“In order to attract the brightest and boldest thinkers and to sustain Abu Dhabi’s position as a centre of tech innovation, we are focusing on world-class education, research and development – the kind that promotes science, technology, and engineering – so that we’re creating the next generation of innovators and deepening the pool of talent here.”
This quote from Hanan Harhara Al Yefei, CEO of Hub71 – Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem that brings startups and tech giants together – sums up the UAE’s determined approach to both attracting and raising up from within the kind of talent that tech entrepreneurs dream of having access to.
Al Yefei spoke to Verdict about her organisation’s passion for rising talent, saying: “Many industries and organisations, both small and large, find it difficult to recruit digital talent who will ultimately drive Abu Dhabi’s tech transformation. With this in mind, Abu Dhabi is planting the seeds of the future by increasing the talent pool for our startups. At the same time, we are nurturing the right skills and developing the talented people needed to cement the longevity of Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem.”
Startup numbers talk
Yet while ambition is a powerful accelerant, it is actions that speak the loudest. According to a report by Oxford Business Group, Abu Dhabi is the MENA region’s leader in ICT: “The emirate is consolidating its position as a leading centre for research and development (R&D) in areas including artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity and cloud services, and the emerging startup sector is playing an active role.”
The startup sector is indeed playing an active role, with Hub71’s partnership with major players such as Microsoft, Techstars, Mastercard and major educational institutions driving the growing pool of home-grown talent hitherto only seen in Silicon Valley.
According to recent data by business and companies’ researcher Crunchbase, investment in biotech firms totaled $16.55 billion in the first half of 2020 – a considerable rise from the $13.4 billion for the previous year in the same period.
But sustaining healthcare tech hubs requires a blend of local R&D and innovation, a flexible regulatory environment, and a highly-skilled pool of talent – students, professors, graduates and researchers who will actively explore new frontiers. A focus on education is certainly the right way to go about growing the kind of local talent pool that tech entrepreneurs need.
Tim McLoughlin, former Professor Emeritus of Biomedical Engineering at Limerick University, came out of retirement after a long and successful career in his home country of Ireland to take up a post at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University. And he hasn’t looked back since. He works as the advisory board chair of Khalifa University’s Healthcare Engineering Innovation Center, McLoughlin says in just four years, he’s seen the university grow from one emulating the best educational institutions abroad to earning accolades.
“I was impressed with what I found here: Khalifa University is consistently ranked in the top 350 Universities in the Times’ list for ‘best institutions in Asia’ and ‘best younger institutions’. For a young university, that’s quite remarkable. “It started primarily as an engineering school, then introduced a biomedical engineering degree – this is during a time when biomedical engineering as a degree in the UAE was unheard of.”
Khalifa University now has an MD programme which can be taken in conjunction with one of the tech or engineering modules, which provides students with a broader education and a path to a future-proof career – particularly in the areas of biotechnology and healthtech.
In order to develop more private jobs in the sector, the government has put in place a regulatory body and is offering attractive incentives for biotechs and pharmas hosting clinical trials in Abu Dhabi through the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Research and Development Authority. The new entity was created to aid the growth and development of a world-class R&D ecosystem in the Emirate and to build new partnerships with research funding institutions.
Coupled with the fact that one of the world’s best oncological treatment institutes, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, has been in the capital for nearly a decade, Abu Dhabi certainly seems to be putting smart money behind its ambitions to continue not only attracting the world’s best talent (an achievement self-evident to anyone who’s visited), but also to grow it from within.
And that’s only in healthtech
In order to connect the tech founders who are part of the rapid-growth ecosystem, Hub71 has partnered with INSEAD (the “business school for the world”, as its tagline reads) to upskill talent in the emirate by introducing university students to startups working in digital innovation. Mentorship is a huge part of what Hub71 brings to its startups – both in providing them mentorship from its venture capitalist and corporate partners, and in giving them the chance to mentor and help grow skill from the ground up.
The UAE now has an incredible claim: it is the first and only capital city in the world to have an entire university dedicated to AI: Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence. Professor Dr. Eric Xing, president of the university, had this to say about creating talent and technological invention in the country: “Innovation and technological advancement competition is unlike a sports competition where we have only one winner and everybody else loses. In a sense, all the participants are the winners because the goal is not to win a gold medal, the goal is to achieve advancements and developments. I think [Abu Dhabi] coming as a new player can give a huge advantage in the sense that we can really best position the resources with the support and guidance from the national strategies and priorities, we can achieve more of our goals in a much more economical and effective fashion.”
With Abu Dhabi ranking the 16th best country in the world according to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report (2020), the incredible pool of talent at your fingertips and Hub71’s Incentive Programme for startups, the only question remains – why aren’t you there?
To find out more about Hub71’s startup community and how you can be a part of it, head to www.hub71.com