Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Another boost for the UAE’s tech scene

Abu Dhabi has taken a firm step towards becoming a home for enterprising start-ups

Panelists at the launch of Hub71 include; from left, Magnus Olssen, Chief Experience Officer and Founder of Careem, Ambareen Musa, CEO and Founder of souqalmal.com, and George Huang, President of International Business Group SenseTime. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Panelists at the launch of Hub71 include; from left, Magnus Olssen, Chief Experience Officer and Founder of Careem, Ambareen Musa, CEO and Founder of souqalmal.com, and George Huang, President of International Business Group SenseTime. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

“Adapt or face the consequences,” said Waleed Al Muhairi, deputy chief executive of Mubadala at the launch of Hub71 on Sunday. The new Abu Dhabi tech hub, named after the year of the UAE’s birth in 1971, will open its doors to some 100 enterprises in the next three to five years. As part of Abu Dhabi’s Ghadan 21 fund, Dh1 billion will be deployed to offer local and international tech firms investment and subsidies, including in housing and health care.

Initiatives such as Hub71 will be instrumental in reducing the UAE’s dependence on oil and propelling it into the future. It is also one of two strands of Ghadan 21 to be revealed in the past two days. Sunday’s tech announcement was followed by an initiative on water scarcity and food security on Monday, which seeks to pump more investment into research and development. Taken together, the two directives point clearly to the shift towards the post-oil economy and make clear the priorities of today and tomorrow.

The start-ups that Hub71 will house will bring innovation in health care, commerce, transportation, trade and other sectors, making a significant impact on society. Meanwhile, government partnership with the public sector works hand-in-hand with the evolution of the business environment. This follows Mubadala’s commitment last August to invest $1bn in local technology ventures by 2021, while the nation already has the highest number of start-ups per capita in the GCC. The ultimate aim is to put Abu Dhabi on the start-up map, alongside other magnets like Silicon Valley, London and Singapore. That might seem like a far-reaching aim but new companies are already beginning to see the UAE capital as a fourth base. It is critical to make that process as seamless as possible to compete in an already crowded global market.

For international enterprises, this initiative offers an opportunity to expand their presence in the Middle East and appeal to a largely untapped young consumer market. Amazon’s purchase of Souq.com in 2017 and the news this week that Uber is seeking to acquire Dubai-based Careem for $3.1bn demonstrate the enormous business potential of Middle Eastern tech. But beyond that, Hub71 will have a significant impact on Abu Dhabi at large. The new hub will be a space for creating products, not just selling them. That influx of skills will take the UAE’s domestic tech sector to the next level. It will also provide a pipeline for UAE universities, giving new opportunities to graduates on home turf rather than seeing their future overseas. NYU Abu Dhabi is already exploring ways to build employment opportunities and workplace experience into its studies. The overall aim is a holistic approach, which will yield returns for years to come. With investment in research and development, Ghadan 21 aims to create an environment that is an incubator for both ideas and enterprises.

Updated: March 25, 2019 07:07 PM

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