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The UAE’s best free zones are looking at out-of-the-box solutions to attract global entrepreneurial talent in the wake of the pandemic. Heads of the best free zones and business consultancies in the country reveal game plans

MARTIN PEDERSEN, CHAIRMAN, IFZA

With nations slowly opening borders in the wake of the pandemic, what is IFZA planning to do differently to attract global entrepreneurial talent?

IFZA thrives in a culture of constant progress and the past 18 months have been an opportunity for us to present the IFZA platform in different ways, particularly to the UAE business and diplomatic community through collaborations and events.

As nations are slowly opening their borders and with the advent of Expo 2020 Dubai, we are looking forward solidifying these foundations and turn opportunities into possibilities for global entrepreneurs looking to locate themselves at IFZA.

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Martin Pedersen, Chairman, IFZA Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ Gulf News

Relationship building is one of the critical facets that leads to successful entrepreneurship. What part does the IFZA Academy play in this regard?

IFZA is firm in our commitment to know our partners on a personal level, not just over business. Developing the IFZA Academy is one of the important expressions of this commitment to our global network of Professional Partners by providing one-on-one opportunities to transfer knowledge and create shared experiences that highlight our people-first approach.

IFZA prides itself in building lasting bonds with communities through its partnerships with the Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club (AHPRC) and the IFZA Gold Cup tournament. What are the organisation’s long-term plans in this space?

Building on the success of our community partnerships such as the AHPRC Polo Season 2020-2021, we are proud to say that our collaborations have expanded beyond sports. Last April and May, IFZA worked alongside Nikon MEA to recognise creative women through the photographic competition “Woman, Phenomenally”, which garnered more than 600 entries across the MENA Region. The coming months will see more collaborations across sports, creative and business platforms, including the second year of our partnership with polo.

How does IFZA hope to create value for its partners while building their businesses in the short and long term?

We are at an exciting point in our history where our vision is being confirmed by the value that IFZA brings to our people and to the UAE. This inspires us to build on what we have achieved and continue our evolution at an even faster pace. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai probably said it best for us: “They say the sky is the limit for ambition. We say: the sky is only the beginning.”

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ENG. ALI ALSUWAIDI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, AJMAN FREE ZONE

With nations opening their borders as the effects of the pandemic wear off, what is Ajman Free Zone doing differently to attract global entrepreneurial talent?

We have put in place integrated processes to attract companies and entrepreneurs worldwide. Making up our system are our vital legal frameworks, value-added digital services, incentives and packages, modern infrastructure and resources, and many more. All these enable us to maintain our world-class business ecosystem and create opportunities for all stakeholders.

The steady expansion of our strong network of government and private partners is also key to further enhancing our offerings. Many firms have chosen us as a platform to launch their regional operations because of what we can offer them. This allows us to better position the free zone as the UAE’s best business destination.

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Eng. Ali AlSuwaidi, Director General, Ajman Free Zone Image Credit: Supplied

What are the new focus sectors for Ajman Free Zone?

We are focusing on addressing the needs of more than 15 sectors which have strong potentials in today’s digital age. They include health and beauty (H&B), technology, education and food and beverage (F&B) all of which are well-positioned for growth.

A 35 per cent increase in new companies setting up base at the free zone is excellent news. Is Ajman attracting the entrepreneurial community and what is Ajman Free Zone doing to promote the Emirate’s benefits?

Our steady expansion as a community reflects the rising number of entrepreneurs coming to Ajman, one of the top destinations of choice in the UAE, to set up their businesses here. For us, we will remain consistent in highlighting Ajman’s strengths as a community conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as in meeting business and investor requirements.

Furthermore, to support economic diversification, we are consistently building partnerships with various organisations to enhance industry clusters such as education, F&B, advanced technology, and H&B, our four focus sectors.

We are collaborating with our business partners, government entities, industry players, and other stakeholders to better serve these sectors, which are vital to the country’s socio-economic progress.

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DR KHALID OMAR AL MIDFA, CHAIRMAN, SHARJAH MEDIA CITY

How does Shams help entrepreneurs run their businesses more efficiently?

Traditional entrepreneurship has mainly been focused on manufacturing and industrial products. Our focus on creative entrepreneurship stems from the need to support businesses, which utilise their intellectual knowledge and skills to thrive. Businesses built on creative ideas are the ones with the potential to disrupt the market and change the way business is conducted on a day-to-day basis. At Shams, we fuel creative entrepreneurship by reducing their cost of entry into the market and by providing them a supportive ecosystem for them to thrive. Through various events and exhibitions, we also provide our startups a platform to showcase their business to potential clients, partners and investors.

