The United Arab Emirates has for years been the most attractive market for startups in the Middle East. In February 2022, the UAE ranked first globally in entrepreneurship and was deemed “The Most Supportive Environment for Entrepreneurship” by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). And it shows – 95% of the Gulf country’s firms are small and medium-sized (SMEs) or startups, employing 42% of the UAE’s workforce and accounting for over 40% of its GDP.

Investors at home and abroad have noticed. In Forbes’ list of the 50 most funded startups in MENA, 22 of the 50 startups are headquartered in the emirates. Four of the top five startups have their headquarters in the UAE.

This commitment to driving the startup economy comes from the top. The United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Ahmad al-Falasi, aims for the UAE “to become home to 20 startups worth more than $1 billion each, known as ‘unicorns’, in the next decade.” He’s well on his way to achieving that goal, it seems.

One startup that’s been on my radar for a while now is BEANZ, a mobile app that claims to connect specialty coffee lovers to their favorite specialty coffee shops “in a seamless and rewarding way”.

The story of BEANZ starts with its three co-founders, Abdullah Al Farsi, Ali Alghfeli, and Zaid Al-Omari. The project kicked off in 2020 with the trio collaborating remotely for most of the year. Six months into development they had a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ready – as good a time as any to finally meet face-to-face for the first time. The MVP was launched in Al Ain with Dunes Specialty Coffee and Vue Café. The decision to launch in Al Ain was a considered one, targeting the city’s booming specialty coffee scene and discerning customer base. Their strategic approach and meticulous attention to detail was rewarded with a step-change in April 2022. Since then, BEANZ saw a 10x growth rate, signing up more than 250 partners.

The app has four key features:

  1. Order Ahead: order your coffee in advance and it will be ready when you arrive
  2. Skip the Line: BEANZ customers don’t need to queue
  3. Earn Free Drinks: earn stamps with every purchase and redeem them for complimentary beverages
  4. Coffee Gifting: gift your friends a virtual coffee voucher via the app.

I particularly like the Coffee Gifting idea. And who doesn’t enjoy skipping the queue!

For you and I, the value of the app is clear:

  • there’s no longer a need to queue for your coffee
  • loyalty programs are aggregated into one space and I’m rewarded for my loyalty
  • and, perhaps most importantly, finding the best specialty coffee in the area is taken care of – BEANZ partners with only the best

For coffeeshops, the value of the app lies in:

  • streamlined ordering and therefore enhanced operational efficiency
  • improved turnaround times, and therefore more sales, as customers order before they arrive
  • increased customer retention with the loyalty program
  • limited parking at store is no longer a determinant of footfall
  • staff spend less time outside taking orders in Summer

After meeting the team, I was convinced of a few truths. BEANZ is run by a team who is dedicated to every cup, every click, and every user. And I may have met my first unicorn.

Download BEANZ here for iOS and here for Android.