Why Community Is Vital To Tech Startup Success
Startups need an innovation-driven environment to truly thrive– a community of like-minded people.
Technology startups today thrive on fast delivery, implementing user feedback, and pivoting their approaches. However, testing assumptions, mediocre applications, and isolated solutions can end a project before it even gets off the ground.
That’s why startups need an innovation-driven environment to truly thrive– a community of like-minded people. These networks can be a valuable source of mentorship, collaboration, learning, job creation and investment.
It’s also well established that being part of a community has significant mental health benefits. And with one study from the University of California, San Francisco finding self-reported mental health concerns present in 72% of entrepreneurs– community has never been more important for those starting a business.
Let’s consider these topics in more detail:
1. Mentorship and collaboration
According to the World Economic Forum, the UAE is currently home to 20 of the region’s top 100 Arab startups, and the largest fintech hub in the MENA region. The UAE is also attracting more talent than ever before from abroad.
With the acquisition of Souq.com by Amazon in 2017 and with Uber finalizing its purchase of Careem earlier this year, the UAE is going from one economic strength to another as a leading tech hub of choice. Such resounding homegrown successes attract more and more highly experienced mentors.
Mentorship continues to be a popular way of paying it forward in startup circles. Any upcoming or first-time tech entrepreneur can benefit from meeting those pioneers who have succeeded before them. In fact, the practice is so well-regarded that 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their staff.
While some successful and established entrepreneurs will gladly provide advice on an ad hoc, informal basis, a better option is to explore local co-working spaces, hubs, and professional associations. They often have established relationships with mentors– or mentor networks that new entrepreneurs can tap into.
The more people entrepreneurs interact with, the greater the likelihood of them making a connection and forging lasting friendships and working relationships.
Mentorship comes in many forms– from a senior expert in a specific field, to a coach who excels at challenging founders’ assumptions.
A tech community attracts the kind of people who are keen to help one another. So, often simply by being part of a community, many entrepreneurs find experts in everything from marketing and sales, to software development and legal matters to guide them along the way.
Also, any good well-connected mentor can usually introduce founders to other influential people within their sector. Joining a community can help kickstart collaboration among peers. Many informal chats between community members about business challenges have led to strong, successful business opportunities.
2. Accelerators and incubators
It seems Silicon Valley jargon has made its way to the Middle East. Accelerators and incubators are here to stay.
It’s estimated that there are more than 10,000 accelerators and some 7,000 incubators worldwide. While both offer different approaches –accelerators are designed to grow existing businesses, while incubators nurture ambitious entrepreneurs– they are both great ways to actively join a technology-focused community.
The UAE government is serious about technology investment as part of wider efforts to diversify the nation’s economy. As a result, there are an increasing number of opportunities that technology startups can benefit from– a cash infusion, and access to a bigger support network.
In 2016, the UAE government launched its Government Accelerators program– the first initiative of its kind in the world. It aims to ensure that the nation’s government has the right technology in place as it accelerates into the future. As with other accelerators, there’s a strong emphasis on teamwork and learning in the program– for those keen to improve public sector work.
On a more commercial level, there are a growing number of private accelerators and incubators across the UAE. Then there is also the perfect mixture of a tech community that has its own accelerator. This blends the innovation-focused community spirit, with the opportunities an accelerator offers.
Accelerators offer tech entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive guidance and support from dedicated professionals– in a similar way to mentorship.
While internationally renowned initiatives like Y-Combinator and Techstars are famed for their success stories, they’re highly competitive and rumored to be harder to get accepted into than many of the world’s most prestigious universities.
For entrepreneurs seeking a welcoming, open-minded technology community –one with abundant finance opportunities and a large, accessible regional market– joining a UAE-based community with its own accelerator or incubator is ideal.
3. Workshops and events
Learning and networking events are great ways of tapping into the local technology and business community. The UAE has no shortage of these either. From university campuses to large company offices, regularly hosted networking events and learning-based workshops are the norm. But it’s in the co-working spaces that these synergies really come alive.
So, in addition to access to local and internationally organized networking events and using event-sourcing apps to search for tech-related happenings in the local area, being part of a community means workshops and events are already on your doorstep.
With several future-focused events on the horizon for Dubai and the wider UAE later this year and extending well into 2021, there is a plethora of opportunities that continue to exist for like-minded techpreneurs in order for them to connect.
While ideal for those who enjoy networking, attending events is a great way of engaging with different types of business and/or technology communities. Events are also an opportunity to see what local offices and co-working spaces are like– and are dynamic platforms for meeting the people who work there.
Finding your community
According to a report by the Dubai Statistics Centre, early-stage startups make up for nearly 50% of all companies registered in Dubai. These ventures have an estimated contribution of over 47% to the UAE’s annual GDP, which considering predicted growth can only continue to cement the importance of technology-based entrepreneurship here.
The UAE has a reputation for opportunity, investment, and for its welcoming attitude to international entrepreneurs. Free zones in particular have made it easier for all kinds of businesses to set up and thrive in the country, and tech startups are a growing part of that ecosystem. With all this in place, it’s about finding the right community that will help your business grow.
William Chappell is the Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President of Technology and Entrepreneurship at Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority. He has been CFO since 2005 and has overseen the Authority’s technology ecosystem activities since 2011. With 27 years of financial experience, William’s previous roles include spending six years working with companies in Silicon Valley for Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), and later becoming CFO of Trikon Technologies, a NASDAQ-listed semiconductor equipment company. He holds a BSc in chemistry from the University of Leeds.