Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

Dubai plans new visa to attract start-up talent

Dubai plans to launch a special visa system to lure talented foreign entrepreneurs as it tries to boost its economy after the global downturn.

Dubai plans to launch a special visa system to lure talented foreign entrepreneurs as it tries to boost its economy after the global downturn. Under the EntrePass scheme, budding start-ups with high commercial value will be encouraged to set up in Dubai and share knowledge and intellectual property rights with the emirate. In return, entrepreneurs will have their visa application expedited and be provided with guidance from experts at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment (MBRE) for SME Development in starting their businesses.

In certain cases, they may also have access to finance through the UAE's first Sharia-compliant venture capital fund. "We want Dubai to be the centre for innovative small and medium enterprises [SMEs]," said Alexandar Williams, the director of strategy and policy division at MBRE, an agency of the Department of Economic Development in Dubai. "The future of Dubai will rest on nurturing selective foreign entrepreneurs with good ideas to use Dubai as a test bed for development and to build business around it."

In the fourth quarter, MBRE will launch a pilot programme for EntrePass involving 10 entrepreneurs before widening the scheme. Based on a similar system in Singapore, EntrePass is designed as an alternative to conventional business visas. MBRE plans to select and invite individuals or companies with strong entrepreneurial records to apply for the visa by offering them the promise of guidance throughout the setting-up process.

The pass will last between two and three years, enough time for initial businesses concepts to be fully tested and launched. "We are looking at any company with new business models and existing technology that can be adapted to the UAE and that could benefit Dubai through the sharing of intellectual property and knowledge transfer," said Mr Williams. MBRE was launched by the Dubai Government with the intention of supporting the growing number of start-ups in the emirate.

Considered the heartbeat of Dubai's economy, SMEs account for more than 98 per cent of registered companies. A slowdown in sectors such as property and finance amid the downturn has increased the urgency of Dubai's plans to diversify its economy and attract fresh entrepreneurial talent. From September, MBRE will also begin to prepare the Dubai SME 100, ranking the 100 top-performing SMEs in Dubai as it prepares to create a second-tier stock market.

This will help businesses with a market capitalisation that is too small to list on the existing bourses gain access to finance. Based partly on the financial results of the top SMEs, the ranking is intended to measure the contribution of small businesses to the economy and help market their capabilities to global investors. The ranking should be in place by February or March next year, leading to the creation of the secondary market in two or three years.

Since the global financial crisis, SMEs have struggled to obtain finance needed to stabilise and expand their businesses. In an effort to partly plug this funding gap, MBRE plans to launch in the fourth quarter the country's first Sharia-compliant venture capital fund, providing funding to Dubai SMEs through equity and loans. It also hopes to establish a pipeline of seed capital. @Email:tarnold@thenational.ae

Updated: July 14, 2010 04:00 AM

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