Who will be the next unicorn coming out of Dubai? (Pictured above is Hadi Badri, CEO, The Economic Development Department at Department of Economy and Tourism) Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: For aspiring unicorns, there is no better time and place than now to do business in Dubai - and use it as the gateway to the rest of the Middle East, according to a top Dubai government official.

“We as a government will continue to nurture our flourishing SME ecosystem, and we aim to accelerate 30 companies to reach unicorn status by 2033,” said Hadi Badri, CEO of the Economic Development Department at Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, at the World Government Summit.

“Governments play an important role in shaping an entrepreneurial ecosystem and culture. And in Dubai, we’re working tirelessly to create an environment that does just that.”

Dubai’s ambitious D33 economic agenda plans to harness the power of entrepreneurship, technology, innovation, and a thriving startup economy, with the overall objective of doubling GDP.

To become a unicorn, a company must reach an investor valuation of $1 billion or more. As of 2023, there are only 554 unicorns worldwide.

“In the UAE, our venture capital market and ecosystem remain vibrant,” said Badri. “In 2022, the MENA venture capital (VC) investment exceeded $3 billion. VC funds invested in the UAE represented 40 per cent of all of our funding.”

Even though the UAE only represents three per cent of MENA’s population.

“It’s widely believed that the first unicorns emerged in 2010 - so not so long ago. By 2021, there were 130 new unicorns every quarter, and in that year, the number of unicorns doubled.

Badri said those that can achieve the accolade of becoming a unicorn seem to be doing it sooner these days. “This is thanks to AI and new digital business models,” said Badri. “In some markets, something as simple as internet and smartphone penetration.

“For me, it’s not about their valuation being north of a billion dollars. For me, it’s about how simple it makes my life.

“While being an entrepreneur may be more accessible and achievable than ever, successfully scaling a startup and achieving unicorn status requires resources, opportunity, governance, and ecosystems.”