Dubai offers incentives to attract digital start-ups in tech sector push

Dubai's Chamber of Digital Economy signs initial pacts with private companies and government bodies to provide packages for start-ups

A new initiative to attract digital start-ups to Dubai has been announced. Photo: Dubai Chamber
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Dubai has revealed an initiative to attract digital start-ups to set up and grow in the emirate as the UAE seeks to double the contribution of the tech sector to its gross domestic product over the next decade.

The Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy initiative, which will be launched in September, will offer a set of incentives for digital start-ups in partnership with a number of private sector and government entities, Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Digital Economy, AI and Remote Working Applications, told reporters on Monday.

The new “holistic platform” will combine all the incentives for new and existing digital economy start-ups in Dubai under one umbrella, Mr Al Olama said at a press event.

“What we've seen is there are a lot of incentives out there but they're very sporadic, they're all over the place, so we want to unify them all under one platform,” he said.

“We want to ensure that Dubai is the most appealing and most attractive environment for new digital companies that are setting up and also expanding in the region.”

Dubai Chamber signed initial agreements with partners including Telr, Dubai CommerCity, the UAE’s biggest telecoms operator e& – formerly known as Etisalat – and Safexpay at a signing ceremony on Monday.

More partners will be added in phases, with a “big list” of companies and institutions that have expressed interest in joining the initiative as partners, the minister said.

Last year the UAE announced its Digital Economy Strategy with the goal of increasing the contribution of the sector to the GDP by 20 per cent over the next 10 years, up from 9.7 per cent in 2022, as it seeks to leverage cutting-edge technologies and attract high-skilled talent.

The new initiative is also a step towards Dubai's target of attracting 300 digital start-ups to the emirate by 2024 and boosting its non-oil GDP. The Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy has attracted 30 digital start-ups during the first quarter of 2023, it said in a statement on Monday.

The new initiative will include company-based and employee-based incentives to attract more local and international digital start-ups to operate in the emirate, the minister said.

“Any [digital] company that wants to come and set up in Dubai and any [digital] company that is currently based in Dubai can avail of that,” Mr Al Olama said, adding that this applies to companies both in free zones and the mainland.

The benefits include discounts on commercial offices to set up a company, discounts on technology and discounts on infrastructure such as connectivity and data-hosting, he said.

The new platform will be a “one-stop shop” for licensing services, banking facilities, office space, cloud services and other requirements for digital companies, Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy said.

Asked how the incentives under the new platform will differ from those currently offered by free zones, Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, president and chief executive of Dubai Chambers, said: “They will have better packages, better incentives, because it's more of a collective approach.”

“We communicated with the partners that we have a specific plan to grow the sector and we noticed that the majority of partners, when they understand the scope of the project, they tend to give better packages,” he said.

Details of the packages offered by each of the partners will be announced when the initiative is launched in September, he added.

Dubai Chamber is also organising the Expand North Star summit, an event dedicated to connecting start-ups with investors. The summit will be held in Dubai from October 15 to 18 and is expected to attract more than 1,400 exhibitors and 1,000 investors.

The UAE has taken several steps to attract more digital companies to the country.

In 2021, Dubai launched a Dh1 billion ($272.3 million) Future District Fund to support technology companies and encourage them to list on the emirate’s stock market. The fund has set a $1 billion target for assets under management by the end of 2024, a fourfold increase since it was established to invest in technology start-ups.

In 2021, the UAE unveiled the Entrepreneurial Nation initiative, which aims to make the country home to 20 unicorns by 2031, as well as attract and expand small and medium enterprises.

The country is also offering incentives such as access to finance and easier visa procedures to help technology companies move their operations to the UAE as part of the NextGenFDI initiative.

Las year, Dubai also formed a higher committee for future technology and digital economy as it seeks to establish itself as a global centre for the future economy. The eight-member committee will supervise the execution of strategies related to the digital economy and future technology in Dubai.

Updated: June 12, 2023, 1:25 PM