Startup Belong is an online social platform catering to the needs of fitness, food, travel, arts, sports, and wellness enthusiasts. The app also allows users to connect in person to attend events together.
Founders Michael Askew and Matthew Gaziano have first-hand experience of struggling to connect with the right people after living in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, for seven years and later moving to Dubai.
“When we moved to Dubai, we were excited because the place is amazing. We expected to have a packed, endless social calendar, but when we got here, we realized we’d got to make friends first,” says Gaziano. “How do you get out, find like-minded people, and do all these fantastic things? How do you approach people? It’s not easy to go over and speak to someone in public and start talking about yourself,” he added.
The pair were inspired to design an app where “online meets offline”, helping people to break the ice and form lasting relationships out in the real world.
After launching the app in 2019, the social platform now has a user base of 350,000 and a presence in Dubai, New York, and San Francisco.
Belong works by allowing users to select their interests. After that, they start posting and discussing what they have in common. The company has already secured $3.5 million in crowdfunded investments and plans to raise more funds in 2024 to crack the wider US and MENA markets.
“The UAE is a fantastic place to launch your business,” explains Gaziano. “It’s such a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, and you can really put your startup to the test here”.
The United Arab Emirates aims to become home to 20 startups valued at over $1 billion by 2031 in a bid to become a regional center for innovation and entrepreneurship. Last year, the country launched its Entrepreneurial Nation initiative to help entrepreneurs set up operations in the Emirates and support them when expanding their businesses, exporting products, and tapping into online sales.
The UAE’s digital economy is expected to reach a value of $140 billion by 2031, rising dramatically from its current $38 billion, according to a report by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy.
LEAP 2024 Will Shine A Light On Female Innovators In Technology
Women comprise nearly a third of the event’s speaker lineup alongside a dedicated program of high-level content, investment, and mentorship.
LEAP 2024, a premier global technology event, will highlight the achievements of women in the technology sector as it returns for its third edition at the Riyadh Exhibition and Convention Centre in Malham district from March 4 to 7.
Hosted by Tahaluf, a strategic collaboration between Informa PLC, the Events Investment Fund (EIF), and the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones (SAFCSP), LEAP 2024 will feature a dedicated program titled “Women in Tech”. The program will offer enriching content, investment opportunities, networking sessions, mentorship programs, and a special startup award.
The initiative aims to inspire women to actively participate in the technology industry, aligning with broader diversity efforts. Reflecting the Kingdom’s commitment to equality, the focus on “Women in Tech” coincides with the increasing female participation at LEAP events.
Annabelle Mander, Senior Vice President of Tahaluf, emphasized the event’s commitment to gender inclusivity, stating, “Female representation is across all of LEAP’s features and reflects the event’s mission of driving economic diversification and providing market access to international business. Within Tahaluf itself, half of our team members are women, and women make up half of our SMT, too”.
The “Women in Tech” program will feature distinguished speakers including Nadine Hachach Haram, CEO and Founder of Proximie, and Sahar Albanarna from IMPACTIQUE Bahrain, who explained: “Over 26 million women worldwide with professional experience and degrees are not in the global workplace. This demographic includes a huge pool of untapped talent which technology can help unleash to fuel the co-creation of exponential solutions across multiple sectors. To help women access productive employment, we urge industry leaders to support high-impact female entrepreneurs as a means to boost their economies and accelerate the UN’s sustainable development goals by promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth”.
The event will also provide a platform for female-led startups and entrepreneurs to pitch for funding and support through various initiatives such as the Women’s Investor Forum, Entrepreneur Mentorship Scheme, and the Aviatrix Award at the Rocket Fuel pitch competition, offering a prize fund of US$150,000.