In a move that has the potential to provide global entrepreneurship exposure for MENAs startups, Washington D.C.-headquartered global entrepreneurship support network 1776 has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Dubai Foundation of the Future (DFF) to launch a MENA-focused campus in Dubai, its first international unit outside the of United States. 1776 is targeting a Q3 launch for the campus, which will be located at the Boulevard at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, and will incubate startups, host ecosystem events, mentor entrepreneurs and also advise DFF on policies to pursue.
Having been introduced to the country’s authorities by the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. and after several meetings over the course of the past 12 months, 1776 co-founder and co-CEO Evan Burfield says that prior to making the decision to set up shop here, 1776 first “tested the waters” by conducting the MENA regionals of the Challenge Cup (a global entrepreneurship competition hosted by 1776) in Dubai for the first time in February 2016. The status of Dubai as a “hub of startup activity for MENA region” appealed to 1776, which then decided to facilitate innovation for the region’s startups, in line with the UAE National Innovation strategy.
Speaking about the partnership, Burfield says, “Together, 1776 and DFF will attract leading education, energy, food, water, transportation and health startups from around the world to Dubai, to work with leading local institutions and drive the UAE’s major initiatives to revitalize these industries.” To startups looking to associate themselves with the network, 1776 says that all of its regular evaluation metrics such as industry focus, intellectual property, scale, global potential, etc. will be used to judge MENA startups as well.
Burfield believes that emerging success stories in the region are a sign of a maturing ecosystem, “with dozens of startups from North Africa to the Levant and GCC, being funded multiple times by a growing and increasingly institutionalized investor community in the region.” He also points to key international exits from startups such as Cobone, Zawya, Talabat.com, Fawry, and Shahia as signs of encouraging progress. “[And], very recently, the region's first unicorn or billion dollar valuation was achieved with Souq.com's latest capital raise. I can only see this momentum continuing in the future,” he says.
What are the benefits for MENA’s startups with 1776’s presence in Dubai?
“With its physical campus in Dubai, 1776 is aiming to help startups and incubators/accelerators located in Dubai and the UAE with various programs to ensure they are well-equipped for success. However, MENA startups, wherever they are based across the region, can benefit today from 1776's global virtual membership by gaining access to a platform with wealth of resources, including learning content, mentors, experts, and investors, to help them scale globally.”
What is your strategy regarding intake of MENA startups?
“We have agreed a certain number of KPIs with the DFF management around for the startups that we will take in. The focus sectors will essentially be those that have been identified by the UAE National Innovation strategy, namely education, energy, water, smart cities, transportation and health, with food as an additional sector, which is important for the whole world. Our typical startups stay with us for one to two years, but we will be rotating the startups from outside the UAE in shorter cycles. In terms of funding, we will working with UAE and global institutions to finance the most promising startups, in addition to our own seed fund.”
What are your thoughts on MENA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
“The MENA startup ecosystem, especially in the digital space, has been undergoing a tremendous transformation for the last five years, with more deal flow, more exits, more incubators/accelerators, hackathons, startup competitions, and more VCs mushrooming at a rapid pace. However, it is still nascent compared to other place around the world, and there is still some work to be done to grow the ecosystem to become world-class. This is where we step in by plugging entrepreneurs in this ecosystem into 1776's global network and platform, which includes learning content, and access to mentors, experts, and investors, to skill them up and raise their profile with the best of the best.”