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Free Zones: The Beating Heart Of The UAE's Startups Of Tomorrow The UAE has more than 40 multidisciplinary free zones, in which expatriates and foreign investors can have full ownership of companies.

By Dr. Sameer Al Ansari Edited by Aby Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a global hub for startups and innovation. The country has several factors that make it attractive to entrepreneurs, including a supportive government, and a growing economy. And in a landscape driven by innovation, the role of free zones often goes unnoticed.

The UAE has more than 40 multidisciplinary free zones, in which expatriates and foreign investors can have full ownership of companies. It's definitely one of the reasons why the UAE has been recognized as the most favorable place to do business, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2022 Report. Meanwhile, the 2031 vision of the UAE aims to double the country's gross domestic product (GDP) from AED1.49 trillion to AED3 trillion, and to rank first globally in developing proactive legislation for new economic sectors.

Free zones are magnets for vibrant startup communities with entrepreneurs from all over the world coming together, creating a melting pot of creative ideas in a supportive structure. High-quality infrastructure and resources in free zones significantly reduce barriers to entry for startups, enabling entrepreneurs to focus on innovation, rather than logistical challenges.

About 90% of startups don't make it, but a supportive environment encourages entrepreneurs to experiment and take calculated risks, which is essential for fostering innovation. Free zones can act as ideal testing grounds for emerging technologies, where startups can validate and refine their concepts in real-world scenarios, accelerating their growth and development. The proximity of like-minded individuals fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing, enriching business development.

Related: For A Better Tomorrow: The Need To Integrate Sustainability In Education

Moreover, free zones allow startups to access global markets, leveraging their strategic locations and trade agreements, which is invaluable for businesses with international aspirations. Free zones also attract venture capital firms, angel investors, and other sources of financial support, providing startups with the capital they need to flourish.

For governments, it is crucial to recognize the pivotal role of free zones in driving economic growth and job creation. Hence, committing to supporting and investing in these ecosystems is vital for their continued success.

There are several free zones across the seven Emirates, such as Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, Dubai Silicon Oasis, and RAK Digital Assets Oasis, offering unique advantages to startup companies. For Ras Al Khaimah, the distinct advantage lies in its commitment to providing a cost-effective environment, a pivotal factor in the nascent stages of any business aiming to optimize resources, and achieve sustainable growth. Furthermore, the ability to hire talent knows no geographical bounds- a luxury that often eludes entrepreneurs in other jurisdictions.

The diversity among the various UAE free zones also encourages innovation, and it allows businesses to tap into their specific expertise, while benefiting from the conducive environment and sector-specific infrastructure. Plus, free zones in the UAE offer businesses the opportunity for 100% foreign ownership, highly advantageous tax environments, and favorable conditions for growth, trade, and investment. They have specific objectives, such as promoting economic diversification, encouraging foreign direct investment, and boosting the overall business environment in the UAE.

As such, my message to the innovators of the world would be to harness the power of the UAE's free zones, where you will find the space and freedom to dream, innovate, and ultimately redefine the boundaries of possibility.

Related: UAE-Based Startup Kyma Is Making (Business) Sense Out Of Sustainability

Dr. Sameer Al Ansari

CEO, RAK Digital Assets Oasis

Dr. Sameer Al Ansari is the CEO of RAK Digital Assets Oasis (RAK DAO) in the UAE, the world's first and only common law free zone established to support and nurture virtual assets companies. Situated in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, RAK DAO offers a transparent legislative framework that simplifies the process of opening and operating virtual assets companies. By fostering a vibrant ecosystem and providing comprehensive services, RAK DAO drives the future of emerging sectors, propelling innovation, and unlocking the potential of digital assets. 


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