Brisbane biometric ID group Grabba secures Dubai foothold with Du Telecom contract renewal

Brisbane biometric ID group Grabba secures Dubai foothold with Du Telecom contract renewal

Photo: Fadi Al Shami via Unsplash

Biometric and identity technology company Grabba, backed by tech entrepreneur Ross McKinnon, has renewed a deal with United Arab Emirates telco services provider Du Telecom for another four years in a move that positions the Brisbane company as a major player in the region’s mobile identity solutions market.

While commercial terms of the deal have not been disclosed, Grabba CEO Jon Carter says the renewal by Du Telecom represents a “significant contract” for the company in its support of the country’s anti-terror and anti-money laundering legislation.

Grabba, which was founded in 2001, first entered the Dubai market six years ago after initially securing up a biometric services agreement with telco market leader Etisalat, Dubai’s equivalent to Telstra and one of the biggest consumer brands in the Middle East.

Grabba has about 15,000 devices deployed across the country through the Etisalat and Du Telecom agreements, performing millions of identity validations annually.

“They are two absolute banner customers for us that continue to drive the business (in Dubai) where we are currently working on further entry to the banking and financial sector here,” Carter tells Business News Australia from Dubai.

“Du Telecom is a big win and a wonderful partner for us; they’re quite innovative.”

The Du Telecom contract renewal builds on significant growth by Grabba since McKinnon and a group of high-net-worth investors bought the company in 2017.

Grabba, which designs and builds biometric identity solutions, now services more than 65,000 users globally through its operations in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

In the US, which Carter says is a key growth area for the group, the company has had a long-standing commercial arrangement with the Department of Homeland Security for the past decade.

The company also has projects under way with US Customs and Border Protection, the UK Home Office and the Canada Border Services Agency.

In the UAE, Grabba is one of the few trusted foreign companies to integrate its technology with the country’s identity and citizenship authority’s database.

Grabba’s says its core range S-Series device will be deployed alongside a new bespoke U-Series device to support identity verification at point of sale (POS) throughout the country. The technology is used when customers are required to validate their identity by presenting their national ID card and providing a physical fingerprint.

Th S-Series product offers handheld devices that attach to phones or tablets for data capturing and biometric identification. The U Series device plugs into the USB port allowing all communication and data transfer to be hard-wired and more secure.

Grabba has only just completed a capital raising for an undisclosed sum that Carter surprisingly says will be applied to building the company’s first dedicated market team.

“It was a growth-focused capital raise to recruit more sales and marketing team members given that we have grown our business without a marketing team to this point,” says Carter.

The CEO says growth to date has been achieved “organically, through word of mouth and responding to inbound inquiries”.

“We've never really got out there to have a swing.”

Carter says he is often asked how a company from Tingalpa in Brisbane has gained so much traction on a global stage.

“When you really break it down it’s because our solutions are quite novel and flexible,” he says.

“We’re also extremely responsive to our customers’ needs. That’s a level of support that in this market they don’t get.

“That’s the same with the US Department of Homeland Security. They love working with us because we are responsive and quicker than anything they can achieve.”

In a blog posted by McKinnon in 2020, he wrote that when his consortium bought Grabba in 2017 it “primarily was an R&D company, continually evolving their product into the best product possible within their field”.

“Their field was enabling digital transformation for large entities by providing bespoke devices that operate at the fringe of operations to automate all different forms of processing from simple POS systems and logistics through to biometrics,” wrote McKinnon.

“They were able to get the contracts that no one else wanted. The ones that required all the tough customisation work. The devices where they are turning the customers dream into reality.”

The business has made significant strides since McKinnon came on board, with Carter noting the pace has picked up sharply recently.

“The business has certainly grown from Ross’s investment and that has continued to accelerate over the past two-and-a-half years,” says Carter.

The CEO, who joined the business five years ago as general manager and later transitioned to COO, has been leading the company for the past 18 months following a short period as interim CEO. Carter works closely with McKinnon, who is Grabba’s executive chairman, to grow the business.

Grabba’s push into the UAE has been aided by Trade and Investment Queensland, which says it has led introductions to local networks and assisted with complex bidding and procurement processes.

“Grabba’s innovative technology is a great example of homegrown Queensland ingenuity providing leading solutions for a global challenge,” says Justin McGowan, the CEO of TIQ.

Grabba established an office in Dubai five years ago and ahead of the Du Telecom contract renewal appointed a managing director to lead the business in the region.

“We have had an office here for five years now and directly support the market and we are absolutely committed to being here,” says Carter.

“Europe is a really lucrative market for us given the significant biometric requirements needed for entry and exit in the EU which we will be rolling out over coming years.

“But we’re very significantly focused on the US at this point and we have been working on a go-to-market plan there for the past 18 months.”

Grabba has been targeting a number of new customers in North America to build on its customer base led by the US Department of Homeland Security and Canadian Border Service Agencies.

“We’ve also been targeting other US agencies such as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” says Carter.

“(The US) is a lucrative market that has something like 700,000 sworn police officers, so border protection and law enforcement is a key focus for us.

“They have adopted biometrics for entry and exits for some time and we’ve been servicing the department of Homeland Security for 10 years. That is only going to continue to grow as the need to identify people becomes more important and impactful.”

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