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Dubai is what a city of dreams looks like! The opportunities, the infrastructure, the promise of a better life – the emirate has all that one needs for a fruitful future. In addition to being one of the most diversified economies in the world, Dubai has, in recent years, cultivated one of the most attractive business environments globally. With innovation as a driver behind the Governments’ major decisions, the emirate has topped global economic rankings and has been time and again ranked as the best place for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Dubai’s economic resilience and forward-thinking strategies were underscored when it emerged from the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic unscathed. This was a clear testament to the success of its economic diversification strategy and the underlying foundations on which the economy stands.
Armed with a future-centric approach to development and a business-friendly environment, the city has long attracted some of the world’s greatest minds. A constant driving force for all things innovative, the country has become the ultimate futuristic metropolis that is continuously booming and continues to do so.
There are many reasons why Dubai has become the ultimate entrepreneurial playground in recent years. The city boasts cutting-edge, world-class infrastructure, a diverse multicultural talent pool, and several Government initiatives that encourage businesses to reach new heights.
In order to sustain a culture of innovation in policy-making, the country’s leadership consists of future-focused visionaries with a strong growth mindset. This has led to the Dubai Government setting and meeting ambitious goals, such as becoming the world’s first paperless Government in 2021, becoming the world’s top-ranked Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destination last year, and ranking second globally in attracting headquartered FDI projects.
Dubai has capitalised on its geographical advantage. Situated at the nexus of the East and the West, Dubai is not only one of the UAE’s largest major cities but is also a global gateway for commerce and a thriving multi-cultural hub. This, coupled with its large and highly diverse expatriate population, has allowed Dubai to prop up its trade, financial services, and tourism industries. With approximately 2.5 billion people living within a four-hour flight of the city, and five billion within an eight-hour flight or less, the city offers unrivaled access and opportunities to some of the world’s largest emerging growth markets.
Dubai’s rapid yet sustainable growth is driven by the Government’s future-forward policies, where the Government has had major success in addressing issues that would inhibit its sustainability and competitiveness in emerging markets around the world. Not just Dubai, the entire nation is on a path to a brighter future – one that seeks to benefit SMEs and new businesses in ways more than just infrastructure and policies.
Under the UAE Centennial 2071 plan, the country will invest in and develop four key sectors: education; the economy; the Government; and the community, to ensure cohesion and an environment ready for exponential growth. The plan is the Government’s commitment to strengthening the UAE’s and Dubai’s economic stature and making it more and more welcoming and conducive for businesses from all around the world and across all industries.
Dubai has ranked highly in several global economic indicators over the past few years. It ranked first globally in entrepreneurship and was deemed “the most supportive environment for entrepreneurship” by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) in February 2022. Dubai scored high in indicators like the availability of good opportunities to start a business, the accessibility of skills, knowledge, and experience to create an enterprise, as well as confidence in meeting the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also performed well in Government conditions, making it the most impressive of its scores in the GEM report on framework conditions ‘Government Policy: Support and Relevance’ and ‘Government Policy: Taxes and Bureaucracy’.
Aside from having no corporate tax and no import/export duties, it also offers 100 per cent repatriation of revenues and profits and up to 50 per cent reductions in more than 1,500 Government fees, making it an attractive place for foreign investments and international business expansion.
More than $1 billion was invested in startups across the Middle East in 2020 alone, with the UAE accounting for 35% of the total. Around 95 per cent of the country’s firms are small and medium-sized (SMEs) or startups, employing 42 per cent of the workforce and accounting for over 40 per cent of its GDP.
After succeeding in fostering the ideal business environment for startups and multinational companies alike, Dubai continues to draw on its success and encourage entrepreneurs from all over the world to start their businesses in the country.
Dubai’s Government has successfully managed to diversify its economy over the past 15 years to reduce its reliance on the energy sector and ensure the latest and most innovative products, services, and solutions are constantly being deployed in the country. As a result, Dubai now offers business opportunities in various sectors, such as technology, tourism, health, and hospitality, among many others. Some of the initiatives set forth by the Government include allowing the establishment of fully foreign-owned businesses in the country, providing funding for smaller companies, and attracting businesses specializing in technology.
