x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Sheltering the future of Dubai

The business start-up launchpad prepares for a move to Dubai Media City.

DUBAI // The hub for the city's burgeoning creative industry will reopen next month in offices built solely from shipping containers.

The Shelter, a venue that has acted as a launchpad for start-up businesses, will be based in Dubai Media City from mid-February.

The move from the industrial area of al Quoz is designed to improve accessibility and increase the business prospects of small firms using Shelter facilities.

However, the workspace-cum-arthouse will stay true to its alternative roots by being based in a building made of four corrugated iron shipping containers.

"It's part of an architectural movement," said Leith Matthews, operations director for Shelter. "It's amazing what people are doing with these containers and the shapes they are creating."

Although the new tenants have yet to leave their mark on the patch of sand earmarked for the venue, Mr Matthews said there is a scheduled soft opening date of February 15, which will be followed by a grand opening on March 1.

The work is being done off-site by a Dubai-based company called Smartbox, which specialises in converting the containers.

Once the containers arrive onsite, it will be a simple matter of connecting them - a process that should happen very quickly, said Mr Matthews.

Shelter is the brainchild of Ahmad bin Shabib and his brother, Rashid, and was launched in late 2009. Their vision was based on helping start-up businesses thrive, something the brothers view as particularly important for the future of Dubai.

"You can't run a city off of multinationals," said Ahmad. "You need to have grassroots. For every one multinational you need a thousand small or medium enterprises."

The new business model imports the old formula of renting desk space for around Dh2,500 a month, as well as giving members use of facilities such as meeting spaces, high-speed internet, a screening room and a cafe.

In addition, by being based in Media City, it will allow members to apply for a freezone trade licence, a component that was not available in al Quoz.

Shelter was given the Media City land on a discounted basis on the grounds that it would be helping small businesses get on their feet.

"We nurture these start-ups initially," said Ahmad. "At one stage Media City is going to be taking them and plugging them into their real estate portfolio. We have to graduate businesses out of Shelter, and we have set our own targets."

The new Shelter space will contain 35 to 40 desk spaces, and Ahmad said he and his brother are expecting a "full house".

To coincide with the launch, the brothers will give away six-month memberships to four entrepreneurs with business ideas that capture the founders' imaginations. Queries can be sent to membership@shelter.ae.

Mr Matthews said that he believed the venue would become ever more popular, owing to the unique philosophy behind it.

“It's a cool environment for people who have a good idea, who can take this idea and allow it to grow,” he said.

mcroucher@thenational.ae