Alora, BruHaha and Fatih Aquaculture top DARe’s Accelerate cycle six

DARe Accelerate Cycle 6 participants
Participants of Accelerate cycle six with DARe CEO Javed (standing 4th L).

After selling more than 5,000 pairs of glasses, Alora Collection was named the top startup of DARe’s Accelerate with a pitch to launch an Augmented Reality Experience (ARE) software which will enable customers to try out eyewear and fashion using their mobile phone cameras.

Pioneer of Brunei’s stand up comedy scene Bruhaha took second and Fatih Aquaculture took third amongst 10 startups from the sixth cycle of Accelerate who pitched before a panel of judges on June 5 at the Design and Technology building in Anggerek Desa.

DARe CEO Javed Ahmad said that Accelerate – the organisation’s flagship startup development programme – has seen over 150 startups join since 2017, collectively raising more than $2.1 million in investment and creating more than 500 jobs.

Javed said that earlier cycles of Accelerate focused on IT-related companies, but the pool of participants has since widened to any early stage business with ambitions of scaling nationwide and abroad by leveraging on technology, innovative business models, franchising and raising investment.

The CEO added that DARe is encouraging more startups to join the fully-sponsored programme, which apart from providing business training and networking opportunities, will also connect participants to DARe’s ecosystem of initiatives which including financing and space.

The top three startups are expected to join the top startups from previous cycles in pitching to regional investors in Singapore when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Alora trying to innovate fashion retail

Alora collection founder Khairul (L) with DARe CEO Javed.

Khairul Azmi Hj Metussin’s entrepreneurial journey began as an unemployed graduate peddling sunglasses at Bandarku Ceria in 2016.

His background as a qualified architect would eventually come in handy five years later – where he began 3D modelling glasses that customers could try on virtually using their mobile phone cameras.

Khairul now plans to launch ARE as a separate company to Alora that will provide software to fashion retailers that will enable them to digitize their product catalogue for customers to try on virtually – similar to how social media filters function.

“The concept behind ARE is for customers to be able to try on as many products as they want from the store, quickly, without needling to hassle the shop assistant,” said Khairul.

“This will help them narrow down their choices more effectively, even from home, to see if the products suit their face shape or body type before purchasing the product (online) or trying it out in person.”

Khairul will begin implementing ARE for Alora’s product catalogue of over 170 glasses to gather data before selling his solution to other fashion businesses.

“We have designed the first ARE for glasses, but we will eventually expand it to fashion accessories (like jewellry) and clothes,” he added.

BruHaha plans post COVID-19 comeback

Former engineer Zainal Bostaman founded BruHaha in 2014 as a pioneering stand up comedy platform for Brunei, building up the scene through small shows over the years before peaking in 2019 by selling out 725 tickets in three days for a single show at JIS Arts Centre.

2019 was a record year for BruHaha, selling 3,000 tickets, but the outbreak of COVID-19 a year later that lead to the closure of public entertainment forced the company to re-strategize their efforts, which have since included recording content for Progresif Media supported by a grant from the Authority for Info-Communications Technology Industry (AITI).

Since the de-escalation, BruHaha is gradually ramping up shows including a Brunei Comedy Festival planned for this September or October which puts them on track to eclipse their peak in 2019. Zainal plans to scale up shows and save profits to open a training centre to build up local talent next year before opening Brunei’s first comedy club by 2024.

UBD duo targets aquaculture

Fathi (C) and Muid (L) with DARe CEO Javed Ahmad.

Biology graduates from Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Ahmad Fathi Dr Hj Norarfan and Abd Muid Abdullah have produced over half a tonne of red tilapia in their backyard using a tank-based recirculating aquaculture system since graduating last year.

Using their background in marine sciences, the duo – both 22-years-old – hope to turn their startup Fatih Aquaculture into an open water, sea-based operation with 30 cages capable of producing 2,000 to 3,000 fish every nine month cycle.

The pair’s expertise has also seen them successfully breed red tilapia fingerlings – a significant milestone for a local aquaculture, with only a handful of local companies currently producing fingerlings which are then supplied to fish farms nationwide who grow them to market size.

Fatih received the green light from the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism for a site, but they will need to raise six figures to be able to set up the operation. Citing 2018 statistics from the Fisheries Department, Fathi said over 40% of fish consumed is imported, with local aquaculture supplying only 13% of total demand.

“We hope to capture one percent of the imports (≈$330,000) in production within a span of five years, breeding tilapia, seabass and grouper,” added Abd Muid.