In 2022, Dubai beat 49 other contestants to be ranked first on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s index. This was not a development in isolation. It was a firm indicator of the thinking-out-of-the-box strategy deployed by the UAE government in a post-pandemic scenario, to prove that not only Dubai, but, the entire country is standing on the cusp of a grand take-off on the start-up landscape.
A result of a well -planned out strategy that involves efficient infrastructure, finance, effective regulatory framework to facilitate ease- of-doing business, the setting up of Dh 1 Billion private equity fund, that was launched as part of the Entrepreneurship Nation initiative in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic by the UAE government, have been some of the main ingredients contributing to the start-up juggernaut in the country.
UAE on the cusp of a start-up ecosystem take off!
With the vision and the wherewithal it was only a matter of time for millennials from around the world, especially Asia, to secure financing and support for their big start-up ideas in the UAE.
This was pretty evident in all the dynamic three editions of monthly meetings organised by the Enterprise Middle East Forum by Achievraati, in Dubai earlier this year. The forum, a brainchild of Siby Sudhakaran, the secretary general of the Indian Business and Professional Council (IBPC), was set up to provide an inspired communication between start-up presenters and potential UAE investors. The audience got to witness global innovators presenting their start-up pitches to investors and fund managers, in less than three minutes, quite like a nail-biting Shark Tank episode.
Explaining the need for such a dynamic incubator to attract talent, Sudhakaran explained, “The Enterprise Middle East Forum came into existence a few months after the conclusion of EXPO 2020 after the overwhelming response to start-ups there. The UAE had plenty of Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors waiting to back new ideas and all my forum did was to act as a bridge between these people and the innovative entrepreneurs and facilitate a dialogue. Entrepreneurship is the backbone of UAE business ethos and I feel the time is ripe for a smooth take off on this front.”
Dubai-based, Venture Capitalist Neelesh Bhatnagar, who has been a close follower of the start-up trends in Dubai said, “I feel very optimistic about this the startups in the UAE which are absolutely poised to go big and global in the next few years. As someone who has immense faith in the start-up story here, I have great faith and have invested in several startups in a matter of five or six years. There are no guarantees, but the regulatory framework of UAE and infrastructure support is bound to provide room for more scalability to nascent businesses. I have been willing to take the risks.”
Many like Bhatnagar have believed in the start-up story and backing the entrepreneurial trend individually and collectively in the UAE.
Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of Ease My Trip that established base in the UAE recently, remarked, “Dubai has emerged as the ideal start-up hub due to its location, entrepreneurial and business infrastructure, robust investment eco-system and its openness to scaling up businesses in this region. For Indians, Dubai stands to become an important market due to its approachability. With a wide range of events happening here which are gaining sight globally, it is becoming an attraction for many global players to start their businesses here. Of the 50 most funded starts ups in the MENA region 50 are based in the UAE, while four out of the five top unicorns are based in Dubai (Careem, Swv, Kitopi and EPMG) according to Forbes Middle East.
The India connection
India has played a very important role in accelerating the start-up story as it has emerged as the third largest ecosystem for start-ups registering with the country being home to more than 105 unicorns with a total valuation of over 300 billion USD according to a report from Invest India.
There was bound to a natural overflow of this into UAE that was seen at the Indian Pavilion in Expo 2020 which witnessed a presentation of over 700 Indian startups there.
As Dr Aman Puri, the Indian Consul General explained, “The UAE and Dubai are the talent gateway to the Mena region and the rest of the world and therefore, the surge of unicorns and startups in India and other parts of Asia, naturally reached here. The EXPO 2020 served as a fantastic platform to showcase the talents of young entrepreneurs in both the goods and services sector. UAE’s pro start up regulations, the setting up of sovereign funds such as the Dh 150 million Chimera Capital fund, there is enough incentive funding for many projects from India to move here. At least 20 plus startups from India have already set up a base here. T
"These include ease my trip, policy bazaar, among others. This is also commensurate with the figures in the US where Indian Unicorns feature as the highest number among those by expatriate groups. It is only natural to witness an international trend resonating here in the UAE. The Indian talent in start-ups that the UAE has attracted is going to be biggest game changer in the region.”
Nikhil Kamath, the 35-year old brilliant fintech disruptor and co-founder of the brokerage firm Zerodha, had paid a tribute to the UAE’s unique innovative spirit.
Speaking to Gulf News exclusively while attending one of the editions of the Enterprise India forum earlier this year, the young billionaire said, “The power of networking is phenomenal and one the USPs of UAE is that it is a melting pot of people like no other country across the globe. Start-ups seeking to set up shop here are at an advantage and can ingrain that into their enterprise because no other country in the world has access like UAE has today. In the presentations at the forum I found many pitches where entrepreneurs presented pitches on innovating manufacturing and going into production. I hope that more of that happens.”
The UAE has set its sight on hosting 20 Unicorns valued at 1 billion $ each by 2031. This is the vision of the Entrepreneurial Nation Initiative launched in 2021 by the country. The work towards creating winning public-private alliances has begun. With the motivation, the right intention, regulatory framework and financial incentive, without doubt the country is bound to metamorphose the start-up landscape in the years to come.