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Dr Khalid Omar Al Midfa, Chairman of Sharjah Media City Image Credit: Supplied

What is the next growth phase for the free zones industry in the UAE, and what role do you see Shams playing in this?

It is the very nature of media to adapt and evolve as per the ever-changing circumstances in the market. The media industry has been improvising consistently, even during the pre-Covid era. However, the pandemic has pushed the industry into a direction where digital media is king, this is a reality most industries are gradually accepting and adapting to the best of their abilities. The pandemic, while having an obstructive impact on traditional media, gave digital media the chance to shine.

Within Shams, we have witnessed a surge of entrepreneurs opting for our digital licences, be it e-commerce, mobile-app development or digital advertising. Businesses with a strong digital footprint have been able to weather this storm and we are gradually seeing others following suit.

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SALIM OMAR SALIM, DIRECTOR, SPC FREE ZONE

With nations slowly opening borders in the wake of the pandemic, what is SPC Free Zone planning to do differently to attract global entrepreneurial talent?

SPC Free Zone offers extensive support for budding entrepreneurs to tap into emerging markets, providing the necessary infrastructure and allocating the right resources for their requirements. We understand their need for flexibility, which is why we offer specially curated, affordable Entrepreneur packages with the option to combine multiple activities from different sectors.

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Salim Omar Salim, Director, SPC Free Zone Image Credit: Supplied

E-commerce and IT solutions are expected to see strong growth during the Expo 2020 period. What does SPC Free Zone have in store for businesses within these verticals?

We are leaders in the market and offer a large number of activities within the IT and e-commerce sectors. We have a fully digitalised system and currently have 900+ companies registered with us within these industries.

How is Sharjah acting as an enabler for small businesses and what is SPC Free Zone doing to complement this?

Sharjah has a stable regulatory and operating ecosystem, limited trade barriers, government initiatives such as financial aid and business-friendly policies. SPC Free Zone provides SMEs with a cost-effective, accessible platform with efficient operational times. We are the fastest free zone with license issued in two hours, and the entire process completed in four-six days.

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SYAM PANAYICKAL PRABHU, FOUNDER & MANAGING DIRECTOR, AURION

With nations slowly opening borders in the wake of the pandemic, what is Aurion Business Consultants doing differently to help global entrepreneurial talent looking to set up base in the UAE?

UAE is renowned as the land of Free Zones and Aurion is a top notch business consulting and advisory service provider in the region. With travel restrictions currently easing and international borders opening up, our business consultants are constantly updating our global clients with the recent travel and visa rules apart from the promotions announced by free zones in UAE.

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Syam Panayickal Prabhu, Founder & Managing Director, Aurion Image Credit: Supplied

Our team also provides end-to-end business consulting and allied services to ensure the foreign investors have a hassle-free business setup in the UAE.

Is the approach to efficient set-up of a business changing here in the UAE, how prepped is Aurion to meet these changes?

Company incorporation is only the first step for the businessmen. Due to the implementation of several laws to be complied by companies, Aurion strives to educate clients and streamline their operations so that they can run business from a perfect launch pad.

What are the challenges you foresee for business set-up consultants going forward?

As the number of free zones in the market increases, it is getting competitive with numerous offerings. The client is often confused to make the right choice.

Some free zones have reduced the fee considerably to win the race of quoting the least fee. But every prudent investor knows that the cheapest is not always the best. Here comes the role of consultants to advise investors in making right decision. Right now, UAE is the most attractive trade destination in Middle East. Banks have categorised several countries as high risk and we get numerous enquiries from such countries. Opening bank account for such high risk nationalities is challenging task.

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HATEM ELSAFTY, CEO, BUSINESS LINK

What is Business Link doing differently to help attract global entrepreneurial talent as nations slowly open borders in the wake of the pandemic?

Setting up your own business globally is not an easy task and therefore you require professional assistance that can guide you at every step. Business Link provides business set-up solutions while looking at the task at hand from the customer’s perspective, and provides cost-effective solutions for small to large-scale business owners. It also provides quick processing with 100 per cent reliability and accurate information with complete transparency.

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Hatem ElSafty, CEO, Business Link Image Credit: Supplied

How critical are legal services to the overall service portfolio that Business Link offers its clients? Is there anything new that you are offering in this field?

Business Link has highly skilled and experienced professionals who are experts in resolving all types of legal and non-legal issues which make the process hassle-free for you. Plus, you get an opportunity to turn your dream business into reality with adherence to all the legal formalities as we execute every important documentation work on your behalf. we assure that we can assist you with the most accurate and economical way of establishing the company with quality corporate services meeting all your business needs.

Efficiently setting up a business is the cornerstone for free zone business consultants. How is Business Link curing the pitch for its clients keeping market challenges in mind?

