We live in a country where SMEs dominate the business scene. And mindful of this, the Dubai government has created an environment that is geared up to assist startups to get off the ground with ease and great access to information and services.
Indeed, Dubai now ranks in the world’s Top 10 startup ecosystems. The UAE’s startup-supportive regulatory environment, culture of entrepreneurship, and strategic location certainly help foster a ‘can-do’ attitude among entrepreneurs. And pundits have observed UAE-based startups are outperforming new ventures elsewhere, thanks to the unique combination of factors offered here.
A key advantage might be access to a diverse, global talent pool. The UAE has invested heavily in education and has a high concentration of top universities – so startups have access to a large pool of skilled and knowledgeable workers. The UAE has also implemented policies that attract foreign talent, making it easier for startups to recruit the best candidates.
Dubai’s mission to create a digital-forward economy is reliant on expert talent. But there is global competition to attract talent, and the UAE moved fast to offer a wide raft of straightforward, easy-to-apply-for visas, from investors and entrepreneurs to freelancers and digital nomads.
A major change in the visa landscape came in 2019 with the introduction of the ‘golden visa’ scheme. This visa offers select foreign talent the opportunity to live and work in the country for 10 years without needing a sponsor.
The country’s favourable regulatory environment makes it easier for startups to establish and operate businesses, including streamlined registration processes, low tax rates, and access to funding. The government has launched initiatives aimed at supporting startups, such as Dubai Startup Hub, which gives entrepreneurs access to mentorship, networking and funding opportunities.
It’s commonly held that some 20 per cent of businesses fail in their first year, and approximately 60 per cent will cease trading within their first three years. Mindful of this, Dubai’s business environment – from Dubai Chamber workshops to a plethora of investment support - bolster startups.
Going for D33
For example, Dubai Economic Agenda (D33) is a strategy that aims to double the size of the emirate’s economy over the next 10 years and cement its status as one of the Top 3 global cities. Part of the strategy is to launch a scale-up programme for 30 companies to be global unicorns (startups valued at more than $1 billion) in new sectors such as e-commerce and AI.
The Sandbox initiative from Dtec – Dubai technology entrepreneur campus – is a supportive 12-month program offering early-stage tech entrepreneurs workshops, mentorship and access to a range of more than $150,000 plus of in-kind credits from program partners.
There is always the location
Let’s not forget the UAE’s strategic location, which brings access to a large and growing market. The UAE serves as a gateway to the MENA region, home to more than 400 million people. As a result, startups based in the UAE have access to a large and growing market, which can help them scale their businesses more quickly.
Two examples of successful UAE-based startups are:
Careem: A ride-hailing platform founded in Dubai in 2012. The company quickly gained popularity across the MENA region before being acquired by Uber in 2019 for $3.1 billion.
Souq.com: An e-commerce platform founded in Dubai in 2005 and acquired by Amazon for $580 million in 2017. It has since established its position as the leading online retailer in the Middle East.
With continued investment in education, infrastructure, and innovation, it is likely that the UAE will remain a top destination for startups for years to come.