Stock - Aerial view of Al Wasl, part of the future District 2020.
Aerial view of Al Wasl, part of the future District 2020. Global startups and multinationals focussed on innovation will be among the future tenants at the new Dubai destination. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Fancy your chances of opening an office in Dubai – and that too rent-free for two years? If it is for a global startup in the innovation space, then that business does have a chance.

District 2020, which will be what the Expo 2020 venue and destination will be known as after March 31, is handpicking such startups to be among the first tenants to move in once the repurposed site opens its doors. This could be sometime by late October or early November, according to a top official.

The chosen startups, numbering more than 80, for the initiative called 'Scale2Dubai' will be known by late March.

“We have shortlisted applications for the ‘Scale2Dubai’ programme, which allows companies that fit a certain criteria to come to District 2020, get the two-year free rent and assistance on visas,” said Nadimeh Mehra, Vice-President of the Transition Unit at District 2020. “They get the soft landing in Dubai and immediately plug into the ecosystem we are creating.

“These startups need to be in green energy, smart city innovations, smart mobility, or technologies that support these concepts. And they have to be pretty well-established in their own countries. We have done an analysis of key growth sectors that are important not only for Dubai and UAE, but the region.

“The two-year rent-free only applies to those companies chosen under Scale2Dubai - everyone else is treated as a regular tenant.”

  1. From March 31, the Expo 2020 site will start its next phase. Work to repurpose the 4.38 square kilometre site will begin immediately.
  2. Around 80 per cent of Expo-built super-structures will be retained to host up to 145,000 residents and workers.
  3. 115,000 square metres of net leasable area will become available for companies starting October.

The rent-free programme is particularly notable, as Dubai widens its search to bring in the best global talents to people the new technologies and industries they could end up creating. Recent government-level initiatives – at the emirate and federal level – have placed the highest priority on tech- and digital-led possibilities.

These chosen ones will take up office space at District 2020 alongside multinational giants such as Siemens and the Chinese tech group Terminus, while Dubai’s DP World will “contribute to the smart logistics landscape”.

“We have a lot of requests from companies that are thinking of establishing in Dubai,” said Mehra. “These are companies that have had an interest in Dubai, and that interest has only grown because we have proven our resilience during the economic downturn the world has seen in the last two years.”

Stock - Nadimeh Mehra
According to Nadimeh Mehra, "We want to ensure District 2020 is a smart city in every sense. That will evolve constantly for future needs as well, whether it is six months from now or five years." Image Credit: Supplied

A new ‘city’

This is where District 2020 fits right in. The entire ‘city’ will operate as an “innovation hub” to be the design house for future technologies.

“Companies in the innovation space are interested to come here because they can treat the entirety of District 2020 as an ‘urban lab’,” said Mehra. “They can create proof-of-concept, get funding partners and they can test their products out within District 2020.

“We have a whole department that is focussed on creating the right ecosystems. This department is the one listing out which are the big companies we want to attract, and who are the accelerators and VCs we want to have to create an enabling environment.

“The real estate under District 2020 will be the hard legacy from hosting the Expo. The soft legacy relates to the innovation element of it. We will transition the real estate into a future smart city designed with a human-centric approach.

“We have about 2 million square feet of builtup area that’s already been transitioned for the post-Expo requirements. The whole of District 2020 is an innovation hub. Whether you live, work or just visiting, you will have exposure to innovation, whether it’s with the future of work, or the type of environments that we have created for tenants established there.”

We have all this incredible real estate and the incredible cultural elements that we get from the Expo site. Plus, we inherit all that incredible digital infrastructure that we established for the Expo

- Nadimeh Mehra of District 2020