According to the investor’s budget, we would assist them with the best business plan and educate them on pros and cons of each free zone which would help them to choose the ideal business location. We take care of all their needs from pre-approval to the licence issuance and make the process easier for each client.

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AYUB AHMED IQBAK, FOUNDER & CEO, CAPITAL INTERNATIONAL GROUP

With nations slowly opening borders in the wake of the pandemic, what is CIG is doing differently to help global entrepreneurial talent looking to set up base in the UAE?

Dubai has always been proactive in its approach irrespective whether it is business as usual or managing a crisis. The swiftness with which Dubai reacted to control the pandemic and ensured business continuity itself is a testament for setting up business in this great nation. Positioning our vision with that of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to ensure talented individuals and innovative ideas have a platform in the country, we customise the package based on their requirements and offer them cost-effective solutions to set-up and run their business with flexible payment plans.

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Ayub Ahmed Iqbal, Founder & CEO, Capital International Group Image Credit: Supplied

Is the approach to efficient set-up of a business changing here in the UAE, how prepped is CIG to meet these changes?

Yes, the UAE believes in staying abreast in the competitive world market by constantly challenging status-quo and leverage technological advancement coupled with innovative means to make user journey memorable. CIG, with a legacy of over 15 years in assisting entrepreneurs to set up and run their businesses in the UAE, has witnessed a paradigm shift from the conventional document processing approach to a structured process-driven operating model.

At CIG, we welcome the change and our business intelligence team closely monitor, understand and analyse the changes and immediately tweak our standard operating procedures to be calibrated with the federal government. Our systems are designed keeping in mind scalability and the rest is managed by our talented employees.

What are the challenges you foresee for business set-up consultants going forward?

Dubai has witnessed exponential growth in the last couple of months, swiftly recovering from the pandemic, and the trajectory is looking positive with Expo 2020. Having said that business consultants will be challenged to stay afloat and quickly adapt to the changes and meet client requirements. The top three challenges I foresee for business set-up consultants moving forward include:

Uncertainty about the future: The Government’s initiative of creating platforms that are user friendly for the end user (self-service) cuts out middlemen, leaving business set-up consultants staring at a possible extinction scenario.

Manage fierce competition: There are too many business consultants, as well as freelance consultants in the market, which will keep everyone on their toes to acquire and retain customers.

Capacity to creatively diversify: Business consultants should have the ability to provide multiple solutions under one umbrella to acquire and retain customers.

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LORENZO JOORIS, CEO, CREATIVE ZONE

With nations slowly opening borders in the wake of the pandemic, what is Creative Zone doing differently to help global entrepreneurial talent looking to set up base in the UAE?

There is a significant spike in investors and global entrepreneurs turning to Dubai to set up shop because the world saw how efficiently the country managed the pandemic while maintaining its economic resilience. Starting a company in a new country can be a weary process, and in the scenario, if an entrepreneur gets a partner/adviser on the ground helping them find their foothold and guiding them along the way, it can truly fast-track their launch and growth. And we get this done for our local and international clients through ‘Scale 971’, a project in collaboration with Lead Ventures, known for transforming businesses with their strategic-partnership model.

This is a first-of-its-kind initiative and, so far, has helped numerous companies in opening the right doors, develop a long-term support network, and achieve desired business goals.

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Lorenzo Jooris, CEO, Creative Zone Image Credit: Supplied

The partnerships you are signatory to are the talk of town. What does the recent signing with Meydan Free Zone entail for UAE’s entrepreneurial sector?

Our alliance with Meydan anchors on providing SMEs and large organisations a stable regulatory and operating environment together with creating a global framework for local prosperity. Developed around the prestigious Dubai Racecourse near downtown Dubai, Meydan Free Zone offers the most cost-effective option to setup a business in Dubai.

It offers complete free zone incentives such as 100 per cent ownership, no taxation, no currency restrictions, possibility of hiring foreign labour, high-speed internet connectivity, no duty on import and export, and offers flexi desk option, which is very convenient for those who do not require a permanent physical office for their business.

With Mainland allowing 100 per cent foreign ownership, how do you foresee the future of free zones in the UAE?

Free zones hold a special place in the UAE’s economic advancement and have been the drivers of foreign investment into the country. Contrary to common opinion, free zones are and will continue to draw new and specialised businesses as they provide faster entry into the market, additional infrastructure, industry-specific facilities such as seaports, airline terminals and warehousing. Another distinct advantage of free zones is the ability to combine different business activities and fewer external approvals.

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MARIBEN CHRISTINE TAN EUSTAQUIO, FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, EZONE

With nations slowly opening borders in the wake of the pandemic, what is E-Zone doing differently to help global entrepreneurial talent looking to set up base in the UAE?

