A team of entrepreneurs from United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) are aiming to use the jewelries of the desert to bring a new, environmentally-friendly dimension to aromatherapy that aligns cultural heritage with alternative healthcare.
An ambitious team is developing a startup company ‘Aroma Niche’, at UAEU’s Science and Innovation Park (SIP), a first-of-its-kind research hub and student innovation incubator, having hit on the idea of extracting the original aroma of native species of desert plants to create chemical free, luxurious, and locally produced healthcare products.
Targeted at the aromatherapy market, their startup is focusing on producing a line of herbals teas and coffees, essential oils and massage oils, and the students hope their new established startup company will help to put the UAE’s entrepreneurial ecosystem on the map.
“’Aroma Niche’ is a reflection of our deep appreciation towards the UAE,” explained Ms. Suzan Marwan Shahin, a Ph.D. candidate in Horticultural Science at UAEU’s College of Food & Agriculture, who is the founder of the startup company. Ms. Shahin conducted a landmark study examining the native plants of the UAE which became the topic of her dissertation.
“Surprisingly, there was perfumery-distinguished aroma diffused from a grinded plant material, and I was amazed how a weak desert plant could produce such wonderful aroma. I start searching for the reasons why this happens, and I eventually found that the desert plants survive harsh environmental conditions through producing valuable organic materials - such as essential oils - that act as defense phytochemicals.
"Essential oils are volatile hydrocarbons produced exclusively by certain plant species and characterized by distinguished aroma. The application of essential oils started centuries ago in traditional herbal practices, but it lacks scientific validation. Today, revenues from essential oils and the aromatherapy industry reach billions of dollars annually, so this area has attracted the attention of both the research and industrial sectors.”
After her initial research, Ms. Shahin decided to direct her Ph.D. studies in this areas, and she created the first databank for the Emirati essential oil-bearing plants, including comprehensive collected knowledge. Her best friend Ms. Rahaf Ajaj, who is also a Ph.D. candidate in Horticultural Science at UAEU, was along the side of Ms. Shahin & the two friends believe in the great potential of the created databank.
The created databank was compiled over more than two years of extensively reviewing literature on around 800 species native to the UAE. Of these, 135 are considered to bear essential oils.
"I felt such an extensive databank could be a potential tool for scientists from multiple disciplines, such as biology, pharmacology, agriculture, medicine and engineering, which will accelerate their research and promote innovation and discoveries in various fields,” Ms. Shahin said.
Once it was completed, Ms. Shahin with the support of Ms. Ajaj looked at how the information could be utilized not only as an information tool, but also as the foundation for a new startup business. When UAEU launched its Challenge for Innovation competition in 2016, the two friends put forward their idea to establish a leading and innovative aromatherapy business based on the UAE native plants. They won, and their startup company is now registered in the SIP’s Incubator program.
The ‘Aroma Niche’ team has expanded this year to include Mr. Mohamoud Adde, who has an MBA & is an instructor in the UAEU’s Business College, and Mr. Rashid Shahin, a student in Electrical Engineering at Ajman University. Mr. Adde has excellent knowledge & experience related to developing strategies required to reach the local & international market. While Mr. Shahin has excellent experience related to social media “e.g. Instagram: aromaniche” & creating websites “aromaniche.ae”.
The founders’ team is working with the guidance of the international mentor “Dr. Amir Gabr, Associate Professor, Research & Triangle Park, USA”. Besides, we also looking to work with researchers to look at potentially expanding the business to include a cosmetics line. "Aroma Niche is our lifetime dream, and we will spare no effort to launch it as soon as possible,” said Ms. Shahin.
“We attended many potential professional workshops and meetings designed by the SIP; to guide us in how to develop our idea and convert it into a real, profitable business, with great values. Besides, we participated in different occasions and international conferences to promote our startup. It is worth mentioning that we have succeeded in creating different prototype lines, including herbal tea, coffee, essential oils and massage oils, and we will soon participate in international events to raise funding.” said Ms. Shahin.
“This luxury brand will be unique, based on a solid scientific background and great cultural values that will be emphasized through the fact it has been established from native UAE and GCC plants."
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