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Dubai: Universities in Dubai will be transformed into economic and creative free zones that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among students. This was confirmed on Saturday following the signing of partnership agreements between Dubai Future Foundation and a number of universities and organisations in the emirate.

The initiative is all part of efforts to activate and implement the sixth article of the 50-Year Charter, published in January by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The signing ceremony was attended by Omar Sultan Al Olama, minister of state for artificial intelligence and deputy managing director of the Dubai Future Foundation. Also present were, Abdullah bin Touq, secretary general of the UAE Cabinet, Abdullah Al Basti, secretary general of the Executive Council of Dubai, Dr Lowai Mohammad Belhoul, director general of the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department, Khalfan Juma Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, and Malek Al Malek, group CEO of TECOM Group, plus other government officials and university representatives.

Universities on board

During the meeting, the University Entrepreneurship Programme was launched to accelerate the implementation of the Dubai University Free Zones Strategy in collaboration with various government entities, universities and research bodies. Universities adopting the programme include Zayed University, Higher Colleges of Technology, University of Dubai, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, American University in Dubai and the College of Fashion and Design in Dubai.

Aim of the programme

Named ‘Alchemy’, the programme is designed to support university students to start their entrepreneurial journey before graduating by providing them with skills and services that enable them to transform their ideas into well established businesses. It further aims to transform universities to entrepreneurial hubs where students have access to a supportive ecosystem of coaches, business experts, legal advisors, and much more, allowing them to work efficiently.

All universities taking part in the project will adopt, develop and incorporate this programme into their curriculum, as well as provide guidance for students and facilitate communication with investment agencies and organisation to support student ideas and projects.

Alchemy consists of different phases that students can join throughout their years of study. These phases include ‘ideation’, ‘incubation’ and ‘acceleration’.

All undergraduates can sign up to the programme, forming teams of between one to five people.

Universities open the enrollment for students to apply for the Alchemy programme at the beginning of each semester, September to January. Eight startups will be chosen per university each semester.

Students are then eligible to apply for Alchemy benefits by providing a proposal of their idea. Successful pitches get grants of up to Dh10,000 provided by Dubai SME (small and medium enterprises) to enter the incubation phase. From here startups will develop their idea into a minimum viable product (MVP) ready to demonstrate on demo day held twice a year at Area2071.

Successful MVPs will be given grants of up to Dh100,000 provided by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Innovation Fund before entering the Acceleration phase. It is here where MVPs will get access to different services at affordable prices, so that startups can work on enhancing their MVPs ahead of entering the market.

The programme is designed to support startups until they are ready to roll out. However, undergraduates need to leave the programme by the time they graduate, which is about four to five years. During this time startups must also show evidence of progress by sharing milestones and levels of achievement with their programme manager.

Five main stages

The University Entrepreneurship Programme contributes to creating a suitable environment for innovation and entrepreneurship, employing modern technology in various vital sectors and preparing young students for the future by developing their entrepreneurial capabilities through five main stages:

1.Learning about various successful experiences

2. Understanding how projects and business models are developed

3. Analysing market needs in order to provide the required products and services

4. Strengthening their marketing and commercial development skills

5. Implementing and transforming ideas to reality.

Integration of government, private tie-ups

The programme was developed in collaboration with Dubai Future Foundation, Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Mohammad Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), TECOM and In5 in order to provide funding opportunities for entrepreneurs and facilitate access to commercial licensing. Additionally, the Dubai Government Legal Affairs Department, Dubai Government Media Office, AREA 2071 and the Mohammad bin Rashid Innovation Fund have also contributed to the establishment of the newly announced programme.

Younis Haji Al Khoori, Under Secretary of the Ministry of Finance:

“The University Entrepreneurship Programme is a pioneering and innovative initiative that invests in the future, encourages creativity and innovation, and embodies the vision of our leadership in supporting students to create their own businesses, so that universities graduate successful student entrepreneurs. In the coming period, the Fund will continue its efforts to study and evaluate innovative projects and ideas to support them in line with its objectives of supporting the transition to a diversified and knowledge-based economy.”

Abdullah Al Basti, Secretary General of the Executive Council of Dubai:

“Insuring successful implementation of The University Free Zones Strategy requires two main focuses. The first is to unleash the creativity and capabilities of students by creating an environment conducive to their creative and economic activities, enabling them to play an active role in the development process of Dubai in the future. The second focus entails, providing the necessary means to transform student ideas into reality, thus driving the progress and development of Dubai’s economic sectors.

Lowai Belhoul, Director General of the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department:

“This project aims to pave the way for future generations to be pioneers and innovators in all sectors and fields, and there is no better place than the vibrant environment provided by eager youth within universities. The project emphasises Dubai’s ability and keenness to develop and facilitate trade, being the cornerstone of its success. This project promises greater success for our promising upcoming generation of entrepreneurs.”