With the UAE’s efficient approach to managing the pandemic as well as with Expo2020 opening its doors in a few days, businesses & entrepreneurs alike are eyeing the UAE to not only to set up a base for their businesses but also for them to reside in. At EZONE, although we are primarily a business setup company, we carefully assess and understand the needs of each individual or entity approaching us for advice. If they do not require incorporation and will benefit more from just obtaining a Remote Working Visa or other types of Visa Initiatives rolled out by the UAE Government, this is the advice and direction we give them.

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Mariben Christine Tan Eustaquio, Founder & Managing Director, EZONE Image Credit: Supplied

Is the approach to efficient set-up of a business changing here in the UAE, how prepped is E-Zone to meet these changes?

The UAE Government’s initiatives intended to foster the business environment and promote development within the Emirates has been remarkable. Business setup today has dramatically evolved from 10 years ago. Having been in this industry for 10 years now and experiencing first hand how the laws & regulations have evolved, the professional team at EZONE are more than equipped to guide existing & potential investors in the UAE make the right decisions in structuring & restructuring their businesses.

What are the challenges you foresee for business set-up consultants going forward?

Should the UAE continue on their applaudable efforts to ensuring that incorporating a business in the UAE is straightforward & efficient by being flexible with the rules & regulations and digitizing the entire incorporation process, as well as affordable by reducing the fees for business incorporation - business setup consultants will be very busy with the inflow of new investors coming into the country to either start their business or set up their regional offices.

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FARINA AHMAD, CEO & PARTNER, MAKE MY FIRM

How do you maintain an edge over other business consultants in the UAE?

With right consultancy, transparency and on time delivery, we are currently managing more than 400 firms for their set up operations in the UAE. We honour promises and that’s how we maintain an edge over other firms in the UAE.

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Farina Ahmad, CEO & Partner, Make My Firm Image Credit: Supplied

Now that the UAE allows 100 per cent ownership of business for foreign nationals, it has become easy to set up mainland companies. What are the things we need to consider before incorporating a mainland companies?

All the commercial licence categories are allowed to have 100 per cent ownership with expat shareholding, including any kind of trading activity like general trading, food stuff, furniture, building material, packaging material, readymade garments, building and construction material, medical equipment, heavy and light machinery, jewellery, chemicals, waste items, auto spare parts, agricultural products, mechanical and engineering equipment, trading in automobiles, stationary and books, electronics, home appliances, sports equipment and all kind of trading items.

It is now easier to get a trading commercial licence and you can get 100 per cent ownership with your commercial licence for trading business.

Even for professional licences, the expatriate shareholder will have 100 per cent ownership. There is no longer a requirement for having a local sponsor as a partner for any kind of licence in Dubai.

What are the benefits to set up the company in Dubai Mainland?

There are several benefits to set up the business in Dubai Mainland , such as quick process to get the licence in one day, you can freely do the business in local market without any restrictions, easy bank account opening process, you will get the address of Mainland Dubai which you can use on your website, letterhead and business cards.

Dubai Mainland has an open option for having unlimited visas based on your office size, whenever you need visas for your employees it can be applied without any changes in the licence.

The bank account opening is very smooth and has easy process with Dubai Mainland licence.

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KHUSHBU BHATIA, PARTNER, SMART ZONE

What is Smart Zone doing differently to help attract global entrepreneurial talent as nations slowly open up borders in the wake of the pandemic?

At Smart Zone, we believe in empowering global entrepreneurs with the resources and tools they need to set up their business in the UAE. Apart from providing a world-class client experience, our multilingual team is easily accessible through our centrally located Dubai office and a 24x7 live chat option. We also offer a complimentary online consultation to answer any questions that may arise. In addition to that, foreign entrepreneurs can establish a UAE business from anywhere in the world using our three-step digital business setup process.

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Khushbu Bhatia, Partner, Smart Zone Image Credit: Supplied

How critical are legal services to the overall service portfolio that Smart Zone offers its clients? Is there anything new that you are offering in this field?

Being legally protected is sacrosanct to running a successful business. That’s why, our primary aim is to enable business owners to gain complete control over their business’ shareholding and decisions. We offer expert legal guidance on matters like corporate planning, corporate structure review, tax consulting and legal liability to keep entrepreneurs prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.

Efficiently setting up a business is the cornerstone for free zone business consultants. How is Smart Zone curing the pitch for its clients keeping market challenges in mind?

Navigating through the UAE’s highly complex and well-regulated economy can be challenging when it comes to complying with regulatory and business policies. With updated market intelligence, accuracy, and robust services, we take pride in guiding clients along every  step of their entrepreneurial journey. This includes, helping them navigate  through legal procedures and setting up their company from inception to fruition.