Star Tech: Why Dubai has become a magnet for entrepreneurs

Majed Al Suwaidi, Managing Director, Dubai Media City explains to Khaleej Times about what makes the Emirate a one-stop destination for startups and entrepreneurs.


Mazhar Farooqui

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Majed Al Suwaidi, managing director, Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City and Dubai Production City. Supplied photo
Majed Al Suwaidi, managing director, Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City and Dubai Production City. Supplied photo

Published: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 5:21 PM

Last updated: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 7:29 PM

Majed Al Suwaidi, Managing Director of Dubai Media City, shares deep insights into the Emirate’s ease of doing business that’s striking a big chord with global innovators and entrepreneurs. in5, an enabling platform for entrepreneurs and startups, also falls under his remit.

Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:

How conducive is the current landscape in Dubai for startups and entrepreneurs?

The landscape in Dubai is truly ripe for entrepreneurs to realise their ambitions. Dubai has become a magnet for entrepreneurs, thanks to our leadership’s vision and more than two decades of enabling ecosystems boasting world-class infrastructure, a business-friendly environment to fuel success and a culture that embraces innovation.

There are several government-backed initiatives enriching the opportunities available for startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).


The Ministry of Economy’s Entrepreneurial Nation has set a goal to nurture 20 unicorns by 2031, alongside a number of incentives for new businesses, while the 10-year Golden Visa and GoFreelance packages further entice independent individuals from around the world to choose Dubai as a place to live, work and invest in the emirate.

Business incubators like in5 further enhance prospects for aspiring entrepreneurs and creatives in technology, media and design by providing valuable launching pads or inventive ideas and business models.

We offer expert advisory and mentorship, access to investment opportunities, networking events and workshops that insert our startups within some of the city’s most active business districts as well as creative facilities with industry-standard equipment. By continuing to invest in our offerings, infrastructure and platform to meet the market’s evolving needs, we hope to boost business growth and reaffirm Dubai’s economic competitiveness on a global scale.

What is a unicorn?

To be considered a unicorn, a business needs to reach an investor valuation of $1 (Dh3.67) billion or more. It’s quite an ambitious goal, but it’s not impossible. Dubai’s robust technology ecosystem and world-class infrastructure play a vital role in helping nurture unicorn companies, such as Careem, which was acquired by Uber in 2019 for $3.1 (Dh11.39) billion. Soon after, Dubai-based Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) and OLX Group merged their Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and South Asia operations, Bayut and Dubizzle, resulting in a business valued at Dh3.6 billion.

In 2019, Cisco acquired Voicera, which had initially acquired in5-based startup Wrappup in 2018. Wrappup specialises in using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to transcribe and convert audio recordings into notes. The startup was founded during a hackathon competition organised by in5 in 2015, and in the short span of four years, attracted the interest of the Silicon Valley giant.

Dubai has supported a number of start-ups. How are they faring?

We’re proud to support a number of very promising startups in our community that are leaving quite an impression on their industries. Last year, our startups successfully secured over Dh1.4 billion in funding, and that number is rapidly rising as we attract more and more investments. Agri-tech startup, Desert Control, is listed on Euronext Growth Oslo, a multilateral trading facility operated by the Oslo Stock Exchange, while in5 alum Derq has partnered with driverless technology pioneer Motional to pilot autonomous vehicles with smart infrastructure in Las Vegas. There is much action and promise brewing in our incubator, demonstrating the region’s entrepreneurial spirit.

What are essential traits that put you on track to becoming a unicorn?

Unicorns are traditionally tech-savvy startups that disrupt their market, rewriting how people interact with a certain kind of product or service. Careem is an example which is close to home — the company changed the nature of private transport in the region by bringing cabs directly to a consumer’s doorstep at any time and location, while being upfront about costs.

While that might be a lofty founding ambition, you can work towards this by being dedicatedly consumer driven. Identify a specific problem people within your target market face and work towards creating an effective solution for it. Take inspiration from your own experiences and inconveniences and research whether a satisfying product or service exists in the market that addresses it. Unicorns are efficient, focusing iterations on being cost-effective and including only the most essential components in early stages to seek feedback from consumers.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but these are key traits that help put startups on the right track.

What frequent mistakes do startups make in early stages?

It’s necessary for startups to lay strong foundations from the beginning. One of the things that make or break a business is the right set of stakeholders, including employees, strategic partners, and investors. Finances are understandably tight, especially in the early stages of setting up, but creating a strong team is an essential cost for long-term growth. Of course, it’s important to find people with the necessary skill set and expertise, but it’s equally as important to choose members whose drive and values match yours. Bring everyone on the same page so you can collaborate effectively to achieve growth in the long-term.

Another is to create a product or service without identifying what problem or challenge it helps solve. Conduct first-hand research of your audience and the challenges they face so you can develop solutions based on actual needs. Don’t forget to heed the feedback you receive and adjust your business model and user experience accordingly, even before launching. Follow up future iterations with the same feedback and improvement loop to ensure a desirable product

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is being realistic about your goals and strategies. Be ambitious, be driven and aspire to succeed, but that comes with setting achievable goals for your business and remaining steadfastly dedicated to achieving sustainable growth and attracting investors. Fuel your passion to succeed and remain persistent – you might face setbacks in the journey but remain resilient. If after numerous iterations the feedback is still low, pivot and keep moving forward.

Incubators like ours play a pivotal role in helping young entrepreneurs and start-ups avoid the common pitfalls. We are committed to providing our members regular and up-to-date advisory in line with international best practices, as well as regional know-how, so they can make educated decisions for their future.

What must startups keep in mind as they prepare to scale their business?

Networking is essential for any business, whether you are an established organisation or just getting started. A large, strong network will aid you in finding potential investors, business partners and board members as well as industry leaders and C-Suite figures who can guide you and facilitate valuable opportunities for collaboration.

Businesses part of our incubator have the benefit of in5’s annual calendar of networking events and expert-led discussions to forge these critical relationships. We not only offer startups hundreds of hours of advisory and mentorship with a steering committee of representatives from some of the leading organisations in the world, but also nurture a community of future-minded businesses that can rely on each other for support at different stages of their journey. Plus, startups are located within larger business ecosystems such as Dubai Internet City, Dubai Design District and Dubai Production City, offering them unrivalled access to some of the biggest players in tech, design and media.

Another essential relationship is with your early customers and consumers. Heed their feedback, collate the data you gather from their experiences and adjust your product — their loyalty and endorsement can go a long way. Data is essential, especially in technology. Identify ways you can securely collect data from your users and let that guide how you pitch to investors, devise your marketing and traction plans, and move forward into proceeding growth phases.

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