Stronger Together: How Hub71 Is Building An Enabling Environment For Tech Startups In Abu Dhabi

"The private sector and established corporates have benefited from government investment and economic growth, but the next wave of development will rely on the success of business creators, startups, and innovators."
Stronger Together: How Hub71 Is Building An Enabling Environment For Tech Startups In Abu Dhabi
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CEO, Hub71
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The UAE dominates the MENA startup technology scene with the “highest of share of investors, number of deals, and value of deals,” according to the latest report by Arabnet. With a significant 31% share of all MENA investors based in the UAE, the Emirates boasts almost a third of all transactions, and 70% share of the MENA region’s total funding, according to MAGNiTT.

At the same time, it’s little wonder that UAE-born companies are making headlines for themselves after the US$3.1 billion dollar acquisition of Careem by ride-share giant Uber. And now, startups are trickling in from across the globe to realize the growth and potential of the Middle East region.

How can we ensure this momentum is maintained, and what can traditional corporates do to support the growth of startup ecosystems?

Of course, it all begins with the startups themselves– the passion, the ideas, the digital innovation that can create something from nothing. As an economy, and as a society, we need to continue celebrating these people and their successes. But equally important is putting in place the infrastructure and support that creates an environment in which startups can flourish.

Startups already see the UAE as an attractive destination for new technology companies and market-changing innovations. With the highest mobile penetration rate in the world at 173%, and with the arrival of 5G in the coming months, it’s easy to see why. But that’s not enough. We need to focus on ensuring Abu Dhabi sustains this growth, nurtures the best startups and talent, and provides what they need to grow faster, scale globally, and beat the odds.

At Hub71, the interconnected tech ecosystem located in Abu Dhabi’s financial district Abu Dhabi Global Market Square, this is precisely what we’re trying to do. There aren’t many people that would disagree with this goal. The question is: how do we get there, and how can the business community support?

The Hub71 space in Abu Dhabi. 

Boosting the rate of success

The first thing we need to address is improving the success rate for startups. It’s important that entrepreneurs have a platform where trial and error doesn’t have to be make or break for a business, where there’s a safe and open environment, and where some of the upfront costs are taken care of to enable the innovation and startup process to move forward.

Related: Ecosystem Notes: Three Ways To Spur More Entrepreneurial Success Stories In Emerging Markets

Through Hub71, we’ve developed incentive packages that are designed to support startups with their day-to-day expenses like housing, office space, and health insurance, which we believe provides them with a soft-landing pad for those who are brave enough to launch new ideas, and balance the risk.

Partnerships are another key pillar of boosting the odds for success. This is critical to enabling knowledge transfer, and builds those all-important networks that are the arteries of a successful startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem. We’ve partnered with the likes of MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab (MITEF) to help do this.

Embedded in the MENA region startup scene for the past 14 years, MITEF Pan Arab has created 14,000 jobs, and has an alumni that’s added around $415 million to the Arab World’s GDP. MITEF Pan Arab and Hub71’s newly announced collaboration is engineered to provide an integrated all-in-one program that encourages MENA’s best entrepreneurs to think of Abu Dhabi as their next growth market. We believe that it’s only through partnerships like this that new models can flourish, and the ecosystem take root.

MITEF Pan Arab 12 Years Impact Report: Unraveling the Arab Entrepreneurship Maturity Index.

Related: Rise Of The Rest: Why Tech Startups No Longer Need To Be In Major Tech Hubs To Succeed

The corporate connection

Hub71 itself is, at its very core, built around partnerships. It has been made possible by a unique collaboration between the major technology investors, Mubadala and the SoftBank Vision Fund, the technology giant, Microsoft, and the business regulator, Abu Dhabi Global Market. As a flagship project of the Abu Dhabi Government’s economic accelerator program, Ghadan 21, it is the connections across all these partners that is enabling growth.

It is perhaps here that we think one of the most profound changes is happening– where partnerships are forging startup growth, and where corporates are seeing the value and responsibility they have to help drive these changes. Part of that equation is bringing together big players like Aldar Properties, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health (DoH), and Abu Dhabi Global Market, and introducing them to a cohort of qualified startups to challenge traditional industries with new ideas and technologies that will further invigorate the real estate, healthcare, and banking industries in the UAE. Each of these bodies have signed up to our MENA Growth Competition, in partnership with MITEF Pan Arab.

Hub71's Jida Itani at Arabnet Beirut 2019.

