Why Dubai has become an ideal incubator for startups

by Ammar Al Malik, Dubai, Insights, Opinion, SME, startups0 comments


Alongside the obvious who, what and why of audience mapping, business planning and funding, the oft-neglected “where” of a business location must be an essential consideration for startups.

The resources and infrastructure you have access to as you lay the foundations of your company determine how far your business can go, figuratively and literally; physically and digitally. You must consider political climate and governance, the investment landscape and business policies.

There is seldom a one-place-fits-all solution, but Dubai is a viable contender.

Dubai has made credible strides in establishing itself as a destination of choice for businesses and entrepreneurs. The city has evolved from a hub geared towards attracting global business leaders to nurturing its own crop of independent thinkers and changemakers. We are seeing a growing volume of ambitious entrepreneurs and SMEs who are developing and exporting new technologies and solutions in an exciting chapter of economic growth.

A highly connected business hub, the emirate is the bridge between the East and the West, and a gateway into the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. It has invested in state-of-the-art physical and digital infrastructures that enable startups and SMEs to access a large and diverse audience with great scope for regional expansion.

Businesses can seamlessly import and export products via air, sea and land, reaching two-thirds of the world’s population in eight hours. Dubai International Airport remains the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic, according to global travel data provider OAG. Tripadvisor has also ranked Dubai as among the most popular destinations for 2022 based on the high vaccination rates and strict precautionary measures adopted in the city.

Along with the transformative Etihad Rail heralding a new age for the transport of people and goods across the UAE, an expansive highway network links Dubai to all remaining emirates, as well as Oman and Saudi Arabia. You can trust these infrastructural developments to continue evolving in line with future urban needs as the Dubai Government allocated 9 per cent of the general budget for the next three years to maintain the volume of investments in infrastructure.

When it comes to the digital realm, Dubai’s pursuit of innovation and digital transformation has been unwavering. Today, we have some of the highest internet penetration rates in the world at 99 per cent, while 93 per cent of our population uses mobile devices to access the internet supported by the availability of 4G at affordable price plans. Our extensive digital infrastructure even allows for Dubai to adopt 5G technology seamlessly.

We are at a stage where industries are converging at the intersection of technology. Healthcare, industry, design, government services and other key industries are embracing the digital revolution to enhance services and offerings, expanding market opportunities and creating room for collaboration between leading companies, SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Dubai’s fertile landscape for business and investment speaks for itself. The Department of Economy and Tourism reported that the emirate issued 72,152 new business licences in 2021 – up by 69 per cent from 2020.

A testament to our economic resilience and recovering business sector, Dubai continues to enhance tax-free and business-friendly policies to attract new and retain established businesses alike.

According to the latest estimates by the Institute of International Finance, the UAE attracted $46.4bn in foreign capital last year with foreign direct investment accounting for nearly half that value.

New industrial property laws and labour regulations are expected to support the investment environment, while government-led initiatives such as ‘Make It in the Emirates’, a drive to promote locally manufactured goods, the Cybersecurity Strategy, Industry 4.0 and even the UAE’s roadmap to net-zero emissions by 2050 are generating prospects in a myriad of innovation-centric industries.

Home to 90 investment funds in the digital sector and 12 business incubators in the UAE, there is an immeasurable opportunity for startups and entrepreneurs to find their niche and launching pad.

The pool of skilled talent is constantly replenishing. Local universities are nurturing a new generation of students and independent thinkers, paired with the 10-year Golden Visa initiative, which is attracting specialised professionals and STEM graduates.

Dubai is constantly delivering innovative platforms to highlight its complete startup and entrepreneurial community before a global audience.

Flagship exhibitions such as the recently concluded Step Conference and GITEX play a significant role in elevating the breadth and diversity of businesses and innovation in our region, highlighting the scope for investments and partnerships.

To top it off, many of the features that make Dubai a spectacular place to work and do business are also what make it one of the best places in the world to live.

The UAE is ranked among the top 30 happiest countries in the world according to the 2021 World Happiness Report, and examining the quality of life available here, it is no surprise that Dubai is a destination of choice for families and skilled professionals.

Ammar Al Malik is the managing director of Dubai Internet City



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