The Middle East is a region of disparity; huge socio-economic gaps within communities have always existed. For years, the region's chasms were overlooked or deemed impossible to improve. However, things seem to be changing as a tech-driven startup scene focused on creating a better future for upcoming generations emerges.
One of these businesses is Tulua - the Arabic word for "rise" - a startup invested in technologies to help anyone become a micro-farmer. The initiative aims at decentralizing farming in Middle Eastern countries, helping people and communities generate income through the industry.
Tulua's CEO and co-founder Jonathan Reyes has had a diverse career spanning different industries. His background in tech and interest in artificial intelligence (AI), combined with years of experience in Los Angeles, U.S., pushed him to start his current company.
Reyes moved to the Middle East in 2012 — eager to immerse himself in the region's culture. Shortly after his move, Reyes took a role at STEP Group, the parent company of StepFeed, and explained that he "was very passionate about seeing this new voice emerge giving shape to the modern Arab that loves tech, culture, and change."
At the time of his move, an undercurrent brought him into connection with the earth, he explained. Though he was unaware of it at the time, it ultimately spurred his interest in learning more about "the earth and how technology could enhance, nurture and improve it in new and exciting ways."
Another turning point in Reyes' life was when he and his wife had a little boy and girl, Ryan and Farah. Becoming a father motivated him to think of the future they'd have in a region people believe is overflowing with "turmoil, instability, and lack of opportunity." But, there is more opportunity than meets the eye. Reyes began thinking of solutions and how he could be part of building a world with better prospects.
"When you look at the current state of the region, you begin to see an ever increasing divide between: technology and the earth, profit and impact, success and community, students and jobs, politics and need.
The true purpose of business, in my opinion, is to disrupt this status quo using necessary technology (thanks Ghandi) and empowering a local population to do so with a solution that is birthed from within the context in which they reside," Reyes told StepFeed.
Tulua was born out of that — its vision encompasses empowerment and aims to create a foundation for millions of families.
To Reyes, the Middle East doesn't need Western solutions to solve its issues or improve the lives of its people. Instead, the region needs "indigenous creative solutions, that use the resources available, to change how things are done."
Turning the farming industry into an accessible one in the region is game-changing and lies at the core of Tulua's vision. Reyes and his partners are working on operating at an "atmospheric level" and striving to "systematically change and empower" the lives of people around them.
"There is more room for innovation in the clients hands. The lives that are impacted will begin to impact the people that they interact with creating a repetitive ripple effect," he explained.
The name of the startup is also thoughtful, carrying deep meaning. "The rising sun, a rising of new technology to meet needs, the ascension of a community to a new level of living, the ascension of a new way of life for everyone. It is also the next level for us as members of Tulua," Reyes told us.
Despite the positivity that lies in the name, obstacles did find their way in.
"We have talked with countless people who say it will fail because the politics or economies are too unstable. People say there isn't a market for what we're wanting to sell. People can't afford or won't be willing to purchase anything in agriculture."
Tulua's team fought through with a bright vision and a lot of persistence, but mainly with passion. Reyes' advice? "In the book, Talk like Ted, they say 'passion is scientifically proven to be contagious.'"
Tulua aims at changing farming as we know it in the region by decentralizing the ownership of farms "to empower local economies, families, and inherently improve their quality of life."
"There is no room for monopolization," Reyes explained.
Families are thus given the opportunity, tools, and products to help them grow their own farming businesses on-site. Tulua also gives its clients the ability to plant "higher-quality crop and with more yield than a traditional farm using the same amount of space."
Currently, the startup is invested in the concept of Aquaponics, which is a farming system "that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system."
"We use Aquaponics in all of our systems as we believe it effectively harnesses the power of Earth's biosphere in smaller project-size farms. These farms can be as small as a simple home system and scale up to a massive commercial farm," the father-of-two said.
Tulua's upcoming work will feature rooftop, container (pods), and commercial farms.
"Our projects revolve around three specific things: getting people access (data, information and tools in their native language), getting them inspired (seeing what is possible), getting them empowered (giving them the tools to scale within their growth zone)."
In the next few years, the startup's founders aim to offer everything their clients need to build their own unique Aquaponics systems. Tulua will also provide "a hub of research, articles, algorithms, AI, system designs, and even a way to get your produce in-store."
There's nothing young people in the Arab world can't do, especially with the help they're being offered by governments such as the UAE.
"If you're tired of hearing the outdated loop of a victimized narrative, change the narrative. Flood yourself with a narrative that has altruism at the core, and everyone around you will be elevated.
Live as though your success only comes when those around you are successful," Reyes ended on a hopeful note.