Why Tech Companies Should Be Exploring the UAE to Scale

by Omar Hassan

Post Brexit, companies are having to consider their options when it comes to scaling internationally. Uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future relationship with the European bloc has pushed many businesses towards other global growth markets.

UK scaleups don’t often consider the UAE as an option. However, it can be a great move for business-savvy tech-startups or scaleups.

Business is still growing in the UAE despite the pandemic — the government reacted quickly to the coronavirus, putting protocols in place to ensure the safety of residents, and offering private sector support to the business community.

For example, Abu Dhabi’s COVID-19 response (part of Ghadan 21, its overall economic accelerator programme) aims to help with the cost of setting up and running a business in the UAE. It’s mostly focused on the tech sector, offering solutions on a variety of  economic challenges for private-sector companies.

Furthermore, 60% of investment funding for startups in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region was given to projects based in the UAE in 2019, with Dubai alone being home to 1/3 of all Middle Eastern and North African investors and 19 venture capitalists — the highest in the region (source).

The UAE — an overview

The UAE government’s focus is on diversifying the economy, and as such it’s a place where innovation and business growth are welcomed and encouraged. Investors and stakeholders tend to understand the needs of new, agile startup founders on a more intuitive level.

Abu Dhabi's tech ecosystem, Hub71, is one of the main drivers of growth and innovation in the region. The hub offers attractive incentives to startups interested in relocating to Abu Dhabi (or expanding into the region) and incredible networking opportunities with partners and accelerators like Microsoft, Techstars, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. Hub 71 can also help startups to raise capital, via their exclusive network of angel, seed or growth investors.

A similar organisation that can help businesses in the UAE get off the ground is Dtec, home to a huge network of mentors, advisers, educators, and investment opportunities. Similarly, In5 offers a great set-up framework, along with training and mentorship, networking and investment opportunities, and state-of-the-art prototyping labs, studios and workspaces.

The ‘City of Innovation’ Dubai is sometimes referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the Middle East due to the high-tech environment, ease of doing business, and leading corporate infrastructure. It’s straightforward for companies to set up and become incorporated, and there’s a 0% tax rate on personal and corporate income. The Dubai Investor Visa (also known as the Dubai Partner Visa) is available to foreign nationals who want to start their own business in Dubai, and allows the holder the right to reside in the UAE, and to sponsor their spouse and family for residency..

Abu Dhabi is also business-friendly, and has introduced instant business licences —  the Abu Dhabi Global Market’s Tech Licence. Starting at $700 USD, these are available online and can be acquired in a matter of days.

The UAE ecosystem

There’s an impressive young talent pool in the UAE alongside a growing, also young, consumer demographic. This is key in both the development of technology, and support in the advancement of new ideas for startups. There’s a focus on helping companies access opportunity and find the right talent. Diversity here is another positive factor. There are over 200 nationalities living in the UAE, working together to drive how the UAE functions as an economy.

Most cities and countries have identified entrepreneurship and startups as being important, and they all have different things to offer — often it's the potential for startup capital that determines their attractiveness. But what the UAE has to offer goes beyond just capital. The established infrastructure there is a cohesive ecosystem that supports and encourages growth and rewards innovation.

With billions of people living within an 8-hour flight or less, the UAE offers unrivalled access to the world’s largest growth markets, including Africa, India and Asia.

Dubai's infrastructure and regulatory environment make it the leading financial centre in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Location wise, it’s considered a ‘global gateway’, linking the established economies of the West with the growth potential of the East, The city’s leading infrastructure and established financial industry have shaped it into one of the world’s leading trade centres, and it’s is already recognised as one of the world’s top ten FinTech hubs.

Perhaps what makes the UAE most attractive for those looking to up-scale is the way the region constantly monitors and assesses how they can make it easier for companies to do business. There’s a focus on being proactive, and also reactive when the need arises in areas like policy, regulation or business support  — ensuring private sector businesses are given the boost they need to succeed.

At Global Growth Hub, we’ve supported entrepreneurs and programmes all over the world — building bridges for entrepreneurs to new markets and growth. If you’d like to find out more about what we do, and explore your options, get in touch and let’s talk!

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