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Get In The Zone: DUQE Free Zone Aims To Be The New Home For Disruptors In Dubai PCFC Investments CEO Saeed Al-Bannai and DUQE General Manager Ghaith Al Daker delve into how DUQE is set to house the next breed of unicorns in the UAE and the Middle East.

By Aby Sam Thomas Edited by Aby Thomas

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Saeed Al-Bannai, CEO, PCFC Investments and Ghaith Al Daker, General Manager, DUQE

Established in 2001, the Ports, Customs, and Free Zone Corporation (PCFC) is one of Dubai's leading government organizations, with the list of entities and authorities operating under its umbrella including Dubai Ports Authority (which manages the Emirate's key ports like Port Rashid, Jebel Ali Port, and Al Hamriya Port), Dubai Customs, Dubai Maritime City Authority, and several others. Also falling under its purview is PCFC Investments, which bills itself as "a boutique private equity firm" that invests in commercial enterprises and asset management, with one of its latest investments being the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2), the historic British ocean liner that is now permanently docked at Dubai's Port Rashid and has been reimagined as "a one-of-a-kind entertainment, hospitality, and tourist destination" in the Emirate. And while the QE2 is already home to the first (and only) floating hotel in Dubai, PCFC Investments has chosen to put yet another feather in its cap- it is now also housing the first (and, again, the only) free zone in the UAE that's headquartered on a ship: DUQE.

Accompanied by PCFC Investments CEO Saeed Al-Bannai and DUQE General Manager Ghaith Al Daker, I got to visit DUQE's headquarters on the QE2 on a sunny day in June, just a few weeks after the free zone had been officially declared to be open for business. Marketing collateral at the neatly designed space proudly proclaim DUQE to be "not just another free zone," which got me to ask, well, how does it exactly stand out from the business hubs that already exist in Dubai and the UAE? "Aside from DUQE's unique location, being the only free zone on a ship, what differentiates it from other free zones is it is specially designed to provide a conducive ecosystem for the next generation of entrepreneurs, whilst giving them an end-to-end business set-up solution geared towards fostering and sustaining growth beyond the set-up phase," Al Daker replies. "Additionally, DUQE provides a dedicated space for entrepreneurs to meet, connect, exchange ideas, build partnerships, and have a sense of unity and oneness from where they can draw strength and inspiration. The community space has been designed to be the home of the upcoming disruptors in the market, the founders of the next breed of unicorn companies in the UAE and the Middle East, and the innovators who will introduce the technologies of the future."

The Queen Elizabeth II (QE2). Source: DUQE

Al-Bannai agrees with this sentiment, adding that the establishment of DUQE is also aimed at meeting the growing need for competitive and leading-edge company formation solutions in the UAE. "DUQE has an inimitable business ecosystem and community cultivated by leading industry experts to provide the most favorable environment for new entrepreneurs and companies to thrive," he says. "Its combination of market-leading business setup services, end-to-end business support, a world-class business center, and best-in-class customer support make for a superior business hub that offers founders, innovators, and disruptors the best platform from which they can launch their cutting-edge business ideas, services, and technologies."

Besides offering all of the business-friendly incentives and measures offered by the government to ease the process of starting up a business in the UAE, Al-Bannai says that DUQE also makes it a point to offer its patrons a variety of value-added services that range from, say, assistance in opening a bank account, to complying with the UAE's value added tax (VAT) regulations. "DUQE creates a unique entrepreneurial ecosystem specifically geared towards fostering disruptive and futuristic ideas," Al-Bannai adds. "DUQE represents a step towards significantly reducing the barriers to entrepreneurship in the country."

Source: DUQE

Now, it's one thing to say that DUQE will make it better for entrepreneurs to set up a business in the UAE- it's another thing altogether to actually do it. Al Daker acknowledges this point, and therefore goes on to explain how DUQE will deliver on its promise. "At DUQE, we are building partnerships with accelerators, investors, and venture capitalists," Al Daker reveals. "We want startups to know that if they choose DUQE as their home, they can benefit from having connections to investors and programs that can finance and support their companies, from early-stage to global expansion. We also have pitch competitions and hackathons lined up to encourage entrepreneurs to think outside the box and foster the creation, exchange, and evolution of ideas, and to stir their imaginations and inspire them to explore solutions beyond the ordinary and the norm."

Such efforts notwithstanding, Al Daker also points to the very practical benefits of basing a business out of DUQE. "The QE2's strategic location, right in the heart of Dubai, puts DUQE clients a mere 18 minutes away from Dubai International Airport, and 15 minutes away from Burj Khalifa," he says. "For business owners who are always on the go and follow strict schedules, this is a definite advantage. You have basically everything within your reach, allowing you to make the most of your time– meet more people, clients, partners, and investors. Do more for your business, and even for yourself."