The Government also established the Entrepreneurial Nation project, aiming to aid innovative companies by helping them better establish and develop their businesses.
Dubai’s Government institutions have become centers of excellence over the past few decades, constantly innovating in their approach toward economic growth, diversification, and resilience.
The Government is deeply aware of the role innovation can play and has ingrained it into the way the Government operates and delivers services to empower both citizens and residents. SMEs and startups are also included.
Before diving into what the Government can do for SMEs and startups, it is important to first highlight how it acted during a time of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most resilient economies in the face of the pandemic, the city overcame the many unprecedented obstacles brought on by COVID-19. While the pandemic crippled many economies and businesses all over the world, such economic effects were not felt to the same extent in Dubai.
A testament to the level of support provided by the Government to SMEs during that time would be its AED 256 billion stimulus package, which offered SMEs the support they needed to survive during a period of high economic uncertainty.
Additionally, the Central Bank of the UAE rolled out a targeted economic support scheme for businesses in the private sector affected by the pandemic, with a stimulus package worth AED 100 billion, providing them with the much-needed security that would help them get by. The temporary relief package lasted for around six months.
In that package, around AED 50 billion was spent on assisting these businesses through collateralized loans at zero cost to all banks to retain lending standards. Another 50 billion was freed up for banks’ regulatory capital buffers to help boost capacity and support the country’s economy. The package required banks to charge a maximum of AED 10,000 to SME customers, with fees reduced by 15 to 20 percent.
Meanwhile, AED 61 billion was allocated for the reduction of cash reserve requirements to support lenders and their liquidity management. Dubai’s Government also put a freeze on the 2.5 percent market fees levied on all facilities operating in the city and refunded 20 percent of the customs fees imposed on imported products that were sold in the emirate, as well as bank guarantees or cash required by custom clearance companies.
These are just a few examples of how it helps ensure business continuity, proving that Dubai recognises SMEs as an essential pillar of the economy.
Under the UAE SME Council, the National SME Program enables collaboration between the council, federal, and local government bodies and the private sector.
It aims to promote the products of the members of the program by providing them with the incentives, benefits, and assistance needed to help them excel in the market.
Some of these include business support and training in fields such as marketing and financial support, as well as encouraging participation in foreign exhibitions in order to showcase their products or promote their services.
This ensures that SMEs under the program feel empowered and stay informed on everything they need to know about the country’s business ecosystem and to better understand the market in the wider Middle East and North Africa region.
Established in 2002, Dubai SME was created as an integrated division of the Department of Economic Development (DED). It was developed as a resource for support, information, and outreach for the growing small and medium-sized enterprise sector. Dubai SME offers funding opportunities and support for SMEs and startups. It is the authority that grants the Intelaq license. It is a licence that allows UAE or GCC national(s) residents of Dubai to run a business from home in a variety of fields for a small annual fee. It seeks to assist startups and local entrepreneurs in establishing their businesses by guiding them through the process of obtaining a business license, conducting training courses, and providing financial, legal, technical, and consultancy services.
In addition, the Hamdan Innovation Incubator (HI2) and its pioneering Innovation Attraction Program have attracted creative and innovative enterprises in various new and emerging sectors. Launched in 2014 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, HI2 has a portfolio of 600 startups. The Innovation Attraction Program is a key initiative of HI2 that has enabled businesses to connect with forward-thinking business leaders and contribute to making Dubai a global capital of business and economic growth. Furthermore, Dubai SME advises existing businesses on the type of business, mode, and category of business licensing and runs a procurement programme in which all Dubai government entities allocate at least 5% of their annual purchasing budget to purchasing from Emiratis and Emirati-owned SMEs.
