The passion for computer graphics and video games led Hani Abu Ghazaleh to create Mental, a technology company focused on virtual reality.
Mr. Abu Ghazaleh had a career spanning nearly 15 years in the gaming industry, working for major companies like Ubisoft, before founding Mental in Abu Dhabi in 2018.
The company aims to stimulate learning through the use of new technologies. He is also active in training employees of companies across all industries as the use of VR technology accelerates in the UAE and beyond.
“A combination of passion for immersive technology and the ability to use it to teach people how to learn” was the main motivation behind starting the company, Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said.
“We can actually get people to learn faster, to be more efficient in their learning, to have training as an exciting exercise, rather than being dragged into the training room.”
Mental’s clients in the United Arab Emirates include satellite operator Yahsat, Abu Dhabi’s national energy company, better known as Taqa, and the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), the Ministry of Interior and Dubai Municipality, among others.
Immersive technologies, which include augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality, create distinct experiences by merging the physical world with digital or simulated reality. The use of VR technology is growing in different sectors, including education, entertainment, healthcare, construction and energy.
The immersive technology market is expected to reach $1.49 trillion by 2030 from $81.82 billion in 2020, Prophecy Market Insights said in a September report.
The global virtual reality market was valued at $21.83 billion last year and is expected to grow 15% annually from 2022 to 2030, according to a report by Grand View Research.
“Virtual reality has revolutionized the gaming and entertainment industries by allowing users to immerse themselves in a highly simulated environment,” the report states.
“The increasing use of this technology in educational training, such as teaching engineers, mechanics, pilots, field workers, defense warriors and technicians in the manufacturing and oil and gas, propels the growth of the market.”
Projects undertaken by Mental include “Mission to Mars”, a virtual reality entertainment experience for Alef Education, as well as an interactive virtual reality platform for Fanr staff to help them prepare for situations. emergencies and to carry out site inspections.
Last month, the Hub71-based startup also signed a deal with Yahsat to train technicians operating in remote locations using VR technology.
Yahsat provides multi-mission satellite services in over 150 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, Asia and Australasia. It currently has a fleet of five satellites that extend its reach to over 80% of the world’s population.
“The key value is that they [Yahsat] ship their products and antennas to remote areas. And with that comes the complexity of training the techs in those remote locations or even supporting them in maintenance…instead of having someone fly to all those places once in a while, which we can do, it’s basically getting them to train remotely,” Mr Abu Ghazaleh said.
Virtual reality training is much more effective than traditional training “because people can train anytime and from anywhere,” he said.
“Immersive learning also results in better retention of information.”
The demand for the latest technology is expected to continue to rise as its use increases across all sectors.
“There is a major investment now in what people call Web3. I really believe the next version of the internet will have virtual and mixed reality,” which will drive demand for new technologies, says Mr Abu Ghazaleh.
“So if you see this as an opportunity, we are talking about a multi-trillion dollar opportunity globally,” he said, adding that the UAE and other GCC countries are stepping up their efforts to adopt new technology because of the advantages CA offers.
As adoption of new technology increases in the region, Mental aims to expand its operations to Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the Arab world, as well as other GCC countries.
“We have a very healthy pipeline of corporate clients who want to work with us,” Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said.
“Building on the success we had in Abu Dhabi, we plan to go to the rest of the UAE and the GCC, and eventually, globally.”
The company raised nearly $1.2 million three years ago and expects to close a new round of $5 million in the next two months. The new funding should help it expand its activities in the region.
It also generates revenue as the number of customers grows, and it has had “positive cash flow” for some time, according to Mr Abu Ghazaleh.
The Abu Dhabi Hub71 team has been “very supportive in connecting us with the public and private sectors, making presentations to investors and VCs [Venture Capital companies]”, he said.
Hub71 Deputy Managing Director Ahmad Alwan said The National in October, approximately Hub71 start-ups raised more than 3.2 billion dirhams ($872 million) in funding, generated 2.5 billion dirhams in revenue and created 800 direct jobs since its inception in 2019 until in the third quarter of 2022.
“When you work in a space like this…the connections the founders make and the support they give each other has been wonderful…everyone is rooting for everyone’s success,” Mr. Abu Ghazaleh.
Q&A with Hani Abu Ghazaleh, Founder and CEO of Mental:
What successful start-ups do you wish you had started?
The types of start-ups that I really admire are the bold ones that basically go into uncharted territory and face the challenges and pain of being innovators and pioneers in this field… so anything that disrupts an entire industry and creates opportunities for other consumers or businesses.
An example of this is Airbnb, which is coming at the right time and changing the way people experience travel… no one has done this. And it happened at a perfect time when the economy was hit hard and people wanted to travel too. It offered people a more economical way to travel, but also offered a different kind of experience by helping people stay in a house rather than a hotel.
What is your vision for the business?
The vision is to make the company one of the pioneering professional training platforms in the world. I would love to see people around the world benefit from the high quality content we have on the platform. I would love to see successful start-ups from the UAE, grow regionally and show the world that innovation and success can start in the Mena region.
What new skills did you acquire while creating your start-up?
Being a company founder is almost like having two or three MBAs. You have to learn many business skills because you have to wear many hats. There are areas like, in the beginning, you won’t be able to afford a CFO [chief financial officer] or you sometimes won’t be able to pay a lawyer for every contract you make. Understanding all aspects of business is therefore a unique experience that I had not had the chance to experience before, working in larger organizations. I also learned a lot about every client we serve, whether in the energy sector or in other sectors.
Who is your role model?
Tech-wise, coming from the gaming industry, it was John Carmack, who built one of the first shooters in the 1990s. He’s now one of the key influencers in our industry… he’s a source of inspiration. After all these years, almost three decades of development, it still does practical work and does not hesitate to do so.
On the business side, someone like Elon Musk…how hard he works to achieve this…how ambitious he is to keep building one company after another is very admirable.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope I will be healthy enough to continue to be involved in this business or immersive technology. I love what I do and I have no intention of straying from it.
Updated: December 05, 2022, 04:00
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