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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

How the next Google could begin here

Helping entrepreneurs with big ideas requires support from government and their peers
 Fahad Al Ahbabi (left) and Bernard Lee are the co-founders of the GlassQube, a new coworking space that is opening in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National
Fahad Al Ahbabi (left) and Bernard Lee are the co-founders of the GlassQube, a new coworking space that is opening in Abu Dhabi. Delores Johnson / The National

Great businesses often have strikingly modest beginnings. Apple and Google, the first and fourth most valuable listed companies in the world, famously started in California garages, where there were no bureaucratic hurdles standing in the way of great ideas combining with hard work to reach their full potential. The chances are that the next big idea is being pursued right now by a visionary with a laptop sitting in a coffee shop.

But is there a better way than simply providing coffee and Wi-Fi to create the alchemy in which innovations can blossom and change the world? More importantly for our post-oil future, how can we help to create the environment where the UAE’s “brain gain” – where we benefit from attracting the best and brightest minds from this region and beyond – combine with well-educated locals to ensure the next big idea is fostered in Abu Dhabi or Dubai rather than California or Bangalore?

Creating the ideal environment where ingenuity can combine with opportunity is the ethos underpinning GlassQube Coworking, the brainchild of entrepreneurs Bernard Lee and Fahad Al Ahbabi. Their coworking space is designed to offer all the benefits of the garage or coffee shop – such as low cost and fast Wi-Fi – with the advantages of being part of an organised entrepreneurial community, with the presence of mentors. There’s good coffee too.

An underappreciated component of success is the cross-pollination of ideas that occurs when innovative minds meet. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs designed the offices of Pixar and then Apple specifically to foster these “serendipitous personal encounters”.

We also need to force a rethink about how someone can start a business here. There are bureaucratic barriers in this country that do not exist for the Californian garage style of business incubator. Those trying to be the next Google here often have to lease office space to get a business licence, with those coming from outside also having to secure residency. We should begin breaking down misconceptions about how contemporary businesses operate by reformulating the need for traditional fixed office spaces.

While the government clearly has a role in removing these barriers, the goal of business communities such as GlassQube is a way of levelling this playing field to make it more likely that our brain gain will see innovative ideas come to fruition here, with all the benefits to our economy that will flow from that.