If 2020 was about grocery delivery and cloud kitchens, 2021 kept the flag flying for fintech businesses. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Uber-Careem deal in 2019. The public transport linked ride-sharing portal Swvl and its $1 billion-plus valuation in 2020. And now comes the travel portal Wego confirming a takeover of Cleartrip’s Middle East business operations.

The common factor in all these? Dubai, which is where Careem, Swvl and Wego had their headquarters as they chased their dreams – of the ‘unicorn’ kind. And in two of these – Careem and Wego – Dubai Internet City was there as all the action related to the deal-making unfolded. According to the CEO of Dubai Internet City, there are still more startups seeking spots in the tech hub’s ecosystem and setting sights on the next big deal that could see another unicorn – startups with a $1 billion plus valuation – come into being.

Space for more

One thing that Ammar Al Malik strongly refutes is that Dubai Internet City is running out of space for new entrants. “I don’t think that’s the case, honestly. If it was, it would be a good problem to have – and resolve.

“I can say that we are still welcoming companies and will find spaces for them in the Internet City landscape. That’s a promise.”

These two years have been exceptional for the UAE and the Gulf startup space – float an idea that stands a reasonable chance to be something more than a proof-of-concept, and the business has a chance to net investors to get going. The deal sizes, too, are getting bigger, with Series A and pre-launch funding rounds even breaking the $10 million levels.

Only the nature of the startups and what they do have changed. If 2020 was about grocery delivery and cloud kitchens, 2021 kept the flag flying for fintech businesses, including those providing consumer finance with ‘buy now pay later’ options. Agritech was another big winner last year.

A services boost
Dubai Internet City will be adding the latest in data centres and associated technology, as well as cloud services, according to the CEO.

A deal was struck with Khazna for two data centres that will provide coverage for the Internet City client requirements. These are to be built following a deal announced last month. “It’s the next logical move for our infrastructure and client requirements,” said Al Malik. “Rather than build such capacities ourselves, it was felt a third-party would be the ideal way to get it done.”

Funds and more of it

Will 2022 be more of the same in ease of access to funds for new tech ventures? Or will they find the going more difficult as funding turns costlier? According to Al Malik, “Especially after COVID, there is so much of cash available for investments. The startup system and how it’s funded may be maturing, but that does not mean the funds are not available in the region. Global funds are coming into the market, and that’s always a good thing.

“That’s the point. There are so many opportunities available in the entire region for a startup that bases itself here and wants to expand its business.”

As has been the case in recent years, Dubai Internet City is using the STEP conference, a tech- and digital-foused event, to spread the word on itself. “We had a good mix of startups and the big tech names signing up with Internet City last year,” the CEO said. “In 20 years, we may focus more on the big, established names in technology – that’s not so now.

“We will be launching programmes that will help startups launch in the Internet City at the lowest possible cost and with easy access to a vast eco-system that is out there in the region. That’s what we are about.”