Top 10 start-ups to work for in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in 2023

FinTech continues to dominate annual list, while automotive companies become more popular with employees, LinkedIn study finds

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FinTech companies and those investing in hiring "top talent" are dominating the list of the best start-ups in the UAE and Saudi Arabia this year, as revealed by professional network LinkedIn.

Strong government support and a push towards innovation has further boosted start-ups in the Arab world's two largest economies, the company said in its annual Top Startups list.

UAE car-sharing platform ekar has been ranked as the best start-up to work for in the Emirates for the second consecutive year, while Dubai-based on-demand fuel delivery company Cafu, sustainable activewear brand The Giving Movement, global payments platform Hubpay and Abu Dhabi agriculture technology start-up Pure Harvest Smart Farms rounded off the top five employers.

Other sought-after start-up employers in the UAE include food and beverage company Yolk Brands, financial technology start-up and digital banking app YAP, buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) company Tabby, payments processor NymCard and Grubtech, a platform that digitises the back-end operations of restaurants and cloud kitchens, LinkedIn said.

Despite a global economic slowdown and "tightening" labour markets, the UAE recorded a 49 per cent surge in hiring in August compared to the same month in 2019 before the pandemic, LinkedIn said.

Companies on the list have invested in top talent, signalling the "opportunities that still lie ahead", it added.

"This year’s list has shown us that automotive, F&B and FinTech start-ups are designing their services to appeal to the UAE’s tech-savvy residents, who are relying on their applications to get their necessities sorted, whether it’s getting food delivered, their cars serviced, or even managing their finances," said Dana Moukhallati, news editor at LinkedIn.

The global Top Start-ups List is an annual ranking of emerging start-ups to work for and is based on LinkedIn data, the company said on Wednesday.

The four criteria used were employment growth, engagement with non-employees, job interest and top talent attraction.

Eligible start-ups are fully independent, privately held, have 30 or more full-time employees, are seven years old or younger and headquartered in the Emirates.

Start-ups that laid off 10 per cent or more of their workforce within the methodology time frame were ineligible.

Developing start-ups’ contribution to the economy will help achieve the target of doubling the UAE's gross domestic product by 2031, Abdulla bin Touq, Minister of Economy, said this month.

The UAE aims to become home to 10 unicorns, or start-ups valued at more than $1 billion, by 2031.

Start-ups in Dubai raised more than $2 billion collectively last year, double the financing secured in 2021, as the emirate sets its sights on becoming the global destination of choice for digital entrepreneurs, according to a June report by Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy.

Start-ups in the wider Middle East and North Africa raised $643 million in late-stage funding during the first half of this year, outpacing the global average, start-up data platform Magnitt said in its latest industry report in September.

They recorded a 20 per cent annualised growth since 2018, compared to a 49 per cent decline globally, it said.

'Every company' in the UAE will soon employ an Emirati

'Every company' in the UAE will soon employ an Emirati

Meanwhile, the best start-ups to work for in Saudi Arabia are Riyadh-based social media analytics platform Lucidya, BNPL company Tamara, e-commerce platform Zid, online grocery delivery business Nana and payment app Tweeq.

Others in the top 10 are Lendo, Gathern, Salla, Soum and digital marketplace Sary.

Trends observed in the kingdom include a shift towards new areas for innovation and sustainable growth in the e-commerce space.

“This year’s list demonstrates the growing capabilities of start-ups in the kingdom as they venture into new and untapped industries," said Ms Moukhallati.

"We also see the government offering start-ups the right opportunity to experiment with financial and e-commerce solutions, paving the way for more of those companies to emerge.”

Saudi Arabia led the Mena region in attracting the highest number of venture capital investment deals for its start-ups in the first quarter of 2023, according to Magnitt.

It also led the region in terms in terms of deal value.

The kingdom was the most funded for start-ups in the three months to March, attracting $359 million out of the total $818 million capital for the Mena region, the report said.

Overall, venture capital funding for start-ups in Saudi Arabia rose by 72 per cent annually to $987 million from 144 deals in 2022, Magnitt data showed.

Updated: September 27, 2023, 2:09 PM