Additionally, in an effort to innovate and scale emerging technologies, Digital Dubai and its wide range of partners are committed to transforming the city into a testbed for startups and entrepreneurs. Over the past two years, Digital Dubai has launched and operated several programmes to help kickstart entrepreneurs’ journeys in the market.
The Dubai Startup Hub serves entrepreneurs with business ideas or those who are in the early stages of the startup process, as well as corporates looking to collaborate with startups and investors interested in Dubai ventures. The Hub also has an array of active programs which entrepreneurs can benefit from, such as the Knowledge Hub, which regularly publishes reports and industry guides; Co-founder Dubai; Entrepreneurship Advocacy; and the Smartrepreneur Competition, among many others.
Applications can be filled out on Dubai Chamber’s official website for entrepreneurs. It is a good opportunity for those who are looking to take their business to the next level.
Launched under the Ministry of Economy, Skill-Up Academy offers many benefits to entrepreneurs. It aims not only to develop and nurture entrepreneurial skills, but also to empower aspiring entrepreneurs, identify young business talents, provide entrepreneurial knowledge and training, and offer opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
It also helps them by providing them with hands-on experience in actual entrepreneurial environments and connecting them to accelerator programmes to provide business support and enable growth.
Some of the most recent educational programs delivered by the Academy include the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and Award Program, the K-12 Entrepreneurial Program, the Fellowship Program, and the Entrepreneurship Internship Program.
Overseen by the Dubai Future Foundation, Area 2071 aims to nurture global talents to start and grow their businesses in the UAE, which provides its members with access to a network of strategic partners, entrepreneurs, and investors. It offers subsidised licensing fees to all startups and entrepreneurs, with fees amounting to AED 1,000 per year for a commercial license, enabling entrepreneurs to conduct three activities within the same segment.
Members are entitled to a three-year business licence to operate in Area 2071 and under the Dubai Development Authority. In order to register, companies must first go through an initial approval from the Dubai Future Foundation.
Area 2071 incubates entrepreneurs who own an established business with a minimum capital of AED 500,000 in a field approved by the country’s Ministry of Economy. Such entrepreneurs will be entitled to a five-year visa with the possibility to eventually qualify for permanent residency if the original conditions of the investor are met.
Hub71 seeks to support startups in the emirate by attracting top venture capital funds and investors to increase the pool of capital available for startups and venture capital in the city. It collaborates with major business stakeholders and offers incentive monetary programs with 100 percent and 50 percent subsidies for startups in the early stages of their journey. Companies need to be sure to generate real growth, target a large user base, provide innovative technologies, and have secured venture capital funding in the last three years to qualify for the inventive program.
An essential part of Dubai’s macroeconomic strategy, startup incubators are ever-present in the emirate. Some examples of already established Dubai-based incubators include in5, Goodforce Labs, and Bedayat.
In5, an incubator that draws on a five-stage approach to investment: strategy, validation, presentation, incubation, and traction, focuses on supporting startups every step of the way, from business establishment all the way through to networking events and investment opportunities.
Goodforce Labs, founded in the Dubai Airport Free Zone, focuses on delivering solutions that support the sustainable development of sectors including education, finance, food, agriculture, and lifestyle by providing entrepreneurs with direct access to a broad range of experienced mentors.
Bedayat was launched in 2019 with the aim of developing SMEs in coordination with Sustainable City. It provides training sessions and opportunities for entrepreneurs to meet business experts to help them research and test their products and services before going to market.
These are merely a few initiatives launched by the government recently to aid startups and entrepreneurs explore their potential and better understand the UAE market.
The government has made it clear that it intends to continue supporting SMEs and startups and has acknowledged their importance to the country’s booming economy.
The “Projects of the 50” are a series of developmental and economic projects that aim to accelerate the country’s transformation and development in all sectors, including the economy, entrepreneurship, space exploration, technology, and the digital economy.
The government launched the “Fourth Industrial Revolution Network” under Projects of the 50, aiming to establish and grow 500 national companies equipped with cutting-edge Industry 4.0 technology.
