BUS STEP Saeed Alnofeli
Saeed Alnofeli, Director of in5, at the Step conference. Image Credit: Dhanusha Gokulan/Gulf News

Dubai’s startup ecosystem is adopting a sector-agnostic approach while searching for 30 companies that aim to reach unicorn status by 2030. A crucial part of the D33 economy plan is for Dubai to support the growth of 30 firms to become unicorns in the next decade. And Dubai is wasting no time identifying and supporting these companies.

From startups developing technology to manufacture flying taxis and autonomous driving vehicles to those creating AI chatbots, as well as startups taking cloud kitchens to the next level and vertical farming projects, all new business ideas are welcome in Dubai.

“As far as in5 is concerned, we are trying to support innovation and creative ideas from startups as much as possible,” said Saeed Alnofeli, Director of in5. The innovation centre is an enabling platform by TECOM Group PJSC for startups in tech, design and media. in5’s startups have collectively raised more than Dh2 billion in venture capital since its inception 10 years ago, said Alnofeli.

He said: “We are seeing more trendy companies and ideas coming in from eastern Europe, Russia and India, for example. These companies want to start their business in Dubai. And we’re not focused on supporting sector-specific businesses. We are much more sector-agnostic and would like to focus on as many technologies as possible.”

Some of in5’s biggest success stories are music streaming service Anghami, liquid natural clay manufacturers Desert Control, shop-now-pay-later service Tabby, and cloud kitchen service GrubTech. “One of our companies, Wrapp Up, went on to be acquired by Cisco,” said Alnofeli.

Step Conference 2023, a technology festival for emerging markets, kicked off its 11th edition on Wednesday. Presented by Dubai Internet City, a member of TECOM Group PJSC, hundreds of startups from across the globe are participating in the two-day conference.

An exciting time for startups

“Our startups have raised more than Dh2 billion in investments in the last 10 years. Nearly half of in5 startups have received funding. And the good thing is there is an appetite among investors to fund startups. The ecosystem has matured a lot,” he added.

Alnofeli also said the ecosystem is moving from incubators to corporates and family businesses.

“We are seeing a growing trend of startups getting support from family businesses and UAE’s corporate companies. Previously, we used to train startups to get funding from large businesses. But today, there is a hunger even among large corporates to partner with businesses. Being under TECOM Group’s umbrella provides us a greater opportunity to connect global and regional companies with startups. Family businesses and corporate companies are hungry for integration with small businesses,” he explained. He added: “For example, one of our startups, Munch On, got acquired by Careem. The good thing is that mature founders are entering the startup playing field. Many mid-management, director-level employees are taking risks and starting businesses.”

Hub71, backed by the Government of Abu Dhabi and Mubadala Investment Company, showcased 20 startup companies at Step this year. Last year, Hub71 announced that the startup community has collectively raised $1 billion in venture capital since its launch in 2019.

Earth Track makes debut

Step also debuted the ‘Earth Track’ strategic forum on Wednesday. Discussions focused on financing a net-zero future, the realities of a circular economy, edtech, health-tech and web3, said Ray Dargham, CEO of Step.

Meanwhile, Ammar Al Malik, Executive Vice President of Commercial, TECOM Group, said, “Dubai has an entrepreneurial spirit. Our leadership’s vision and commitment to innovation reflect founders’ values, so Dubai is the perfect backdrop for the Step Conference.”