Like life itself, a new business can only thrive when operating in the right environment. Start-ups need the right facilities, regulatory framework and location to trade effectively.
While it might not enter the global spotlight to the same degree as Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) has been quietly making a name for itself as a start-up haven in the UAE for a number of years now.
It’s cost-effective to run a start-up [in RAK] — especially for a new entrepreneur who may want a cheap sandbox environment to try out a new idea or concept.
“It’s cost-effective to run a start-up [in RAK] — especially for a new entrepreneur who may want a cheap sandbox environment to try out a new idea or concept,” says Keegan Sequiera, Founder of Agile Consultants, an HR consultancy that services organisations in the northern emirates.
An Indian who has also worked in Australia and the US, Sequiera has been involved in a number of UAE start-ups. “Ironically, all three of the licenses were issued from three different issuing authorities – RAK Economic Department, RAK Investment Authority and RAK Free Trade Zone. The latter of the two have now merged to form RAK Economic Zone (RAKEZ). Having dealt with various authorities in the UAE, I can confidently say that RAKEZ not only is one of the easiest places to start up your business but the team and organisation takes utmost care to help and assist with things beyond their responsibilities.”
For Dana Louw, Managing Director of Lucid Technology Defense, client proximity was a major factor in his decision to operate out of RAK.
There is a high number of armored manufacturers in and around RAK area, which make meetings and support faster for delivering and supporting our clients in the region.
Lucid is involved in supplying services such as ballistic steel processing, fibre optic laser cutting, steel bending and welding for armoured vehicle manufacturers in the UAE – many of whom are based in the emirate. Lucid holds import and distribution rights for JRZ/Maxxis tyres custom-made for heavy armoured vehicles – another reason RAK works as an ideal base. “There is a high number of armored manufacturers in and around RAK area, which make meetings and support faster for delivering and supporting our clients in the region,” says the South African, who is also based in RAKEZ.
Easy for expats
Operators in the food services industry, meanwhile, appreciate that the emirate’s business authorities make it easy to navigate a strictly regulated sector.
it can be difficult for foreigners to understand the system and regulations but Ras Al Khaimah government allows foreigners understand the rules easily – particularly when it comes to hygiene regulations – and to run their business in food industry.
Jonny Ahn, Owner of Sharon Korean Food Industries, the first “halal-certified kimchi manufacturer in the Middle East”, says it can be difficult for foreigners to understand the system and regulations but Ras Al Khaimah government allows foreigners understand the rules easily – particularly when it comes to hygiene regulations – and to run their business in food industry.
RAK is also a useful spot for people who juggle multiple businesses.
Kelli Reekie is an example, with fingers in several business pies. “I’m a partner in an electrical engineering company, which takes up my day to day in RAK. I also have my own business based in Dubai at the business incorporation zone (Al Barsha). I have a locket company that I promote through Ripe Market and more recently, I have become involved in social media marketing (Instagram; @Butterflyindubai), promoting myself, other businesses and the keto diet, which is becoming very popular here in the UAE as it fits in perfectly with the lifestyle.”
Sequiera, appreciates the “small-town feel” of RAK, as well as the emirate’s lack of traffic and parking fees.
“Rent is cheaper and allows for new start-ups to be able to afford an office/workshop/warehouse as compared to the big cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.” Meanwhile, Dubai is just 40 minutes away by car.
Sequiera cites a few challenges for businesses operating out of Ras Al Khaimah.
“People may see your company as being small since you are based out of Ras Al Khaimah. But as is evident, some very large companies such as Julphar Pharmaceuticals and RAK Ceramics have not only dominated the UAE market but also gone on to make a name overseas.” He also points out that there’s a smaller talent pool, with fewer people willing to move to the northern emirate compared to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, as well as a potentially slower expansion process for businesses there, which are fewer in volume than the bigger emirates. “However, if your business is open to dealing with clients in other emirates, it doesn’t add up to be much of an issue.”
Feels like home
Reekie, a Scottish RAK resident of five years, says the emirate’s Hajar mountains remind her of being back home. “I am still just a short drive from wherever I need to be as I spend most weekends working down in Dubai, which is definitely busier. With the huge rise of e-commerce and the flexibility for business start-ups in the UAE, it’s really not important where you are based and I enjoy the best of both worlds.”
With the huge rise of e-commerce and the flexibility for business start-ups in the UAE, it’s really not important where you are based and I enjoy the best of both worlds
Ahn, who worked in his family business in Dubai for nine years before moving to RAK, says the experience reminded him of his native South Korea.
“Korea is a beautiful country in which all the people are busy with work and always stuck with traffic.” Living in Al Hamra Village, he appreciates the natural beauty of the community. “The environment and the surroundings in the village are so peaceful – it’s as if I am living in a resort in the Maldives.”