The network’s goal is to provide a platform for 15 leading technology companies to share knowledge, best practices, and industry insights, as well as train 100 CEOs on the most recent digital trends.
Through the extensive network, the Smart Industry Readiness Index will be developed to support the digital transformation of 200 industrial companies after evaluating the efficiency of digital operations.
Also, under “Projects of the 50,” the government launched the Tech Drive program, which seeks to support the adoption of advanced technology in the industrial sector to ensure its shift towards the deployment of cutting-edge technology. The incentive also aims to support entrepreneurs in the industrial sector, aiming to achieve a contribution of AED 25 billion to the UAE’s GDP and raise productivity by 30 percent.
There are currently around 4,000 startups in the UAE overall, a high number when taken into consideration in conjunction with a population of 10 million. Almost half of the companies established and registered in Dubai are startups, and the majority are SMEs. The emirate and the nation are known for funding opportunities for innovative startups.
Dubai’s government offers tech entrepreneurs support with incubators and accelerators such as FinTech Hive, the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus, which houses its own Venture Capital fund, C3 Social Impact Accelerator, and TechStars Dubai.
The FinTech Hive, part of the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), helps startups find the right connections and provides its partners with access to innovative technologies.
It works with partners from an array of industries, including technology, finance, and insurance. Its extensive portfolio of partners continues to expand, making it a key player in Dubai’s business ecosystem. It encourages knowledge sharing and provides entrepreneurs with access to the latest information and trends dominating their respective industries.
The FinTech Hive is particularly helpful for innovation-focused startups seeking to identify opportunities in the financial services sector or gain access to the latest, cutting-edge technology. The Hive’s partner network is readily available to provide support to entrepreneurs through training and mentoring throughout the entrepreneurial process and offers consultation services so that startups can hire its innovation management consultants to leverage their deep knowledge of the regional and global fintech sectors and accelerate their efficiency, helping them stay ahead of the competition.
Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec), the largest entrepreneur centre in the MENA region, provides technology startups with the ultimate work environment to get them started. With a programme of events, training sessions, workshops, mentorship, and networking opportunities, as well as in-house venture capitalists, Dtec offers office spaces as well as licence and visa services, providing entrepreneurs with a one-stop-shop for setting up their business in the country.
Techstars Dubai is an operational investor that supports entrepreneurs’ journeys from idea to creation, helping them build a successful business.
It is built and run by entrepreneurs who understand the complexities of starting up a business, providing entrepreneurs with access to funding, mentoring, customers, hiring talent, and helping them choose the right infrastructure for their business, among others.
Dubai SME’s financial arm, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund, aims to fund innovative pilot SME projects. To qualify for funding, the project idea must be innovative and registered as intellectual property (of the owner) with the initial stage already established.
The fund focuses on providing projects in the six main sectors of the National Innovation Strategy with financial support. These sectors include renewable energy, health, water, transport, technology, and education.
Applicants for the funding can be residents, companies or individuals registered in the UAE. Applications are not restricted to Emiratis or Emirati companies only, so long as they are registered in the country.
Entrepreneurs looking to apply for funding need to introduce long-term business development plans that are backed by feasibility studies.
The Dubai Angel Investors is an investment company that includes venture fund partners, seasoned investors, tech entrepreneurs, senior executives of successful companies, and one institutional investor.
It leverages their collective experience, as well as their extensive portfolio of high-level contacts in various industries, to help entrepreneurs gain access to the funding they need.
Dubai alone is home to 140 venture capital funds and capitalists, accounting for the highest number in the MENA region. The emirate is the region’s top venture capital destination, offering a wide range of support mechanisms.
Such funding is generally made available for entrepreneurs in the early stages of their startup and throughout the growth phases of the company. Some renowned venture capital funds include BECO Capital, The Food Fund, GrowValley, Global Ventures – Dubai, Dtec Ventures, Iliad Partners, GDA Fund, and Janus Henderson Investors, among several others.
