Alya Al-Shanfari is a young Omani entrepreneur and recent graduate of GUTech. Alya and her colleagues showcaed their “Bee” application at a global competition of young innovators in Seattle, Washington this summer. “Bee” is retail shopping application connected with Beacons technology, capable of analyzing the shopping experiences of users to affect future shopping decisions. The app also received honors domestically as one of the top projects in The Research Council’s Upgrade program, powered by Omantel. Each of the three winning graduationprojects will get seed funds and incubation for three years at SAS for Entrepreneurship of the Information Technology Authority.
While still jet-lagged from her whirlwind trip, Alya chatted with us about her future plans and her experience as an Omani woman traveling to the USA.
Tell me about the Microsoft Imagine Cup Competition in the USA. Was it your first time to travel there?
“Oh, America! It was my first time and I didn’t want to come back right away! The competition was in Seattle, which is many time zones away, as you know. Microsoft Oman helped us in various ways including making sure we had a few days to acclimate to a new place before the competition and the time difference. We were very fortunate to have flexible ‘open-ended’ tickets — we managed to see LA and New York before coming home to my beautiful Salalah.”
Did your team do well at the event?
At the start of the competition, there were 54 teams from all over the world. These were the top teams from each region (we had taken first place in Lebanon, for example). Then they cut it to 32 and we made the cut. Unfortunately, we lost to Canada in the quarterfinals, so we do not know our exact placement. Definitely within the top 32! Overall, it was a great experience for us.
Where will the app be used primarily—Will you start In Oman? What are your plans?
First we will start in Oman, and we will see how it goes. Then we can see about expansion. I have several new ideas of features we can add and new things to try, but I need to go back to my team and talk about it all. We are interested in creating the “hive” hardware needed for the retail outlets. They allow stores to use in-store positioning and tell what users are drawn to and where the spend the most time, helping them to optimize the store layout for the best customer experience. We have had to order them from outside, but this year we created our own with a 3-D printer.
So what is unique about the application? What is something that separates it from all other apps?
We are focused on removing some of the boundaries between consumers and retailers. Many stores have tried to build applications to reach customers, but the process is costly and time-consuming, and security is often a big issue. We are the first app to offer a space for all stores to come together in one place. This is much easier for the customer, who has to download only one app, which is free. With that, they will be welcomed into a store as soon as they enter, by a push notification from the app. They will also receive specific promotions to make their shopping experience more personalized.
Any other words for our members?
We are a 100 percent Omani team that will be working hard to publish the application as soon as possible, with the best possible performance.
We’re extremely thankful to the various programs, initiatives and companies in Oman who have worked to assist us from the beginning, especially Omantel, who helped us along the way with great support.
The OABC’s Corporate Social Responsibility committee is devoted to giving back to the community through funding and supporting various initiatives in employment, entrepreneurship and the environment. If you have vision to help support Omani SME’s like Alya’s, please consider joining our committee or writing a proposal. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.