The United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the years has decreased its dependence on oil. Instead, it has been focusing on creating a knowledge-based economy, harnessing technology and innovative ideas.  The nation’s ambitions are primarily being driven by Dubai which is home to over 10,000 small and medium startups. 

D1

The UAE, in fact, is aiming to create 20 unicorns or startups valued at over $ 1 billion in the next nine years.  Achieving this target, no doubt, would make Dubai the cynosure of all eyes. The emirate is already a leader in the MENA region in terms of tech-transformation, digital-acceleration and embracing innovative ideas.  

Yet, creating 20 unicorns in 9 years’ time may look difficult, but ask Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, he would say the nation is working systematically and methodically to achieve the target. “We want to transform ourselves from regional to a global entrepreneurship hub,” Al Falasi gets candid, not trying to hide the country’s ambitions.

He is, in fact, aware that the road to entrepreneurship is laden with thick competition.  However, he believes the UAE has an edge over other countries because of its multicultural population and liberal policies.  “Expats make 90% of our workforce. That gives confidence to foreigners who want to start business over here,” he asserts.

D2

Dubai, experts say, is miles ahead of other cities in the MENA region in harnessing new ideas and tapping young talent, citing annual startup contests like Dubai Startup Hub’s Smartpreneur competition series which is a platform for many to present their business ideas and eventually establish their startup ventures based out of Dubai.

Misha Patel who founded Zola Collective along with Anusha Mahtani says participating in Dubai Startup Hub’s Smartpreneur 6.0 competition gave them a whole new perspective. “We got a really different insight and angle. It gave us a very neat and niche overview of how we should position our business,” she says.

The annual startup contest organised by Dubai Startup Hub has become a platform for presenting bright ideas like in the case of Zola Collective which is an impact-and-well-being-driven retail brand and on a mission to provide African farmers, artisans and craftsmen a stable income by giving their products an access to international markets through private labeling.

Besides the talent hunt, the UAE has also been digging deep into the global talent pool through a variety of other initiatives, a slew of reforms and creation of an ecosystem that are startup-salubrious to complement its multicultural workforce. One such initiative, Entrepreneurial Nation, according to Al Falasi, offers startup support through a series of public-private partnerships.

D3

“The idea is to help entrepreneurs expand their businesses, export their products and tap into online sales,” he explains.  In another landmark development, the UAE has also set aside $ 272 million private equity fund for SMEs based in the country and operating in strategic sectors, revealed Al Falasi.  “We will release it from the first quarter of this year over the next 5 years,” he says.

As for reforms, Al Falasi says the country federally and locally is amending laws to attract capital and also talent.  These measures augment the Entrepreneurial Nation initiative which is an inclusive program for startups from inception to growth, passing through three stages, namely, Skill-up, Start-up track and Scale-up.

In short, Skill-up Academy offers entrepreneurial skills, Start-up Track targets entrepreneurs seeking to establish a business with incentives while Scale-up Program backs fast-growing, revenue-earning companies that are over 3-years old to expand and grow into unicorns. That explains why Al Falasi is optimistic about creating 20 unicorns in the next 9 years through methodical work.

Disclaimer: This article is a part of featured content series on Business in Dubai