Dany El-Eid, a Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur based in Dubai for more than a decade, believed in the power of augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies much before photos of heads of state trying VR headsets could be seen, tweeted and retweeted.
El-Eid is the founder and CEO of Pixelbug, a rapidly growing tech company, set up in Dubai in 2012, which specialises in developing advanced AR applications. Its first standalone app Colorbug, released in May 2015, is a family oriented AR ‘edutainment’ app that brings characters in colouring books to life.
The app enables children to learn in a more interactive way while developing their motor skills and imagination. However, there is much more to it than that, adds El-Eid speaking after the recent SciFest Dubai 2016.
“One of the highlights for us was meeting a husband and wife team who work with children with cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy,” he says. “They told us Colorbug was the perfect product for them as it helped children work on their finer motor skills with a reward, which was the augmented reality experience, at the end.
“’Making the world a better place’ is thrown around so much in start-up culture that it’s lost all meaning, but it was really rewarding to see our product being used in such a manner.”
Pixelbug, which is El-Eid’s third venture in the digital technology space, was also the first to introduce viable commercial AR applications for multinationals, such as P&G, Nestle, Lego, and Atlantis. Their work with Nestlé during 2014 led to a 9 percent increase in sales for the company’s Nesquik brand targeting 6 to 12-year-olds.
However, the benefits of using these technologies are still to be discovered by various industries, El-Eid adds, starting with advertising or media agencies. “Advertisers spend billions of dollars per year to create print and physical advertisements although consumers connect more with the digital advertising experience found on their computers and smartphones, which can be tailored and targeted towards them.
“Our goal for 2017 is to merge these two worlds together by providing traditional media with the kind of engagement and interactivity that the internet provides through augmented reality.”
The Pixelbug team recently worked with Dubai Properties (DP), a Dubai-based real estate master developer, to create a virtual reality tour of the company’s Bellevue Towers, providing potential customers with interactive digital experiences of their new apartments years before they would be constructed.
Pixelbug was chosen among only 31 out of 2,274 applications from 73 countries to join the Dubai Future Accelerators, a three-month-long intensive start-up acceleration programme launched by the Crown Prince of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. The team is now working closely with the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development (KHDA) to help accelerate the adoption of Arabic education through innovative technologies, including AR.
El Eid is no stranger to winning awards by high profile institutions, including Startup of the Year by The MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab (MITEF Pan Arab), and the P90 award by Publicis Groupe, which launched a fund and mentorship programme for 90 selected start-ups as part of celebrating its 90th anniversary.
“One of our proudest moments was producing a campaign with our client, Orange Leaf to raise awareness for the ‘No Kid Hungry’ campaign in the United States,” he adds. “No Kid Hungry is an organisation that aims to eradicate child hunger and food insecurity for American children. We provided an augmented reality experience to explain to people of all ages how just one dollar could provide a child in the United States with ten meals.”
Looking back at his entrepreneurial journey so far, El-Edi advises other start-up founders to clearly identify the purpose behind their venture and what compels them towards its accomplishment. “Many pursue the wrong motives which lead to lack of determination,” he says. “Truth is, being an entrepreneur is probably the most difficult and taxing career path and it is not for everyone. So, unless it fits with one’s personality, objectives and ‘raison d’etre’… It’s best to keep it for the crazy ones.”