Analysis Issue 02 - 2021 MAGAZINE

Dubai Startup Hub attracts global attention

The ease of doing business in Dubai is coupled with the relatively safe environment of the UAE and tax-free system

Dubai Startup Hub is the entrepreneurial initiative of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Earlier in January 2021, it launched eight specialised sector guides to benefit entrepreneurs by launching their startups and help them pursue business in the UAE.

Established in 2016 by the Dubai Chamber, the startup hub is said to be the first of its kind initiative in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that aims to emphasise the value of the collaboration between the public and private sector. It also fosters innovation and entrepreneurship as the key drivers to the economy in Dubai and UAE. It has helped provide a multi-programme platform for startups worldwide to explore business opportunities in Dubai. Additionally, it enables them to benefit from initiatives and services like the Market Access Programme, Emirati Development Programme, Dubai Smartpreneur Competition and the Co-Founder Dubai Programme, among others.

Dubai is considered to be one of the leading global leaders in innovation and technology that benefits businesses seeking efficient operational solutions. The city is said to provide a conducive environment for entrepreneurs and stands out as an attractive hub globally where they develop, create and succeed. A recent media report revealed that the Saeed Khalifa Mohammed Al Fuqaei, chairman of Dubai-based Shuraa Business Setup, is helping 60 businesses per month on average to relocate to the emirate and expand operations. It is expected that these numbers will continue to grow as the country cements its position as a significant location for entrepreneurs.

Dubai: The commercial hub of the Middle East

The growth was made possible by placing itself as the commercial hub of the Middle East and holds simple company formation processes. It also helped reduce setup costs compared to the rest of the world. In the last 20 years, Shuraa Business Setup has helped establish 35,000 entrepreneurs in Dubai, including multinational companies like Dabur, OYO and NAS Daily. Founded in 2001, the enterprise has an employee strength of 150. They are dedicated to support the government’s mission to position the UAE as a growth-centric economic hub of the Middle East.

Dubai Economic Department issued 42,640 new business licenses despite the country’s economic turmoil during the Covid-19 pandemic throughout 2020. It witnessed a four percent increase over the amount granted in 2019. Along with the excitement of startups that they would have a branch in Dubai, the ease of doing business in the country is coupled with the relatively safe environment of the UAE and tax-free system.

It is said that when compared to countries like India or Pakistan, where the laws are unclear, the Dubai government has made things easy to set up companies and immediate availability of investment visa. World Bank ranked the UAE as the 11th country in its latest Ease of Doing Business report out of 190 countries. Notably, Dubai was rated top ten among the safest cities in the world to live in. Across the fields of manufacturing, agriculture, construction, renewable energy, space, hospitality and food services, ICT and art, healthcare, and entertainment, there has been a considerable increase in foreign direct investment (FDI)offers which include 100 percent foreign ownership for 122 economic activities across these 13 sectors.

The three main innovations hubs in the MENA region are the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia which accounts for 68 percent of the total deals disclosed in 2020. The UAE had ranked first and made the maximum total funding and the highest number of contracts. It has declared 129 deals worth $579 million in 2020.

Effects of Covid-19 pandemic on the startup ecosystem

Dubai Startup Hub recorded a 236 percent year-on-year growth rate in the membership during the first two quarters of 2020. It attracted a large volume of highly potential startups specialising in fintech, healthtech, education, sustainability, ecommerce, wellness and supply chain that came from changing market conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The growth signals the upturn in entrepreneurial activity as startups in the UAE and across the world look into capitalising on emerging markets and provide new solutions to the emirate amid the accelerated digital transformation. Members of the Dubai Startup Hub reached 1,568 in the first half of 2020, compared to 466 in the same periods in 2019. A 13 percent of average monthly growth in applications was registered. Half of it was for core programmes from outside the UAE that affirms Dubai’s positions as an attractive market for startups worldwide. It collaborated with 70 business incubators during the first and second quarters of 2020, including India, UK, USA, Hungary, Russia, Germany and China. It had received 50 percent of the international startup applications for its core programmes.

The outbreak of Covid-19 impacted businesses all around the globe. Dubai Startup Hub realigned its offerings and resources to satisfy the changing needs of startups and SMEs in Dubai. It also organised about 23 virtual events that supported 1,200 entrepreneurs as it addressed key challenges such as funding, global expansion, banking, market research and data and digital innovation.

Launch of 8 sector guides

The sector guides launched earlier this year cover fintech, healthcare, education, transportation, food and beverage, social impact, sustainability, travel, tourism, and hospitality. The Hub planned the guides to provide a comprehensive list of business incubators and conferences that concentrates on specific industries. It is considered an innovative new tool that could help startups. They also form part of the Dubai Chamber’s plan that will address the repercussions of the pandemic. A considerable amount from the Dubai Chamber was said to have been earmarked for knowledge-building and providing information for entrepreneurs during crucial times.

Before the launch of the guides, Dubai Chamber introduced the Networking Series that ran from mid-October to mid-December 2020. The launch was implemented in collaboration with Virtuzone, a business setup company. The fifth edition drew more than 360 participants, of which 22 percent were entrepreneurs from Emirates in addition to business owners tuning in from all over the world.
The Dubai Startup Hub aims to support the emerging companies and help them understand and navigate the procedures to establish a business in Dubai. It helps facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge and lays a strong foundation for partnership and cooperation. This initiative will eventually boost Dubai’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and strengthens its position as a global destination for new entrepreneurs.

