Incentives, special packages and discounts from free zone bodies are helping SMEs to stay afloat and remain positive during the pandemic Image Credit: Shutterstock

Considered an entrepreneurial hub for the region, Dubai and the UAE have always set the bar when it comes to supporting the needs of SMEs and the entrepreneurial quotient that both nurture. Therefore when the pandemic started tightening its grip over the economy and choked the entrepreneurial establishment, the government was quick to react and put measures in place to boost confidence.

It therefore came about that in March as the nation went into lockdown, the Dubai Free Zones Council was hard at work, launching an economic stimulus package for SMEs. Announced under the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the economic stimulus package complemented the Dubai Government’s efforts to overcome the situation brought on by the pandemic. This initiative complemented an earlier package announced to reduce business costs and enhance financial liquidity of companies operating in the free zones, as reported by Gulf News in March this year.

Free zones and their governing bodies have been doing what it takes to encourage and rebuild confidence among SMEs impacted by the pandemic over the course of the past few months.

In sync with everything that the UAE has been doing to fight the pandemic and boost morale among SMEs, Saud Salim Al Mazrouei, Director, Hamriyah Free Zone Authority, reveals that the body has put several measures in place to align with the government’s stand.

“We launched several packages and initiatives to support all businesses and investors, including exemption on inspection fees, fines for the late renewal of commercial licences and visas, as well as 50 per cent discount on transferring shares, aligned with the government stimulus package.

“Our visa validity has also been extended to three years for investors and their employees alike, which gives a positive impact on their operational costs. We are also offering new companies 50 per cent off on warehouse and office packages as well as complete exemptions on licence fees.”

And it’s not just the free zones that are at play, with ancillary units such as the UAE’s vast network of premium business consultancy firms getting into the act to promote and buoy up SME activity in the country.

In favour of the special incentives that free zones have been offering UAE-based businesses during the pandemic, Mariben Eustaquio, Managing Director, Decisive Zone, a Dubai-based premium business consultancy firm, says, “As a starting enterprise itself, Decisive Zone understands the struggles that new business owners faced during these difficult times and in the past months. Decisive Zone mainly worked with free zones that supported entrepreneurs with special incentives, giving the phrase ‘We’re all in this together’ a true meaning.”

These special incentives have come in all shapes and forms, from discounted fees to special packages that help expedite the usually complex process of setting up a business.

In the emirate of Sharjah, the Sharjah Media City (Shams) has been heavily invested in reducing the burdens faced by new and existing businesses within the free zone, according to its Chairman, Dr Khalid Omar Al Midfa.

“Currently, Shams is offering all its licences starting at just Dh5,750,” says Al Midfa, “which is 50 per cent lower than its standard pricing.” The offer though, is valid only for September. “Furthermore, Shams also offers 50 per cent discounts for those setting up media licences, e-commerce licences as well as the freelancer licence package,” adds Al Midfa.

Building a robust ecosystem

In the end, what free zones in the UAE strive to do is build on an ecosystem for small business that is sound and lasting, giving entrepreneurs the incentive to thrive even in the worst of times.

Agreeing with the line of thought, Johnson M. George, General Manager, UAQ Free Zone Authority, says, “UAQFTZ has always focused on creating a robust SME ecosystem as this alone can help global economies move forward.

“As SMEs are mostly entrepreneurship-driven, we help them overcome market challenges through growth-linked incentives like Business LYTE (Leading you through Entrepreneurship) packages, which offer an exclusive 50 per cent government subsidy on set-up cost for businesses and services to launch their international business in the UAE at a very low risk.”