UAE's startup culture empowering youth
By Prabhu Ramachandran
Published: Fri 14 Feb 2020, 2:58 PM
Last updated: Fri 14 Feb 2020, 5:00 PM
I strongly believe that creating a successful start up culture requires the coming together of an ecosystem that promotes, nurtures, empowers and energizes entrepreneurs and innovators. Such a mindset does not take root by chance and there are several highly specific measures that are required, in order for the required dynamism to thrive. The UAE represents an unusual and interesting case, when looked at in this context.
The emergence of gamechanging technologies, evolving customer behaviour and the highly connected world we now live in has encouraged an explosive growth of young companies bringing transformative products and services to market. Nevertheless, it is unusual for a country which is already thriving due to legacy industries and sectors to exhibit such an appetite for tapping disruption. The UAE's focus on diversifying its economy beyond an over-reliance on oil and gas has already led to its status as the primary commercial hub for multinational corporations in the GCC and the larger Mena region. The country boasts of world class infrastructure and amenities, a highly entrepreneur friendly tax regime and a physical location that straddles it between the east and the west, at the junction of multiple continents. However, making the most of these advantages still requires a vision and result oriented policies. I believe the UAE government's purposeful, innovative and visionary approach has had a big part to play in leveraging these advantages to their full potential.
To an extent it can even be argued that much of this approach can be traced back to before the word 'start-up' entered our lexicon and the related concepts became an established part of our public consciousness. I remember coming across a report that stated that the SME sector in the UAE had already begun to contribute to the country's GDP at a scale that was comparable to the Oil & Gas sector, by the beginning to 2019. I believe that one of the key aspects that has benefitted the UAE has been that it had already emerged as the regional headquarters for some of the largest companies in the world, across sectors, and that a thriving IT sector - also the best in the region - had already sprung up to serve this clientele. In a sense, it was the coming together of a forward thinking business community, with a receptive frame of mind to emerging opportunities, and an administration that was looking further into the future than almost any other government around the world. A thriving but geographically concentrated market allows start-ups in the UAE the opportunity to scale up very quickly, and a multicultural population is a great enabler of partnerships and collaborations with several other innovation hubs across the globe.
It's not a coincidence that ventures like Careem and Souq sprung up within the UAE, fairly early in the global gold rush to being the next big unicorn in a market. Nor is it surprising that some of the largest corporations in their fields globally - Uber and Amazon, in this instance - stepped in to acquire these companies. If you look at incubators like Dubai Smart City Accelerator, Impact Hub, the Dtec initiative of the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, or Flat6Labs in Abu Dhabi, the quality of the communities that have grown up around them can rival any in the world. Having been intimately involved with the start-up ecosystem in India, and in the US - two of the most energetic markets in terms of company churn and emerging innovations - I am very impressed by the mentorship, incentives and support that start-ups in the UAE have access to. Government programs that extend their support to deserving enterprises, visa regulations that extend special consideration to the best start-ups from around the globe, and world class training and development programs, all add up to what it takes for a culture of innovation to thrive.
We have very recently undertaken the journey from idea and inspiration to a fast maturing start-up, at Facilio. I believe this gives us a particular insight into the kind of support, peer communities and policy frameworks that are optimal for young start-ups, which are often operating on little more than a great idea and a lot of elbow grease. In my experience, every aspect of the ideal incubatory culture is present in the UAE, and it's no wonder that we are already seeing some extraordinary new companies emerging in the country. As far as Facilio itself is concerned, we benefitted from these strengths as well, in the form of early traction and scaling opportunities we were able to leverage, in the UAE. I honestly believe that the confluence of ready and astute capital, visionary leadership, and a thriving community of entrepreneurs, will soon see the UAE gain the reputation of one of the world's top start-up ecosystems.
- Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect on the newspaper's policy