Why embracing change is key to developing a tech-enabled economy

Having more technology start-ups and SMEs will help to future-proof Abu Dhabi's economy

The Hub71 space at Abu Dhabi Global Market Square is now home to more than 50 start-ups. Image courtesy of Hub71.
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No two days are the same in the technology world, but founders of start-ups are comfortable with that. It is a fundamental reason most founders are entrepreneurs. They embrace change and are energised by the possibilities it creates.

In my experience working with venture capitalists, technology experts and entrepreneurs, it is being a master of your own destiny that drives many of the people at the heart of our ecosystem. This is also a lesson for today’s younger generation, who are entering an era of fast-paced change. Creating your own enterprise comes with its own unique challenges, opportunities and risks, but ultimately you are the orchestrator of your own future.

Resilience enables founders to take constructive feedback and positively react to rejection. It is rooted in a belief and desire to shape the world in the way their vision dictates. This is inspiring and crucial to dealing with widespread change.

Abu Dhabi is a global melting pot of more than 200 nationalities. Everyone who took different paths here for a myriad of reasons have adopted change – some want a better life for their children, the opportunity to scale their businesses, or be on the doorstep of some of the world’s most lucrative growth markets. This shared sense of community, like-mindedness and ambition is reflected in Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem.

When Hub71 launched in March 2019, we had no start-ups onboard, but partnership was a key value that defined us. Today, with 50-plus start-ups from countries including Brazil, the US and the UK, partnership continues to drive our expansion.

The acute impact of Covid-19 globally has propelled a shift in mindset. Digital transformation, new business models and new skills have become part of our everyday experience as the pandemic has accelerated the rate of change. It has become survival of the most agile. Nimble start-ups have the advantage over established businesses to rapidly pivot and meet changing demand. Fortunately, the UAE was ranked highest in the GCC, and above the UK and Australia, for its "tech preparedness" and digital competitiveness. Additionally, over the past 18-24 months, we have built a holistic ecosystem that supports notable innovative tech companies including BitOasis, Teacherly, Incountry and Hala Insurance.

Start-ups have proven they are uniquely placed to be agile and a source of innovation that business and government needs. They are playing a greater role in helping people deal with acute change by upskilling, reskilling and rethinking their careers. As such, Abu Dhabi has become front of mind for entrepreneurs as it has the key ingredients to support people with transforming their start-up ideas into reality, sharing a dynamic community with like-minded tech enthusiasts.

There are certainly ways Abu Dhabi’s foresight and investment into this burgeoning tech ecosystem has benefited from the shift caused by Covid-19. Abu Dhabi has arrived on the global tech scene at the right time, building on the existing momentum from other public and private sector entities across the Emirate to establish ourselves as a global tech player.

More importantly, the pandemic also highlighted that we are intricately connected in more ways than we can imagine. The success of tech start-ups, VCs and entrepreneurs will be the success of our entire future economy with SMEs making up 52 per cent of non-oil GDP, according to the UAE Ministry of Economy. Having more tech SMEs and start-ups in the mix will only future-proof our economy even further.

If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that we must reflect on the past, reset our goals and reassess our purpose and what we think we know about the world.

Technology helps us move beyond the traditional model of work and business. Those that adapt to new paradigms and quickly adopt new technologies stand a better chance of surviving unexpected shocks. Those that fail will quickly find themselves being outpaced by smarter, agile and more technology-driven businesses.

Organisations in general must accept change and should continuously evolve because of it.

We are in one of the most diverse regions in the world, which should be capitalised on by bringing diversity of thought to business strategies. Rethinking traditional policies that may hinder your company’s ability to grow and innovate requires outside-of-the-box thinking and unorthodox methodologies. To attract creative thinkers, you need to welcome new ideas and take bold risks to make an impact.

Ultimately, the power of partnership and connection between organisations is one of the main drivers behind Hub71. When you put motivated people together who are eager to solve problems and adapt to change, amazing things can happen.

It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to realise what’s important in business and life alike – human connections and communities built on merit and aligned values, alongside a willingness to see challenges as opportunities, are what it takes to deal with change like a champion.

This is our DNA and a force for good that is deeply rooted across Abu Dhabi. It’s my hope that this culture and ambition is cultivated throughout the emirate to ensure a sustainable and future-proof economy.

Hanan Harhara Al Yafei is chief executive of Hub71