Dubai-based businesses can access a wide range of commercial and financial loans offered by banks, with preferential interest rates and flexible repayment options. Loans can vary between AED 50,000 and AED 5 million, and they are usually granted within 1 to 3 weeks.
One of the most investor-friendly countries in the world, the UAE’s visionary leadership has devised policies and regulations to attract foreign business and talent from abroad.
Perhaps one of the country’s most defining initiatives is its 100 percent foreign ownership of commercial companies.
According to Federal Decree-Law No. 26 of 2020, which amended a previous law on the foreign ownership of businesses in the UAE, commercial companies no longer need to have a major Emirati stakeholder or agent, thus providing non-Emiratis with full foreign ownership of onshore companies. This also creates a more attractive business environment for Dubai newcomers looking to invest abroad and requires little to no local support.
Furthermore, firms seeking to become joint stock companies can sell no more than 70% of the company through IPOs after obtaining government approval.This was also amended from a previous law which restricted it to 30 per cent.
The decree grants relevant local authorities a set of powers, including: setting a specific percentage of Emiratis in the capital allocation and board of directors of companies; approving requests to establish companies—joint stock companies being the exception—and identifying fees according to the policies outlined by the UAE Cabinet.
Investors of all nationalities can establish and fully own companies in the country. This change came about following the enactment of the law in November 2020, according to which a foreign company wishing to open a branch and practise its activities in the UAE does not require the presence of a UAE national agent.
Furthermore, over 40 freezones offer foreign investors tax breaks and 100 percent ownership.The country also provides these investors with the flexibility to select the most appropriate zones for establishing their businesses.
According to the country’s Ministry of Economy, freezones are located across the country, giving investors a wide variety of economic businesses and activities to choose from.
Foreigners can also invest in an array of sectors, including trade, agriculture, health, education, and construction. There are more than 2,000 licenced economic activities, with local laws excluding only a limited number of domains.
According to the law, investors are required to specify the value of capital in articles of incorporation and company statutes but do not require a minimum amount for limited liability companies; the key advantage being that it helps facilitate the incorporation of companies and the establishment of new businesses, giving investors additional flexibility in planning their projects.
Apart from oil companies and branches of foreign banks, the UAE does not impose an income tax on individuals, investors, or companies, allowing them to repatriate their profits freely and entirely.
Anounced as part of the ‘Projects of the 50’, which came amid the UAE’s Golden Jubilee celebrations marking the country’s 50th year since its formation in December 2021, the Green Visa aims to encourage investment by providing investors who are establishing or participating in commercial activities with residency. This new residence visa type replaces a previous residence visa for investors that was only valid for two years.
To qualify for the Green Visa, individuals are required to have approved investments and proof of investment. If the investor or partner has more than one license, the total invested capital will be calculated and subject to approval.
Approval from competent local authorities is mandatory.
Perhaps one of the most attractive benefits of investing in Dubai is that the government grants investors and entrepreneurs long-term residence visas valid for 10 years.
Announced in April 2021, substantial amendments were made to the Golden Residence Scheme to simplify the eligibility criteria and expand the categories of beneficiaries. This long-term residency is granted to exceptional talents, scientists and professionals, outstanding students and graduates, humanitarian pioneers, and frontline heroes as well.
Golden Visa holders can sponsor their family members, including spouses and children, regardless of their age. There are no restrictions related to remaining outside the country for a specific duration of time. The Golden Residency will be valid regardless of how much time the holder spends outside the country.
In order for an entrepreneur to qualify, he/she is required to own or be a partner in a startup registered in the country in the SME category that generates annual reverses of a minimum of AED 1 million. Obtaining approval for a startup idea from an official business incubator or from the Ministry of Economy or the competent local authorities is sufficient to obtain the Golden Residence in this category. If the person is a founder (or one of the founders) of a previous entrepreneurial project(s) that was sold for a total of at least AED 7 million, he/she will be entitled to the Golden Visa. The approval of the Ministry of Economy or the competent local authorities is required for projects or ideas.