Around 1,650 participants were attracted to the Networking Series of Dubai Chamber throughout the five editions that included seasoned entrepreneurs, new startup founders and investors. 48 meetings were held and the attendees came forward to share their success stories, explore the ways to overcome barriers, highlight the necessary tools for the development of their businesses, and help create an environment to network and build new relationships.

The second cycle of finding co-founders

During mid-March this year, Dubai Startup Hub launched the second cycle of its co-founder programme to find potential co-founders. Eleven startups were selected and will receive training support, legal and human resource advice, and digital tools that can help entrepreneurs pitch with investors and industry experts. The programme opened and started accepting applications in February and received over 60 applications coming in from Canada, Brazil, India, Africa and Russia, and MENA-based startups.

These selected startups will be able to access the industry-specific networking session with founders with successful stories. The training workshops can be personalised tp the needs of the company and get the much-required media exposure.

The 11 selected startups

The 11 selected startups are Hamples, a digital sampling platform that lets customers receive samples from the desired brands, Gigthree, a technology-enabled platform that helps match experts with jobs on-demand. Hikayati, an online website that allows children to create their personalised storybooks; Storically, another platform that offers customised books for the younger generation, Parfumery, an e-commerce site that sells bespoke perfumes. Parma Global is another selected startup which is an online healthcare education provider. Viugo, a media company that helps to deliver content using a combination of immersive technology and CGI. Believe Nutrition, a business-to-business food-tech firm that provides online nutritional coaching and Braidboxx, a hair-braiding on-demand platform that provides its services at home. Dubai Startup Hub has thus far received 140 enquiries from startups that are searching for business partners. Among the selected, eleven more than half of the businesses are led by females. In the 2021 cycle, over 60 applications turned in.

Dubai Startup Report 2021

In early January this year, Dubai Startup Hub and Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec), a tech co-working space wholly owned by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), released the Dubai Startup Report 2021. It guides Dubai’s startup ecosystem and what it can offer to international investors and entrepreneurs, along with business-friendly incentives and measures. Both the entities’ collective experience has jointly helped over 10,000 founders and investors in the Emirate. It is focused on boosting foreign investment and attracting global startups. The report also attributes the level of economic competitiveness in Dubai and a guide to locate its free zones, other government initiatives that will potentially ease the process of setting up a business in the Emirate. It also holds the details on the venture capital ecosystem and additional financial accesses.

The business-friendly incentives mentioned in the report include the UAE golden card permanent residency system for expat investors, a five-year visa for entrepreneurs and a procedure that could grant UAE citizenship to certain foreigners. The Dubai Startup Report was released when startups drove the country’s digital transformation, fostering innovation and playing a crucial role in building the economy post-Covid-19. It also supports Dubai Chamber’s comprehensive entrepreneurship strategy and the current efforts to promote the country as a market for high-potential startups globally.

Transition to a digitally-driven economy

The Hub is expected to play a much more significant role in supporting the country’s transition to a digitally-driven economy. It has had successful collaborations with entrepreneurship ecosystem partners that helped the initiative in order to serve a vast network of startups in 2020. In the post-pandemic period, these tech startups can accelerate Dubai’s transition. The benefits offered to SMEs and startups through stimulus packages and business-friendly measures introduced by the UAE and Dubai governments have also positively impacted the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In early April 2021, the UAE and Saudi Arabia saw startup sectors booming in the region as young entrepreneurs navigated for futuristic and innovative platforms and were to drive regional growth for the startup sector. In terms of total capital investment by value and the number of deals, the UAE emerged as a tech startup nation in the MENA region. It also acted as a magnet that attracted talents globally with its well-developed infrastructure, leading the innovation hub for accelerators and incubators in the region. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is developing its ecosystem for innovation and venture capital. Opening up its economy in the recent reforms has provided immense opportunities to bring in disruptive technology applications. Also, the favourable demographics offer a significant marketplace for technology adoption. The Kingdom provides a ready pool of tech talent to address homegrown possibilities.

In order to facilitate innovation and investment in new startups, accelerators like Techstars are playing a vital role with tech hubs like Hub71. Apart from aiming at attracting startups to the MENA region, it paves the way for future innovations in the digital economy. TheTechstars Startup Weekend Covid-19 KSA was conducted in July 2020 and was attended by more than 550 entrepreneurs from Saudi, out of which two two-thirds were women. Virtual panels, workshops and networking events addressed the challenges created due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

New leap in healthtech

Recently Dubai launched a new incubator, Ztartup, in the emirate that will focus on developing health technology businesses. It is located in the city’s dedicated health care zone. It will help businesses in digital media, augmented and virtual reality, and digital emergency and safety technology. It is expected to connect the entrepreneurs to the investors to a network of specialists and mentors to enable them to develop ideas. The project is also to house specialised laboratories that could help entrepreneurs to design prototypes of their projects. Dubai SME is a unit of the city’s economic department that takes care of small and medium-sized businesses. It stated that incubators play a crucial role in ensuring that startups can maximise their potential that will eventually lead to contributing to the economy.

There should be balanced support from the public and private sectors that could create new market opportunities for startups to enhance the role of SMEs in the economy. It will open diverse financing channels for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and draw systems and laws for crowdfunding. It is known that UAE is keen on harnessing the startup community’s power to drive its growth further, given a challenging year for the global economy.

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