What Dubai’s Startups and Tech-preneurs have to say about Dubai’s Ambitions to Become the Digital Economy Capital of the World
The Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy recently launched their 2nd report in a special three-part series pulled together in partnership with Entrepreneur Middle East and Lucidity Insights, which maps out Dubai’s ambitious roadmap to becoming a digital economy capital of the world.
The latest special report launched in January titled, “Dubai’s Digital Economy and its Expanding Startup Ecosystem”, follows off the heels of the first report in the series titled “Dubai’s Roadmap to Becoming the Digital Economy Capital of the World,” which was published in October 2022. While the first report largely focused on the government strategies, initiatives and largely government-affiliated stakeholders that are driving initiatives and programs aimed at fostering a healthy startup ecosystem in the city; the second report focuses on the private sector, sharing analysis from Linkedin on how the workforce and jobs in the country have increasingly digitized over the past few years, while sharing success stories of various Dubai startups, whether home-grown or recent transplants.
As we come off the heels of Dubai’s latest announcement of Dubai’s “D33” US $8.7 trillion ten-year Economic Plan, and line it up next to the arsenal of economic strategies Dubai has launched in the last handful of years – from Dubai’s Digital Economy Strategy (2021), Dubai’s Metaverse Strategy (2022), and older strategies like Dubai’s 3D Printing Strategy, Dubai’s Autonomous Transportation Strategy and Dubai’s Blockchain Strategy (2016) – we see a clear roadmap and focus for the city and Emirate towards digitalization and technological innovation.
Dubai is a significant player in the race for digital economy supremacy, despite being quite a small and relatively new tech metropolis. Dubai is home to just 3.54 million inhabitants, and is trying to become the next digital economy capital, taking the title and limelight away from incumbents like the San Francisco Bay Area or London, with populations of 7.8 million and 9.5 million respectively. The ambition is quite audacious, really, when one considers that Silicon Valley based startups have made-up more than 20% of global venture deals since the beginning of time, and that London-based startups raised more than US $25 Billion in 2021. Dubai-based startups just broke through the $2 billion fundraising ceiling in 2022. But this is the task at hand, and one that Dubai is taking on with clear determination.
His Excellency, Omar Sultan Al Olama, the Minister for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications for the United Arab Emirates, says “Having a developed digital sector is one thing, but a ‘digital economy’ indicates that digitalization has gone far deeper, spreading across every sector of the economy. And this is where we are in the UAE; we have adopted an ambitious strategy that aims to double the contribution of the digital economy to the country’s GDP, taking it from 9.7% to 19.4% over the next decade.” HE Al Olama continues, “The best proof we can provide entrepreneurs and tech-preneurs looking to relocate to Dubai is to highlight the scores of successful start-ups that have either emerged from the Emirate or came to Dubai from around the world to set up shop. This report does just that; passing the microphone to startup and SME owners and letting them tell the world why Dubai will become the next digital economy capital of the world.”
And in this Special Report, the microphone is passed around to new and old unicorns alike, to fresh-faced start-ups at the beginning of their journey, to entrepreneurs-on-sabbatical speaking about their recent exits. The stories and perspectives are as varied as the entrepreneurs are diverse.
Below are just a few of our favorite quotes from the entrepreneurs and tech-preneurs themselves. If you want to read more about their specific entrepreneurial journeys, download the full Special Report here.
“There truly is a globally-minded nature to entrepreneurs in Dubai, that isn’t as pronounced in the rest of the world. I’ve appreciated how welcoming Dubai is towards investors and this is consistently proven by the attraction of reputable international investors acquiring Dubai-based startups for the largest tickets in the region to date. It’s clear Dubai is doing something right with regards to catching the attention of foreign investment, which is critical for local startups to also have access to additional funding sources at later growth stages, as well as viable exits.”
John Tsioris, Founder of Instashop (on the e-grocery $360 Million Valuation Sale to DeliveryHero in 2020)
“It took 20-30 years to build a startup culture in the US, and 10-15 years to replicate it in Europe; but with everyone pushing in the same direction, Dubai is halving Europe’s timeline. Considering Europe’s current economic woes, Dubai is an attractive place for many global entrepreneurs to come, with its unwavering momentum, competitive talent advantages, and large access to capital, I think the Emirate is the ideal economy for startups today.”
Benoît Jonniaux, Venture Director @ The Greenhouse (Startup Studio)
“Dubai is a strong market for entrepreneurs to bring their e-commerce solutions and platforms, since consumers here are open to new ideas and new solutions. The diversity of the consumer base makes it a good testing ground for various businesses.”
Rashid Alabbar, Founder of Sivvi.com and Board Member of Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy
“There is huge untapped depth in the local as well as the regional market for crypto and other digital assets, and we [at Binance] are glad to be among the first movers to ride the growth wave. We appreciate that VARA (the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority) and any of the government entities in the UAE aim to strike an effective balance between value creation and risk mitigation, enabling open market innovation while assuring protection for users. This fully aligns with our own views on the role of regulation in advancing adoption and trust in our industry, and therefore it is fantastic that Binance is recognized as a select global player committed to responsible industry participation and an active contributor to Dubai’s objective of creating a next-gen secure ecosystem for this future economy.”
Alexander Chehade, General Manager, Binance FTZE in Dubai
“The shift of our business to Dubai (from Ras Al Khaimah) was a key milestone for us. Joining the Dubai Future Accelerator opened a new horizon for our startup, and it quite simply was a game-changer. Dubai is truly a startup hub; there is unlimited support to entrepreneurs from mentorship, networking, investment, incubation and a fantastic pool of resources available in the city.”
Saif AlJaibeji, Co-Founder of Sehteq
“Instead of Zbooni’s growth dropping off once Covid was “over”, we saw real stickiness and a continued momentum of that digital shift. In fact, we’re currently experiencing the steepest growth trajectory we have ever seen in our business.”
Ramy Assaf, Co-Founder & CEO of Zbooni
“The Deliverect Team was attracted to Dubai because of its reputation of being a hub for innovation and a gateway to the region, fostering a unique ecosystem for startups to grow. As a major player in the hospitality industry, Deliverect goes wherever the F&B sector is strongest, which happens to be in the UAE and KSA.”
Naji Haddad, MENA Region General Manager, Deliverect
“The biggest factor encouraging [company] relocation to Dubai is government regulations focused on empowering businesses rather than burdening them with heavy tax responsibilities that make it difficult to manage cash flow. Dubai is also known for its huge talent pool and stable economic environment that allow corporate creativity while guaranteeing financial security.”
Tomaso Rodriguez, CEO @ Talabat (on why large regional startups like Talabat relocate headquarters to Dubai)