STOCK Ajman Free Zone
The UAE today provides an infrastructure that is unmatched globally, said Al Naqi. Image Credit: Gulf News/ Anas Thacharpadikkal

Ajman: With one-click business license issuance procedures and affordable prices ranging from Dh5,555 to Dh17,000 for business setup, Ajman Free Zone is fast becoming the UAE’s top destination for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to launch their businesses.

This year, the Ajman Free Zone Authority (AFZA) aims to double new company registrations from 5,000 to 10,000 by the end of 2024.

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“The first quarter of 2024 has been the best-performing quarter compared to the past five years. We have achieved the highest net profit ever, with a 25 per cent increase compared to Q1 2023. We have had a 9 per cent increase in revenues, and we expect our workforce to increase by 15 per cent by the end of the year,” Al Naqi said.

The free zone’s diverse offerings are designed to attract new businesses, enhance its GDP contribution to the Emirate of Ajman. Gulf News/ Anas Thacharpadikkal

The free zone’s diverse offerings are designed to attract new businesses, enhance its GDP contribution to the Emirate of Ajman, and simplify the process for SMEs to kickstart their business journey.

However, Al Naqi said the one-click license issuance procedure remains fundamental to the Free Zone Authority’s short-term and long-term growth plan.

Gulf News sat down with the Director General of AFZA for a freewheeling conversation about what makes Ajman the ideal investment destination for new businesses.

Here are a few excerpts from the conversation.

How does the one-click license issuance procedure work?

Our potential SME clients have three core requirements: they need to start their business as soon as possible by getting their license. This is for them to get a residency and open a bank account. Once the initial compliance requirements of the companies are completed, the business license is issued with just one click. We have spent a lot of time thinking about this process. How can we give the applicants all these three in one click? We manage and control things fully under our control, such as license issuance.

We have re-engineered and integrated the process with relevant government departments and compliance authorities. We have applied design thinking and concluded the following: If information or documents (during the application procedure) could be more critically required, we eliminate it.

In the client’s entire life cycle with us, we do not ask for a document more than once. We have completely digitised the process. We also ensure that we do things parallelly and not sequentially. This has helped us arrive at one click in the first phase, and we address the client’s needs in the next phase proactively. A lot of the communication is done over WhatsApp, for example.

Ajman Free Zone interior
The one-click license issuance is applicable for all of our business verticals, said Al Naqi. Image Credit: Gulf News/ Anas Thacharpadikkal

Have you made any changes to the cost structure for business licenses?

Yes, when it comes to product design, we conducted our market benchmarking. We found that the most innovative product designs come from the telecom industry. Therefore, after researching the market and understanding its requirements and practices, we developed the “all-inclusive product bundle.”

This bundle transparently displays all products, bundles, and tariff cards. Potential clients can choose the right product with the right features from this all-inclusive package. We are committed to not asking for a single penny beyond this amount; there are zero hidden charges. That’s number one. We have bundled everything into one package and ensured that these packages are as competitive as possible, potentially the most competitive in the market. When you consider the value of these packages, they are designed to be highly competitive for entrepreneurs.

How has establishing AFZA helped business development and growth in Ajman?

AFZA is an umbrella organisation established in 2021 to oversee the Ajman Free Zone (AFZ) and its sub-free zones, the Ajman Free Media City, the Al Zawraa Free Zone, Ajman China Mall, and the Ajman Car Market.

Consolidating all free zones under an umbrella organisation ensures we are prepared for the next phase of economic growth. This integration has enriched our diverse business community and seamlessly sets the stage for future ventures.

Recently, we signed an MoU with the Ministry of Higher Education to establish an academic cluster for higher education. Additionally, we are potentially diversifying our free zones to include outsourcing and business process (BPO) industries. We are consolidating all businesses under the efficiency of one vertical drive, and we have successfully eliminated all bureaucracies within the various departments.

Ismail Al Naqi, Director- General, Ajman Free Zone Authority
In the UAE, there is no finish line. The UAE will always surprise us with something new that will exceed the expectation of the public, said Al Naqi. Image Credit: Gulf News/ Anas Thacharpadikkal

Which verticals and industries do you see the maximum growth potential?

As the Free Zones Authority, we see maximum growth in the retail segment. As the owner of the Ajman China Mall, our appetite for growth is significant, and we are eyeing an expansion to double the mall’s size. The new expansion would make the mall 1 million square feet.

There are currently 1,103 retail outlets in the mall, and we will see 100 per cent growth by the end of three years when the new facility opens.

What are your plans for the education cluster that AFZA has worked on?

In the educational cluster, following our recent tie-up with the Ministry of Higher Education, a significant number of universities have applied to set up here. We are going to have the first international university campus operational by next year. It will be located near the Ajman China Mall.

What about investments in the AI and robotics space?

We have created the AI hub, bringing like-minded entrepreneurs together to collaborate. We are the enablers, facilitating entrepreneurs who play a role and want to venture into the AI space.

Based on our understanding, there is a need for venture capitalists (VCs) and funding partners to be part of this enabling ecosystem. We are exploring potential collaborations with VCs and private equity firms to support the growth of this sector.

This is being done mainly for technology companies. It could involve healthcare, generative AI, or 3D modelling and printing using AI.

Why are investors attracted to Ajman?

The word affordability is synonymous with Ajman. This is by design, not coincidence. This is the city’s strategy to maintain affordability. We aim for businesses, residents, and nationals to manage their total cost of ownership, ensuring a high quality of life. From a residential perspective, it’s an attractive offering, and similarly, it is available from a retail, tourism, and educational standpoint.

Another critical aspect is our strategic location. Ajman is situated in the heart of the UAE and is easily accessible. We are a few minutes from Sharjah and 20-30 minutes away from Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah, bridging gaps between these locations.

Currently, we have nine employees, but I am looking to expand to 30. We didn't start everything at once; our success has been gradual.

- Mohammed Abu Sweid
What drives businesses to Ajman Free Zone?
According to Mohammed Abo Sweid, the Executive Manager at Al Zorah Properties, "We officially started our business in January 2022, starting from scratch. One of the main reasons I chose Ajman Free Zone as our location was its potential in the Ajman market. Ajman is a beautiful place and we named our company with the belief that Ajman will become a destination for people seeking luxury."
"In our first year, we were a small company, primarily focused on real estate brokerage. Initially, there were just two of us, and now we have grown to 19 employees. We started in a small office but have since moved to two larger offices here," he added.
Abo Sweid said operating at AFZ brings with it benefits of having a well-functioning online portal where businesses can apply for everything they need, including employment visas and maintenance requests. "For example, if my AC isn't working, I simply send a message through that portal, and someone comes to fix it promptly," he said.