Abu Dhabi’s drive to foster an environment of invention is no secret, and the UAE capital’s tech ecosystem, Hub71, is one of the main drivers of that journey. Not only does the hub offer attractive incentives to startups interested in relocating to Abu Dhabi or expanding into the region, it also offers incredible networking opportunities with partners such as Microsoft, Techstars, Mubadala Investments and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office.
Dr Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), has offered his insights into what makes the marriage between startups and Hub71 so successful.
What are the benefits of a founder relocating their business to Abu Dhabi? What does it offer that other places don’t?
If you look at what we’re trying to do, the initiatives our leadership have put in place, it’s about flexibility, and being proactive, as well as reactive. We’re constantly monitoring and analysing how we can make it easier for companies to do business in Abu Dhabi. When we need to react in terms of policy, regulation or programs, on financial instruments or the support that businesses are looking for, we do it quickly to ensure the private sector is provided the necessary boost they need to succeed here. And we’re always looking at how businesses that come here can grow. There’s so much opportunity in Abu Dhabi and the UAE that startups can use us as a springboard to the wider region.
There is also an impressive young talent pool and a growing young consumer demographic. This young population is important in the development of technology and the advancement of new ideas for startups and building that ecosystem. We focus on helping companies grow their business, access opportunity and find the right talent.
Why should a startup owner look to Abu Dhabi now?
While it has been a challenging year for everyone, it’s also been a very busy year for us. We have seen that companies are keen to set up here, even despite the pandemic. One of the things that’s been really beneficial to us is that the government reacted really quickly, putting in place protocols to ensure the health and safety of residents, as well as offering private sector support to the business community. And I think that sent a strong signal to the business community globally.
It’s been very interesting to see how founders are looking at the types of opportunity they can take advantage of and how Abu Dhabi’s reaction to the pandemic has resonated across the world. We have continued to build and grow and continue to support companies and the people in those companies during the pandemic. Abu Dhabi’s ability to handle Covid-19 well and look after people has resonated more than any financial instruments or incentive packages can. It has resonated that we’re still looking at growth, development and expansion. That’s been one of the key drivers and has been a positive for us.
When you look at Hub71 and the startup ecosystem we have in place, we’re looking at how to work with these institutions from an opportunity perspective. It’s very impressive to see what it is we are doing and how things are moving forward. We have been driving a positive narrative about how it is that you can make things work.
What makes the Abu Dhabi ecosystem different from other startup locations?
Most cities and countries have identified entrepreneurship and startups as being important, and they all have different things to offer. So then you look at the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular and ask what we have to offer beyond just capital. Well there’s human capital and there’s the established infrastructure that has been built. There’s also that ability to access the wider region; we have the number one passport in the world for a reason. When I look at what Abu Dhabi has been able to accomplish in terms of building a cohesive ecosystem, and how we have put all these things in place to support early-stage companies, founders and startups tend to be very comfortable with what we’ve done. They’re very happy with how the entire ecosystem has grown, the innovative environment we’ve created, and how things are moving in the right direction.
What one piece of practical piece would you offer to a startup founder that’s thinking of relocating to Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi provides a holistic environment from which startups can really benefit. It’s about looking not just at the opportunity to grow your business, but the opportunity to really provide the people that work with you a safe place to live, a place that people love calling home – somewhere where you are only eight hours away from most countries in the world and the majority of the world’s population. And somewhere where we’ve got fantastic infrastructure.
The diversity here is another factor. I am immensely proud that we’ve got over 200 nationalities living in the UAE. They all call this home and they all work together very well. That’s really helping to drive how it is that we function as an economy.
Beyond that, it’s about how startups can take your ideas and grow them with immense support from across the whole ecosystem, whether that’s policymakers or regulators, or whether it’s public sector and government-related entities, or sovereign wealth funds, or the private sector. It’s key that startups are engaging with the right players that can ensure their journey here gets off to a great start. And it’s this that Abu Dhabi does so well. The ecosystem works in sync to progress ideas and innovation that has potential benefits for the wider region and beyond.