Saeed Al-Bannai, CEO, PCFC Investments and Ghaith Al Daker, General Manager, DUQE. Source: DUQE

DUQE's arrival in Dubai comes at a time when it has been enjoying a major resurgence on the economic front- a recent S&P Global survey pointed out that growth in the Emirate's non-oil business conditions had strengthened to its greatest degree in nearly three years in May this year. "Whilst most of the world is still trying to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and open their borders to let new business opportunities and investments come in, Dubai's startup landscape is witnessing a huge growth in recent years, with a faster and stronger pace, due to what the Emirate can offer for international investors; regardless of the enterprise's size," Al-Bannai notes. "Through implementing new policies, launching new programs, and allocating new funds for its numerous economic and development projects, it is an optimal time to start a business in Dubai. The foundation we have built in the past, and the roadmap we have laid out for the future have created a fertile landscape where companies can take root, develop, and branch out into the global market."

Related: Patrick Mendes, Yigit Sezgin, And Markus Keller On How Accor Has Consolidated Its Leading Position In The Hospitality Sector

Such trends bode well for DUQE's prospects in Dubai- but given the other players in this field, will it be able to stand out in this crowded space? "With no doubt, there is a wide competition in the UAE in this field," Al-Bannai replies. "But DUQE is committed to supporting the growth of new and existing businesses through exceptional incentives that will further help in boosting and expanding their operations in the near future." Al Daker points out here such efforts made by DUQE are in line with the directives that have been outlined by the leadership of Dubai and the UAE. "We believe that by nurturing such talents, people, and ecosystems, we are working hand in hand with the government, and we are contributing to the UAE's vision of establishing the country as the home of the most innovative, visionary, and daring entrepreneurs," he declares.

Source: DUQE

"With companies and entrepreneurs coming to Dubai from all over the world, we want to fill the market gap, and help guide them to the right path rightaway." And this mindset is reflected in the manner Al Daker and his team plan to do business as well. "We don't leave clients hanging once they have their trade license, and we have formed a team of industry experts who can guide each entrepreneur in their journey. We also offer an all-inclusive, end-to-end approach to business support, which means they will continue to benefit from excellent customer support and unparalleled service quality, even after receiving their trade license and visa. Our team is based on-site to offer clients immediate assistance, and we can also provide them with value-added services aimed at helping them focus on what truly matters."

Saeed Al-Bannai, CEO, PCFC Investments and Ghaith Al Daker, General Manager, DUQE. Source: DUQE

At this point, it's perhaps necessary to hear how DUQE would sell itself to entrepreneurs, and Al Daker is only too happy to oblige. "If anyone comes in to DUQE and asks why they should set up here, our answer is this: we have built and designed DUQE to be the best launchpad for your ideas and dreams," Al Daker says. "We have everything ready for you, and you just need to take that first step. We have refined our process to be fast and streamlined. DUQE accelerates your path to entrepreneurship, so you can start closing deals, winning clients, and generating profits quickly, from the time you decide to set up." According to Al Daker, DUQE has been designed as an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs from start to finish, and as such, any business that chooses to operate from this free zone is already setting itself up for success. "If you want to make your mark in Dubai, and lead your company to the forefront of the global market, if you want to be guided by the best in the industry, or if you want to have the opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in Dubai's startup scene, then DUQE is for you," he concludes.

Why DUQE is the place to be (according to DUQE General Manager Ghaith Al Daker)

1. Find your tribe "If you are a business owner who wants to build and expand your network, to be a part of a community of doers, achievers, and game changers, and to have a healthy work-life balance, DUQE's environment and location make it easy for you to do so."

2. Business with benefits "Whether they need accounting, VAT registration, bank account opening, medical and Emirates ID assistance, or health insurance, DUQE can fulfil any business requirement. In addition, we have a variety of contemporary workspaces and offices that give them the freedom and flexibility to work."

3. Work as it works for you "Entrepreneurs who set up with us can enjoy the freedom to work according to their own pace, to explore a number of business opportunities, and to surround themselves with individuals of the same mindset, the same relentless drive, and the same ambition and single-minded determination to make things happen."

'TREP TALK: Tips for entrepreneurs from PCFC Investments CEO Saeed Al-Bannai

Look out for the long term "Always plan ahead, and prepare for the unexpected to strengthen your company."

Seek the silver linings "Have the speed and agility to find solutions to problems, and create opportunities out of challenges."

Strive to build win-win relationships "Be on the lookout for partnerships that can generate mutually beneficial advantages."

Your network is your net worth "Build your business network, and nurture connections that can help diversify your portfolio and reinforce your company."

Always be attuned to trends in the business arena "Keep an eye on the market, and avoid complacency."

Related: Meet Abdallah Of Arabia: Abdallah Abu-Sheikh, The Serial Entrepreneur Behind UAE-Based Barq And Rizek

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  


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