Dubai commits $1bn to tech start-ups amid global sector volatility

The fund, launched 16 months ago, has put $28 million into 16 investments so far

Khalfan Belhoul, chief executive of Dubai Future Foundation and chairman of the Dubai Future District Fund. Victor Besa / The National
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The Dubai Future District Fund has set a $1 billion target for assets under management by the end of 2024, a fourfold increase since its was established in 2021 to invest in technology start-ups.

While a market correction globally is squeezing the tech sector, shrinking valuations and cutting jobs, investment in parts of the Middle East is surging.

Start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa more than doubled the capital raised year-on-year in February, with the vast majority of deals done by regional rather than foreign investors, according to industry platform Wamda.

“We're not here to turn a quick buck,” Sharif El Badawi, chief executive of the Dubai Future District Fund, said.

The target is to process three to five times the returns in up to 15-year cycles, a longer time scale than the average venture capital investment period, and with an emphasis on deep tech.

It aims to put half of its investments into venture capital funds with a local focus and the other half into start-ups directly or through Future District-affiliated programmes.

"Dubai has become an international gateway for ambitious investment opportunities, a hub for future-driven project funding and a global testbed for tomorrow's technology and digital economy applications. The emirate provides the ideal environment for technology ventures to develop the highest standards of agility and transparency and create opportunities for individuals, organisations and societies,” Sheikh Hamdan said in a statement issued by the Dubai Media Office on Wednesday.

The fund is designed to increase founders' access to capital in the region and stimulate the development of technology solutions.

The fund, which is anchored by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), hosted its inaugural annual meeting on Tuesday, where Mr El Bedawi laid out new targets.

Wamda Capital's Fares Ghandour on VC sentiment in 2023: Business Extra

Wamda Capital's Fares Ghandour on VC sentiment in 2023: Business Extra

The Dubai Future District Fund is aiming to have $1.7 billion in equity value in the portfolio by 2025 and $7 billion under management in the next decade.

The aim is to invest in 180 portfolio companies and 55 venture funds with a portfolio worth $43 billion over the next 10 years.

The Dubai government anticipates this will create 185,000 jobs and $20 billion in gross domestic product contribution.

Since its launch 16 months ago, the fund has deployed $28 million in 16 investments, with Mr El Badawi saying it was a slow start to establish governance and operations.

Investment went into 10 start-ups including HR tech firm FinFlx, metaverse augmented and virtual reality developer Vuz and a concierge health app called Valeo.

In the fund of funds portfolio, regional venture capital funds like Outliers, Byld Ventures, Shorooq Partners, Cotu Ventures, MEVP and Nuwa Capital took investments.

Updated: March 23, 2023, 7:13 AM