x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dubai tech free zones roll out welcome mat for entrepreneurs

Dubai Internet City and Dubai Silicon Oasis are aiming to attract more start-ups.

There are currently 1,400 companies located at Dubai Internet City, above. Mike Young / The National
There are currently 1,400 companies located at Dubai Internet City, above. Mike Young / The National

Dubai’s two free zones for technology are ramping up investments to attract entrepreneurs.

Next year, Dubai Internet City (DIC) and Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) will expand their business incubators to make way for more start-ups.

“We are strongly promoting entrepreneurship, we will be promoting it even further next year,” said Majed Al Suwaidi, the managing director of DIC and Dubai Outsource Zone.

The free zone aims to provide start-ups with knowledge, expertise in best practices and help with funding in an effort to develop the information technology sector.

“It is one of the biggest things we are trying to promote. It’s a major joint effort to work with the government towards a smart city, smart government and mobile government,” said Mr Al Suwaidi.

There are currently 1,400 companies located in DIC. Last year 1,050 companies from around the world registered to open an office there.

Prominent among the free zones’ efforts is a programme called in5 which aids entrepreneurs from idea creation through implementation and, ideally, all the way to product launch.

“Going forward we are trying to attract as much business to set up in Dubai. That is our main role and to develop this platform [in5] even more,” said Mr Al Suwaidi.

Previously developers have voiced concerns over the high costs involved in setting up in the DIC, especially when compared with other technology centres in Jordan or Egypt.

“Dubai itself is generally more expensive. You have to compare apples to apples. Jordan might be cost-effective but it does not offer the other services that Dubai has,” said Mr Al Suwaidi. “Companies registered with in5 have a very good starting platform, we are very competitive and give them subsidies and discounts and help with different areas like licensing fees and their location costs.”

Currently there are 25 companies located within in5, but the DIC is hoping to expand that next year.

Leith Matthews, an entrepreneur and founder of Snapp, a digital loyalty card, is one of the companies registered with in5.

“We have had a great experience. It’s a wonderful launch pad for a start-up and provides us with what we require,” he said. “It is a location from which to work, network side by side with others to share best practice. It is wonderful for cost saving which means we can be more interested in developing a business than heavy overheads.”

Edward Surgeon, founder of Database Aided Design, which produces software for architects, agrees.

“The barriers to entry are massively removed. It is cheaper, faster, you’ve got a whole team of people on your side [who] want to see you succeed. It has a different feeling to other free zones and very supportive,” he said.

DSO is expanding its zone by 220,000 square metres to make way for new businesses and residents and doubling the size of its incubator, Silicon Oasis Founders (SOF), which is worth about Dh5 million.

“We try to foster entrepreneurship and support budding entrepreneurs in such a way that their chances for success are heightened,” said Hans Henrik Christensen, managing director at SOF technology investment.

DSO currently has more than 700 companies registered in the free zone, with 40,000 residents. So far, three companies have graduated from SOF including Nabbesh, whose founder last year won du’s The Entrepreneur TV show.

“We have six companies so far, but we have a capacity of 10,” said Mr Christensen. “Our role is to graduate companies and help them make it. We want to double the size and level of investment of the incubator.”