Seed Group, a company of the Private Office of His Highness Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmed Al Maktoum, has formed strategic alliances with leading global companies representing diverse regions and industries over the past 20 years. These companies have propelled their business interests and goals in the Middle East and North Africa region through the support and strong base of regional connections of the Seed Group.
The group aims to create mutually beneficial partnerships with multinational organisations and to accelerate their sustainable market entry and presence within the MENA region.
The Seed Group has been a key point in the success of all its partners in the region, helping them reach their target customers and accelerate their businesses. The Private Office was established by Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmed Al Maktoum to directly invest in or assist potential business opportunities in the region that meet The Private Office’s criteria.
The thought of expanding into a new market can often be quite daunting. Many questions come to mind, such as what the target market should be, how the industry you are in operates differently in that given region or country, and how you can stand out against the competition in the market. This is where Seed Group comes in with its vast, years-long experience in forming strategic partnerships with businesses by bringing them into an entirely new market and equipping them with the knowledge, tools, and contacts they need to excel in the region.
Established in 2004, the Seed Group has recognised that expanding into new markets is a great way to increase a business’s prospects and sales revenue. But it also knows first-hand, after working with several companies that wanted to do business in Dubai, that entering a new market is no easy feat.
The Seed Group has an acceleration program that has been developed with a strong growth mindset. The program has been designed to ensure that the associated company has all the elements of success, eliminating all the risks that it could face in the real world that could harm it or cause it to shut down due to mistakes that can be otherwise mended with the right support.
What distinguishes the Seed platform from other accelerator programs in the region is its area-specific assistance to promising firms. No matter what the area of concern or bottleneck for a start-up is, the Seed platform pitches in to provide long-term solutions to turn the venture into a profitable one. Established startups that have a product and a decent customer base but are struggling to make it big despite having a unique, innovative product and growth potential are a perfect fit for the program.
The group follows a thorough selection process which involves filling out an application form, which will then be filtered based on whether it meets the criteria or not. Once the criteria are met, selected candidates are invited to take part in a panel interview, or, in some cases, companies might be asked to share a video about the firm, its founders, and the team to help the group make a decision.
Following this, the company will need to discuss commercial terms, usually including meetings to outline how to start, the details of the cooperation with the Seed Group, and what both parties can gain from the partnership. It is at this point that the final decision is made. As part of the group’s accelerator program, a company or an entrepreneur can expect holistic assistance to turn their weak areas into strengths. The Seed Group is open to working with SMEs and large businesses to help them through the programme in Dubai, the perfect place for entrepreneurs looking to succeed and make a fortune.
Find out if your company is eligible for the Seed Acceleration Program here.
The Group is continually searching the market for the next-best promising venture in many different sectors, with the shortlist subject to the process of project identification and evaluation. After applicants receive the Seed Group’s approval, the team provides strategic solutions to ensure a successful market entry and sustainable revenue streams for projects and businesses. By leveraging its years-long experience and expertise in the field of partnerships and its broad network of contacts in the region, the Group continues to add value to projects that place innovation at the core of what they do. If the Group comes across a project with an innovative idea that has proven to be successful in attracting a great deal of interest and catering to a large audience or customer base, it will likely invest in the firm, especially if it has high growth potential.
Seed Group then evaluates and tests the product of the given company, and in the long run, checks its market acceptability and viability. If the idea has great potential and the ability to sustain, gain traction, and attract attention from global high-level decision-makers, the Group then decides to invest at later stages of the partnership. Seed Group purely assists its partners to apply global experience to local markets and raise home-grown champions.
After having an introductory meeting with the Group and filling out an application on the website, the submission committee decides on whether to invest and move forward with the project or not. Once accepted, a memorandum of understanding is signed between the startup and the Seed Group. This is then followed by outlining the details of the agreement and the official signing ceremony.
Find out if you are eligible for the Seed Investment Program here.
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