Ammar Al Malik, Managing Director of Dubai Internet City and Dubai Outsource City Image Credit: Supplied

Entrepreneurship has become one of the primary pillars of Dubai’s ambitious development plans. By embracing disruptive technology and innovation, the city provides a fascinating new arena for entrepreneurs and start-ups to conceptualise and commercialise their ideas.

This not only creates jobs for the local economy but improves the quality of life of thousands of Dubai residents through their innovative products and services. With an estimated contribution of 47 per cent to the UAE’s annual GDP, the start-up and SME sectors are significant contributors to the local economy.

Dubai has formulated plans to drive development in these sectors. As a first step, it has initiated the process of easing business procedures to enable small businesses to take full advantage of the city’s favourable policy framework, exceptional infrastructure and connectivity, as well as proximity to neighbouring emerging markets.

According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report 2019, the UAE has climbed by ten position points to number 11 out of a total of 190 surveyed countries. A clear testimony of how the local government is making a concerted effort to reduce bureaucratic challenges for companies of all sizes.

Are we on the right track?

The answer lies in the ever-increasing number of start-ups and entrepreneurs foraying into Dubai and creating entire new communities, with subsectors emerging every year. With dedicated co-working spaces, accelerators and incubators, start-ups are spoilt for choice. Dubai has the most comprehensive package for an aspiring entrepreneur, from easy business setup models, access to mentors, workshops and events, and networking opportunities, as well as a diverse regional investment community.

The results speak for themselves. Dubai has seen hugely successful start-ups emerging over the past decade with several entrepreneurs achieving celebrity status in the start-up community.

Anghami, a music streaming platform with over 60 million users; Souq.com, an e-commerce market place that has received over $425 million (Dh1.5 billion) in total funding; Careem, an app-based car service with an estimated 14 million users; and Fetchr, a logistics start-up, are just a few that began their UAE success stories in a small office in one of the nation’s incubators.

With recent government reforms, investors should have yet more reason to be bullish about investing in UAE start-ups. Reforms, such as that championed by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which grants temporary licenses for the testing and vetting of innovations that employ new technologies or the UAE Cabinet announcement allowing 100 per cent foreign business ownership along with granting 10-year-visas to investors and professionals, is expected to grow the sectors and attract investment, and more importantly, attract and retain talent.

Are we too focused on technology?

In Dubai, technology and entrepreneurship go hand in hand and are ultimately associated with innovation and disruption.

Owing to technological advancements, entrepreneurs today have more opportunities to establish businesses and connect to customers than ever before. Technology has also allowed entrepreneurs to use new platforms to market their ideas, sell their product and services, while attracting talent from around the world. And most importantly, technology has given start-ups more control of how they reach who, when and where.

At the same time, and while technology will always remain the backbone of this development, we need to bridge the gap with other sectors such as education, media, design and the sciences to ensure that our innovation and talent pools are continuously innovative and sustained.

A glimpse into the future

Between dedicated business communities and incubators established by public and private sector entities, as well as private investors, there is plenty for start-ups and entrepreneurs to choose from. For some entrepreneurs, cost might be the decisive factor, while others may be looking for leading business communities where they can be mentored by industry leaders and network with decision-makers.

Schools and universities across Dubai have integrated innovation and entrepreneurship in their curriculums to prepare the next generation of leaders. Universities across Dubai have announced several new programmes this year on these nascent subjects. The initiative aims to develop higher education programmes to help meet the country’s human resource requirements and produce the specialised talent needed for the next phase of the UAE’s development.

The future of the UAE’s economy will be underpinned by entrepreneurship and the gig economy.

The keystone of any economy that aims to diversify away from a single source and increase the contribution of the private sector through harnessing the potential of its young workforce.

The only question remaining, who are the next unicorns ‘Made in the UAE’.