo.

What are your goals?

In a dynamic world and even more dynamic country like Dubai, my goal is to utilize the latest technology to fine-tune and find new solutions. There is no dearth of innovators, but today’s challenge is aligning them with the right resources – like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle.

Our goal at Ztartup.com is to ensure that these innovators and disruptors are given a springboard to transform their ideas into viable business models.

Our broader goal is to be central in nurturing startups in the UAE by training, mentoring, and developing into the successful “homegrown” companies of Dubai for the “Made in UAE” tag.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of yourself/Company right now?

The genesis of Ztartup.com is based on the belief beyond being an international business hub that the UAE has the potential to usher in the next cohort of innovators, disrupters, and thought leaders. Dubai’s infrastructure and connectivity are unparalleled, and it is the fertile ground for ideas to sprout and enterprises to take root. Support and mentorship are integral for these ideas to turn into economically viable businesses.

Ztartup.com is a sector-agnostic business incubator, and we work to foster synergies between our incubatees. This has led to a vibrant and collaborative community of entrepreneurs and teams working together and improving each other.

What was the path you/your Company took to get to where you are today?

Ours was nothing short of a mountain climb; with the inception of Ztartup.com in 2020, little did we know what was in store for us. When COVID struck the world, our belief in the brick-and-mortar concept of collaboration faltered, as the digital transformation was at the front and center of everything.

However, we decided to stick to our original beliefs and continued with the physical space plan. We shortlisted incubatees through gut feelings, one-on-one interviews, introductions, and referrals from close colleagues helped us to onboard a few to start with. We knew we were on the right path when some of our own team members (admin staff) transitioned into entrepreneurs to form their own startups.

Why did you start (or want to be the head of) this Company?

Leveraging technology to find and bridge disparities have always been my mission. More importantly, after decades of dabbling in various multiple entrepreneurial ventures of my own. The prospect of mentoring, coaching, guiding, and tutoring the next generation of startups and entrepreneurs is an inspirational experience of imparting decades of knowledge and experience aggregation.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?

We had a rough start, to begin with, given that we set up shop right before the pandemic. We had to figure out how to be a fully functioning space while keeping safety as the first priority. Then finding the right fit in terms of incubatees was an uphill battle at the time too.

Give us one word that describes you the best.

Dynamic, in a word.

But this hashtag neatly encapsulates my thoughts on the internet #johnofthings

What makes you excited about Mondays?

As cliche as it sounds, I enjoy the fresh wave of opportunities and challenges a week holds. But Ztartup.com as a workspace is a smorgasbord of ideas and talents. There’s always something that will keep us all engaged.


What do you value most about your culture and vision?

As a company, our vision is to be an ecosystem of excellence in the UAE/GCC/Asia/SouthWest Asia that nurtures innovation and disruption through a collaborative community of entrepreneurs, top talent, and thought leaders. We ensure that the culture within our team and within the co-working spaces allows for this vision to be realized.

In addition, we also know that “work” should be married to both play, rest, and learning. We have enough recreational amenities to ensure that we do. There’s a pool table, basketball, darts carroms, playing cards, ludo, there are regular seminars and speaker sessions conducted, and we believe in striking that work-life balance.

Tell us about a project that forced you to be innovative and creative.

At the peak of the pandemic, the world was at a standstill. The tourism industry was devastatingly impacted. Instead of just trying to stay afloat, the travel & tourism verticals of Ztartup.com shifted gears and ramped up its activity by leveraging technology. While an entire ecosystem existed for travel, the potential it held as an interconnected entity was untapped heretofore. It ramped up operations to integrate and aggregate these verticals, ie. Visa issuance, Ticketing, Experiences, and Arrival/Departure Services into one cohesive network of cross-pollinated platforms. This allowed a traveler to complete his entire journey within this ecosystem seamlessly.

The resounding success of this exercise resulted in a myriad of accomplishments for this ecosystem. Airport Assist was shortlisted for The ATM Draper-Aladdin Startup Competition 2022 and came in fourth place. They also notched up their airport links to 1000+ globally.

Zaafari was shortlisted to pitch at the Arabian Travel Market 2022 in Dubai. Thrillark was listed in the top emerging startups in the Middle East by Best Startup Asia. This mainly came from them streamlining efforts to bolster intrastate tourism, and as a result of which, they could bring in AED 18 Million+ in revenues.

What’s more, when their industry counterparts were at their wit’s end, the teams worked harder than ever while ramping up their operation. All in all, under the aegis of Ztartup.com, the incubatees saw the light when the industry worldwide was plunged into darkness.

What are the strategies of your Company, and how do they stand unique from your competitors?

We are a sector agnostic incubator – a unique proposition in the UAE. We believe in the benefits of collaboration and cross-pollination within our incubatees and ourselves.

What are the key values which helped you to overcome the roadblocks/challenges in your career? Tell us something about your memorable incident in your leadership?

I firmly believe in how dynamic our world is, and the only way to get ahead is to embrace the new and not hold on so tight to redundant beliefs.

How do you see the Company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

I love thinking about what Ztartup.com’s future will look like and how I can incorporate systems to make it look a certain way. My biggest principle being I hope Ztartup.com becomes a self-sustaining entity and keeps growing. I like to think about the long-term picture while making decisions with our clients, our investments, our team, and the culture we want to build internally. Most importantly, I hope that thought leaders are born who solve real-world problems and where it matters most through our ecosystem.

Where is your leadership going? What benefits do your clients get from your Company in this competitive world?

The role of specialized business incubators in developing a new system tailored to future needs is not unrecognized. Having such a support system in an international hub like Dubai is paramount. We aim to ensure there is a new ecosystem that supports tech entrepreneurs.

The impact of this new system will be seen on future businesses, the technical skills of entrepreneurs, and overall economic growth in the UAE. Ztartup seeks to incorporate entrepreneurial initiatives into incubation programs and business accelerators to ensure their success and sustainability. Ztartup will also connect them to experts who can assist them in advancing their tech innovations.

What services/solutions or products are offered by your Company on par with the current industry standards? Tell us something about your upcoming products or services?

In general, the mission of any business incubator is to increase the successful development of emerging businesses in sectors that are supported by a region’s unique areas of opportunity. We are sector agnostic, opening our doors to anyone with a pitch deck ready to tango.

Connect with John Francis on LinkedIn.

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