Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah rank among top 10 startup hubs in Mena

UAE's capital was the fastest-growing emerging ecosystem in the region, marking a 28% growth


Issac John

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Published: Tue 11 Jun 2024, 5:22 PM

Three UAE emirates — Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah — are among the top ten startup ecosystems in the Middle East and North Africa region.

According to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) 2024, Dubai scored 10 out of 10 in funding, measuring innovation through early-stage funding and investor activity. It has five unicorns, one of 19 emerging ecosystems with four or more unicorns in the last 10 years.

Abu Dhabi was the fastest-growing emerging ecosystem in the Mena, marking a 28 per cent growth in ecosystem value while Sharjah rose to 7th in the rankings.

Sharjah also featured in the Top 15 rankings for the Knowledge and Performance categories. Sharjah's success is attributed to many factors, including its strategic location, and the $1.5 billion annual investment in education.

Other Mena emerging startup ecosystems in the top 10 rankings include Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Riyadh. Tel Aviv is the only Mena ecosystem ranking in the Top 40 and remains the region’s leading ecosystem, globally moving up one place to No 4 (tied with Los Angeles). The Israeli high-tech sector is the engine of the nation’s economy, accounting for 18 per cent of its gross domestic product, 48 per cent of exports, and 11 per cent of its workforce.

Cairo moved up in the Emerging Ecosystems Ranking from last year’s 51-60 range to the 41-50 range. It is the top Mena Ecosystem in bang for the buck, measuring the amount of runway tech startups acquire, on average, from a VC round.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi moved up in the emerging ranking – Riyadh from last year’s 61-70 range to 51-60 and Abu Dhabi from the 81–90 range to the 61-70 range.

Abu Dhabi ranks second in Mena Ecosystem in performance, measuring the size and performance of an ecosystem based on the accumulated tech startup value created from exits and funding.

The emergence of Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem, has grown to accommodate over 315 startups that have collectively raised $1.5 billion in funds since its 2019 inception.

Muscat created $313 million in ecosystem value between July 01, 2021, to December 31,2023. Ecosystem value is a measure of economic impact, calculated as the value of exits and startup valuations.

Sharjah created $424 million in ecosystem value between July 01, 2021, to December 31,2023. It is ranked fifth in the Mena ecosystem in bang for the buck, measuring the amount of runway tech startups acquire, on average, from a VC round.

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, chairperson of Sheraa, Sharjah’s flagship start-up incubator, said, ‘Ranking 4th in the GCC region and 7th in the Mena startup ecosystem shows that Sharjah’s strategic focus on entrepreneurialism is working — and it’s getting noticed. Our startup ecosystem is investor- and business-friendly, committed to nurturing innovation, and it’s a dynamic global hub where forward-thinking minds converge. We’re on the right track, and this step forward strengthens our resolve to empower entrepreneurs in Sharjah and drive sustainable economic development in the region and beyond.”

The GSER highlights Sharjah’s strengths in specific sectors, including Cleantech, Digital & Creative Industries, and Edtech, which have demonstrated a high density of talent, support resources, and startup activity.

Sharjah’s strong performance is further evidenced by its rankings in various categories, including 5th in ‘Bang for Buck’ (indicating the average runway tech startups acquire from a VC round), 6th in Funding (measuring innovation through early-stage funding and investor activity), and 7th in Market Reach (tracking global leading companies, local market reach, and global connectedness).

Sharjah’s success is attributed to factors such as its strategic location, the $1.5 billion annual investment in education, its six Free Zones and 33 industrial zones, and the Sharjah Investors Services Centre, which facilitates the establishment of businesses in the emirate.

Sheraa’s role in driving growth

Najla Al Midfa, vice chairperson of Sheraa, said Sharjah’s achievement reflects the emirate’s unwavering commitment to harnessing the transformative power of entrepreneurship. “By nurturing homegrown talent and ventures, and partnering with stakeholders across the ecosystem, we have cultivated a founder-focused environment where innovative early-stage ventures thrive with access to essential talent, capital, and markets. As we look ahead, we are excited to scale our impact by further enhancing our startup’s offerings and driving growth in key sectors such as sustainability, edtech, advanced manufacturing, and the creative industries.”


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