Mona Ghanem Al Marri, Director General of the Government of Dubai Media Office:

“Dubai has chosen creativity as an ally in its journey towards the future, and our wise leadership provides support and encouragement for creative individuals, entrenching the UAE’s position as a hub for innovation in the region. The launch of this programme represents a first step in a promising journey aimed at empowering youth, and the development of educational curriculums that will further integrate the youth in the field of innovation and creativity to provide project ideas and initiatives that can benefit the community and the country as a whole.”

Khalfan Juma Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation:

“The various government and private entities involved in University Entrepreneurship Programme are working closely on a number of joint projects and initiatives aimed at accelerating the development of an integrated ecosystem that encourages innovation and leadership among students to allow them to transform their innovative ideas into leading businesses and projects that contribute to the future economic sectors in Dubai.”

Majed Al Suwaidi, Managing Director of Dubai Media City, a subsidiary of TECOM Group:

“The University Entrepreneurship Programme is a new initiative that strengthens Dubai’s leadership in the field of youth empowerment and the creation of an ecosystem that attracts talent and stimulates innovation. Many of the objectives of the Dubai University Free Zones Strategy intersect with the objectives of the business incubator In5, especially in the areas of talent adoption and investment. We are pleased to be an integral part of this initiative, especially as we have been able to support more than 200 startups and facilitate their financing for growth and expansion so far.”

Abdul Basit Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME:

“The University Entrepreneurship Programme marks a new era of molding a promising generation of entrepreneurs and we are delighted to see this initiative taking wings. It’s an integrated strategy towards empowering youth, and it will create the best environment for university students in the UAE to express their ideas, showcase their talent and launch a variety of innovative projects that will add value to Dubai and the UAE. Dubai SME has a long experience in nurturing entrepreneurial talent, idea incubation and enabling startup growth, and we have a major role in streamlining the functioning of business incubators and accelerators focusing on 4G technologies. We are confident that this program will provide the ideal tools for creative entrepreneurs to become successful.”

Abdul Latif Al Shamsi, President and CEO of the Higher Colleges of Technology:

“Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) are proud to be a part of this initiative, following the directives of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. For the activation of the 6th Article of the 50-Year Charter, HCT seeks to provide a supportive environment for ideas to take shape, creativities to flourish, as well as provide guide the youth to create their future today.”

Professor Reyadh Al Mehaideb, Vice President of Zayed University:

“This pioneering project that aims to activate the 6th article of the 50-Year Charter supports the spirit of initiative among UAE youth and motivates them to play an active role in shaping a better future for our country and the world. This comes in line with Zayed University’s strategy to support students’ experiences and introduce them to the world of entrepreneurship while being at the forefront of the rapid developments and changes around the globe.”

Eesa Bastaki, President of the University in Dubai:

“The educational system must evolve, considering technological developments in education and future directions of technology. This leads us to look for the possibility of making a qualitative leap in education that does not follow the conventional existing systems, in a way that transcends the geographical, time and capacity limitations and enables universities to make the transition from offering degrees only to providing students with the know-how and the means to start and manage their own businesses.”

Mansoor Al Awar, Chancellor of Hamad Bin Mohammed Smart University:

“Part of our endeavour is to instill a culture of entrepreneurship among youth, especially university students, and pursuant to Article 6 of the Dubai 50-Year Charter, we are proud to partner with this project to transform universities into creative free zones that support students in education, research, and finance to become key players in the economy. Our participation falls in line with the directives of His Highness Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and President of the University, to create an advanced learning environment that supports the requirements of the future and shapes future entrepreneurs and knowledge ambassadors rather than job seekers.”

David Schmidt, President of the American University in Dubai:

“The AUD & EI Center is the result of a great collaboration between AUD and the DFF to transform the education sector in the UAE and the region. This falls in line with Article 6 of the UAE 50-Year Charter, which aims to make universities Free Zones that graduate businesses, as well as students. AUD is proud to continue its journey of academic excellence and to lead in E&I area along with the DFF in this great educational transformation. Our faculty & students, along with our respected governmental and industry partners, will continue to set the standards for collaborative and academic excellence, thus greatly contributing to the entrepreneurial & educational standards that were set by the founders of the UAE.”

Akash Kumar, Managing Director at The College of Fashion and Design:

“This is a distinctive and innovative platform that aligns with the vision and objectives of the Dubai 50-Year Charter that aims to develop a generation of creative and innovative entrepreneurs. We at the College of Fashion and Design are proud to be a part of this project since its launch, and we look forward to providing the appropriate environment and support for the future generation of entrepreneurs in the UAE.”