DSO launches technology start-ups programme

Officials hope its incubator programme will make the free zone a regional centre for Arab entrepreneurs.

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Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) has launched its long-awaited incubator programme for technology start-ups in a move officials hope will make the free zone a regional centre for Arab entrepreneurs.

There are only a handful of technology incubators across the Middle East, including the Oasis-500 initiative in Amman, Jordan and AppsArabia in Abu Dhabi's twofour54 creative centre but there has been increasing demand in the UAE to facilitate the development of start-ups.

The incubator programme will be modelled on those produced by other integrated technology zones such as Singapore and Shanghai.

The plans involve linking the development of six technology sectors including: mobile applications; semiconductors; data centres and internet companies with major businesses; universities and government departments in the region.

For every start-up granted access to the incubator programme, the free zone will retain a 10 per cent equity stake with the option to invest more after the first year.

"It will be a fully functioning technology incubator that will focus on our … six technology areas [which] a lot of our entrepreneurs and start-ups come to us focused on," said Ray Milhem, the chief technology officer of the DSO.

"Right now we're in the very early stages.

"We've announced the incubator, we have the physical space and we'll be having the website up and running in the next few weeks."

Mr Milhem said a team working at the DSO would begin evaluating business plans for interviews with entrepreneurs next month, with the aim of welcoming the free zone's first investments next year.

"We want to make sure that their business plan is solid and real," he said.

"We bring value in the form of coaching, mentoring, networking, working with customers … we can introduce them to Qualcomm or Cisco or any other multinational company in the area."

Mr Milhem said after the 12-month incubation period, the DSO could opt to provide further funding for a start-up. In conjunction with the incubator programme, the free zone had set up a venture capital fund of "tens of millions" of dollars.

"If they pass the 12-month period, we will be able to leverage our [venture capital] fund to take the start-up to the next level," he said.

But start-ups will have to pay a "competitive" one-time fee to the DSO to secure logistical support including internet access and visas.

Mr Milhem declined to specify the cost but said it would be comparable with similar operations at other regional technology free zones. He said the free zone was looking to incubate up to 15 companies for the first year of its programme, mainly due to size constraints.