The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been working towards becoming one of the world’s top ten innovation leaders by 2021.
Earlier this year, the UAE government announced that it would provide long-term visas to founders and owners of tech startups from around the world, and last year, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) introduced its tech startup licenses with a competitive annual fee of US$700.
In Dubai, startups already make up 50% of the companies registered in the city and employ half of its workforce but the local government continues to multiply initiatives, announcing at the World Economic Forum (WEF) this year that it would grant the top 100 Arab startups five-years visas.
Unsurprisingly, most of the country’s top startup funds and support programs have been initiated by Abu Dhabi and Dubai, two locations that have emerged in the past years as top startup hubs in the Middle East and North African (MENA) regions. The following are some of the country’s most notable government-supported innovation funds and programs:
Earlier this year, the Abu Dhabi government launched a AED 520 million (US$142-million) tech hub called Hub71 through which it aims to support tech startups. The emirate hopes the hub will “underpin” Abu Dhabi’s status as a vibrant destination of digital transformation, innovative initiatives and high-tech entrepreneurs.
Hub71 provides seed stage tech startups with fully subsidized housing, office space and health insurance. More established tech ventures receive 50% subsidy packages.
The Abu Dhabi government said it had partnered with Mubadala Investment Company, Microsoft and SoftBank Vision Fund on Hub71, and that it will work in close collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Global Market on the initiative.
The center is part of the Abu Dhabi government’s AED 50 billion (US$13.6 billion) Ghadan 21 program aimed at accelerating Abu Dhabi’s economy which it announced in September 2018.
Ghadan Ventures Fund
In May 2019, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) opened the AED 535 million (US$145.6 million) Ghadan Ventures Fund to support the emirate’s growing startup and venture capital.
The Ghadan Ventures Fund has two key programs that have been designed to increase the availability of capital for Abu Dhabi-based startups, as well as serve as a catalyst for new fund managers seeking to establish themselves in the capital. These programs are:
- The Startup Matching Fund, which works to stimulate Abu Dhabi’s entrepreneurial landscape by increasing the amount of capital available for seed and early stage companies. As part of the initiative, ADIO will match a startup’s lead VC investment dirham for dirham, up to AED 10 million (US$2.7 million) for seed rounds, and AED 50 million (US$13.6 million) for Series A rounds. And
- The New Managers Fund under which newly formed Abu Dhabi-based VCs can apply for fund matching, based on the amount they raise in the private market.
Like Hub71, the Ghadan Ventures Fund is also part of the government’s Ghadan 21 program.
Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund is a federal government initiative by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The fund, worth a total of AED 2 billion (US$544 million), supports resident individuals and companies of all sizes registered in the UAE offering unique and innovative ideas. These ideas can be technological solutions, products, services or processes.
Eligible applicants need to have registered their project as intellectual property of the respective individual or company, and the initial stage of the project must already be established.
Innovation Impact Grant Programme
The Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme aims to fund novel and innovative solutions that address Expo 2020 Dubai’s overall theme: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. It will award up to US$100,000 per application depending on the maturity and scalability of innovations. The expo’s three subthemes, Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, are the focus areas for funding.
Expo 2020 Dubai, the first mega-event of its kind in the region, is set to bring together hundreds of government officials, innovators, international organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, and millions of attendees to celebrate technology and innovation. The event will take place from October 2020 to April 2021.
These programs include for instance the Intelaq program, which provides startups and Emiratis residing in Dubai with full support in the form of licensing, training courses, as well as financial, legal, marketing, technical and consultancy services, throughout all the phases of setting up a business.
Another initiative is the Hamdan Innovator and Incubator (HI2), which provides both hardware and software. Software comprises an intellectual infrastructure of 10 years’ experience with 500 companies established by Dubai SME, and hardware is made of 20,000 sq. feet of space that can accommodate 60+ companies. HI2 provides business development advisory services, a special lab for creating products and inventions prototypes, a multimedia lab, 3D printers and more.
For existing businesses, Dubai SME offers guidance on type of business, mode and category of business licensing, and runs a government procurement program under which all Dubai government departments allocate at least 5% of their annual purchasing budget to buying from UAE nationals who own and operate SMEs.
Takamul is a national innovation support program developed and operated by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED). Takamul provides support to inventors in protecting and commercializing technologies that would help accelerate the goals as set out in the Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic Vision.
Takamul currently provides financial and legal support in the filing of international patents (US and PCT) for UAE inventors, institutions, companies and individuals. It also provides commercialization support which includes engaging inventors and their inventions with the market and industry.
Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Center (Dtec)
An initiative of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Center (Dtec) is a technology, entrepreneurial and innovation hub designed for business convenience. It provides a range of services including a coworking space, accelerator programs, networking events, funding opportunities, as well as visa processing, 24/7 access, high speed wifi, a range of creative meeting and events spaces, and more.
Dtec’s funding arm, Dtec Ventures invests in early-stage technology companies in the MENA region that are disrupting or enabling traditional industries. The fund focuses on sectors including consumer Internet, enterprises services, digital media, cloud computing, commerce, travel and leisure, edtech and mobile.
DIFC Fintech Fund
The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a special economic zone in Dubai and a financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, launched a US$100 million Fintech Fund in November 2017 to accelerate the development of fintech and provide promising startups with financial support.
Targeted at startups with a product or solution that would “positively and significantly impact the financial services sector in MEASA,” the DIFC Fintech Fund aims to stimulate fintech innovation and investment in the region.
Technology Innovation Pioneers (TIP)
Technology Innovation Pioneers (TIP) is an initiative launched by the UAE Ministry of Economy and the Department of Economic Development of Abu Dhabi in line with the UAE Centennial 2071 strategy.
The goal of TIP is to advance the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem to solve important challenges in the UAE. The program focuses on solutions in the areas of healthtech and envirotech.
In May 2019, the Abu Dhabi Financial Group (ADFG), South Korea’s GS SHOP, and Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups, announced a partnership to develop a new global platform of innovation hubs and coworking spaces called 500 Spaces.
Once functional, 500 Spaces will provide an ecosystem for innovation and startups, including accelerator and mentorship programs.