AstroLabs: helping start-ups reach for the stars

From Cairo to Riyadh, Beirut to Doha, and everywhere in between, Dubai-based accelerator AstroLabs is creating an ecosystem of entrepreneurs in the Middle East by helping start-ups establish and grow their businesses. Vision catches up with them one year on.

The astrolabe is an ancient navigation tool, used in the Middle Ages to locate the position of the sun or stars in the sky. As inspiration behind the name of AstroLabs, a tech hub that aims to help businesses across the MENA region get off the ground – it is apt.

Having recognised that one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of entrepreneurs in the region can be the initial process of setting up a business, AstroLabs co-founders Louis Lebbos and Muhammed Mekki saw a gap in the market. “As start-up founders ourselves, we had been through the journey, experiencing its many challenges and so wanted to build a platform that would make it easier for others to go down the same path”, says Mekki.

Initially launching AstroLabs Academy to provide practical training to budding entrepreneurs, they then opened up their co-working space after the success and level of demand that the academy created. In just under a year, the space, which includes a “‘coding cave’ for heads-down work” and a device lab for multi-platform app testing, now hosts over 80 start-ups from all corners of the planet.

Lebbos and Mekki have sought to offer a trifecta of benefits for nascent businesses. As well as a network of global contacts, mentorship programmes and a vibrant co-working space, there is also a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), a free zone in Dubai whose members enjoy access to market infrastructure and physical facilities such as trading platforms and investment tools.

“Our partnership with the DMCC is highly strategic: we draw in the most innovative tech companies to enrich the free zone’s member base, and the DMCC makes it much easier for our entrepreneurs to establish their companies in Dubai”, explains Mekki. The founders highlight that perhaps the biggest benefit to joining AstroLabs is its offering of subsidised company licences and a waiver of all capital requirements, making it more affordable to get started. This allows start-ups to maintain full foreign ownership of their businesses, while operating at 0 per cent corporate and personal tax in the world’s largest free zone.

AstroLabs also recently announced that it is part of the Google Partner Network, which gives members access to the global Google Passport Program, allowing them travel to over 20 other tech hubs around the world. General Manager at Deliveroo, Anis Harb, says that it was benefits like these that led to the established food delivery start-up to choose AstroLabs as a platform to expand in the MENA region.

“Joining AstroLabs meant we were able to focus solely on the core business of Deliveroo from the get-go. We didn’t have to worry about all of the smaller issues that come with starting from scratch. It gave us a great amount of flexibility, and even after we grew substantially and left, we retained ties and still reach out to each other for support”.