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Dubai Internet City has the vision of the future - today
A good indicator of a city's fast pace in technology is the number of startups emerging from it
Thirteen years ago, when Ammar Al Malik joined Dubai Internet City, technologies were simpler - the iPhone didn't even exist, Facebook was still in its infancy - and the term 'startup' was practically non-existent.
Today, he's in charge of the region's premier hub for innovation, ensuring that all elements powering the rapid pace of technology are in harmony with Dubai's vision for the present and, most especially, the future.
"The pace of technology is getting faster and faster every year. A good indicator of this is the number of startups coming out from the region," Al Malik, the executive director of Dubai Internet City, told Khaleej Times in an interview at its sprawling pavilion at Gitex Technology Week 2017.
"You can see each year that the number of startups emerging and becoming successful are higher than the year before. If you look at the investments in this region, you will see that there is a great increase," he added.
Another indicator, Al Malik says, is the number of venture capitalists coming out from the region investing in startups and technologies, plus all the expansions and the innovation centres - nine of them are in DIC alone.
"All of these tell you that things are changing very fast in the region, and mostly because of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to transform Dubai into a knowledge- and innovation-driven economy. All of these are a great push towards this vision," he added.
At Gitex, DIC's pavilion comprises four districts - family, workplace, retail and leisure - each showcasing specific technologies that offer visitors a chance to gain first-hand experience of the elements of smart cities.
And we all have to keep in pace and even be a step ahead when it comes to innovation, Al Malik points out. Full text of the interview follows.
What are DIC's main highlights at Gitex this year?
This is our 18th year of participation at Gitex, and we are participating this year with the theme 'The Smarter Journey'. The whole idea this year is to create an experience and a journey for our visitors. We are very well-known throughout our history to showcase the latest technology because we are the largest technology hub in the Middle East, but this year we took a different angle in which we want people to actually come and go through an experience of these technologies.
How have visitors reacted to your showcases at the event?
The feedback has been much more on the ground and much more accurate, because people go through the experience, rather than just seeing the technology. The feedback that we have is, 'is this actually going to be implemented?', and what we're telling them is that 'this is the technology and this is what you're going through; this is actually available now'. This is not something that you will see in a demo or video.
How do you deal with people demanding or requiring more cutting-edge technologies?
Our main objective is to support Dubai's vision - and the UAE in general - to become a not only a smart city but an innovation hub for all of the Middle East. Based on this, we attract larger companies to come and operate in the UAE, but also more importantly the developed companies coming from the region. If you go around DIC's area here at Gitex, you will see that we are mixing technologies from large multinationals to smaller ones. What's important for us is to create a supporting infrastructure for companies to grow from DIC.
How have companies reacted to doing business in Dubai?
Companies consider Dubai as their gateway to the Middle East. When they establish in the technology hub of the Middle East, they look forward to not only serving Dubai and the UAE, but also look forward serving the GCC, Africa and even Europe. The area around us is the market; Dubai is the hub for that.
How is DIC supporting the government in its Smart Dubai initiative?
DIC was created 18 years ago to develop and enhance technology in the region, and this is an integral part of the technological boom not only in the UAE but also in the region. Most of the technology that is coming out is coming from Dubai - DIC especially. If you look at the success factors - Souq.com, Dubizzle, Cobone, Yahoo Maktoob, Careem - these are all companies that grew from DIC. Which means that when you are looking for a smart city of the future, this technology hub plays an integral role in which innovation is created, especially when we have a innovation platform with us like In5. Now you have large multinationals growing up, startups growing up with large multinationals, and this ecosystem is extremely unique and you will not find this anywhere across the region.
We're expecting over 25 million visitors for Expo 2020 Dubai; is DIC up to the challenge?
We look at it as Dubai and the UAE as very proud of this, and we look forward to supporting this as much as we can. It's not a challenge - it's an opportunity.
How is DIC supporting startup companies?
We have a number of projects that we do, most importantly we the In5 platform that allows startups to grow and expand. There are over 100 events that we do at In5 at DIC dedicated to this, so imagine the support that they get - such as mentoring, training, subsidised costs - and we introduce them to large corporations, so all of these factors are great aspects of the In5 platform.
How would you encourage startups?
It's not necessarily people that have the best technology in the world, it may not be the latest or most innovative or something that no one has ever done before - it's almost always hard work. People who literally put in the hard work, day and night, people that have that stamina and the endurance to do so, usually succeed.
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