Aldar Properties, which reported 20% year-on-year increases in revenue for the first quarter of 2019, has been instrumental in turning the government vision for development and growth in Abu Dhabi into reality. But with this latest initiative with Hub71, it’s clear that the baton is being passed. Corporates like Aldar are recognizing the role they can play in paving the way for the next generation of private industry success stories. Not only is this good for the wider economy, but it makes good business sense for Aldar too. If startups succeed, there are more jobs, more investment, and increased demand for its properties.

At Abu Dhabi’s DoH, we’ve seen a similar appetite to embrace digital innovation and startup culture. The newly launched HealthTechHub at Hub71, is aimed at supporting local and international startups to commercialize their products and services in Abu Dhabi. Part of this narrative is about a collective focus on improving the lives of citizens. At the DoH, there’s a clear recognition that tech talent and innovation can help unlock new healthcare solutions that can have a big impact on quality of life and healthcare outcomes– whether that’s through data analytics leading to new insights for services and products, or the application of technology in medical procedures. As a partner in Hub71’s MITEF Pan Arab MENA Growth competition, the DoH is leading the way in its approach and openness to innovation and new ideas.

It is this mindset that is bearing fruit, and which we need to encourage across the wider economy. The private sector and established corporates have benefited from government investment and economic growth, but the next wave of development will rely on the success of business creators, startups, and innovators. Collaboration and open innovation across these worlds will enrich the wider economy and society, and is therefore a critical long-term priority, whichever side of the equation you’re on.

The Hub71 space in Abu Dhabi.

Building a community

We strongly believe that this mindset shift is good news for Abu Dhabi and the economy. It also helps nurture a sense of community and shared purposes, which has always been central to Abu Dhabi’s mission. That’s why at Hub71, our approach is far more than bricks and mortar. We want to provide a nurturing community with access to mentors, accelerator programs, corporate market access, and regulators. It can be a lonely world as a startup, and if corporates and government can work together to provide an enlightened support network, that can only be good for enabling startup success. 

Last month, we announced our first four startups who have recognized the value of this unique model. BitOasis, the region’s first trading platform and custodian for digital assets, Lamsa, the award-winning Arabic language learning app, Bayzat, an insurance technology startup serving 1,000 companies, and US-based experiential marketing technology platform Surkus, all announced they were setting up shop with us at Hub71 to pursue their ambitious global expansion plans, using Abu Dhabi as base camp. For us, that’s what’s most important. It’s about the stories of these startups; their ambitions, creativity, and innovation.

At Hub71, we are unique, because we’ve brought together the key ingredients that startups need. But it’s those entrepreneurs and their businesses that are most important. That’s why with successful corporate organizations like Aldar and the DoH embracing their role in stimulating and engaging startups, we believe we’ll all benefit.

After all, every business and every corporate organization was a startup at some point in their journey.

The Executive Summary: Hub71 Partners Sound Off On Their Partnerships With The Entity 

Maya Rahal, Managing Director, MITEF Pan Arab: “Our alumni have the chance to venture forth and to take advantage of Hub71’s incentives and opportunities that were made available by the forward-thinking Abu Dhabi government, which is adapting to radical shifts in the global economy. By offering real market access and opportunities through corporate partners and regulators, we create a magnet for talent, who will come build value and knowledge in Abu Dhabi.”

Ben Davis, Director of Strategy and Innovation, Aldar Properties: “We are in the business of enriching peoples’ lives through the creation of vibrant communities, and a dynamic entrepreneurial landscape is a key part of that. New technologies create new jobs which drive demand, so of course we want to be supportive and leverage the culture of innovation that is so present within the UAE today.”

Dr. Asma Al Mannaei, Director of Healthcare Quality, Department of Health, Abu Dhabi: “Our goal is to innovate healthcare for the sake of our patients and communities, contributing to Abu Dhabi’s economy and prosperity. By aligning on our shared purpose of economic prosperity and better livability standards in Abu Dhabi, through Hub71, we can better support startups who are ready to help us strive for excellence within Abu Dhabi’s best-in-class healthcare setting. We’re very excited about the quality of startups that MITEF Pan Arab and Hub71 will bring on board, and we look forward to providing the winner of the competition an elevated platform for growth across the Emirate and beyond.”

Related: Energizing The Ecosystem: The UAE's Saud Al Nowais Sees Your Startup As The Next Big Thing

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