Hub71 tech community almost trebled in past 12 months despite Covid-19

The number of start-ups increased to 102 by January this year, from 35 a year ago

Hanan Harhara Al Yafei, chief executive of Hub71, aims to attract start-ups in the tech space that focus on solving real-world challenges. Courtesy Hub71
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The number of companies present within Abu Dhabi's Hub71 grew 191 per cent in the past 12 months despite the economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

The number of start-ups surged to 102 in January this year, up from just 35 a year earlier, Hanan Harhara Al Yafei, the chief executive of Hub71, said on Wednesday.

There are currently companies from 20 different countries in Abu Dhabi's tech ecosystem. The majority (44 per cent) are from the UAE, but companies from the US and the UK make up 11 per cent each, Ms Al Yafei said.

“We started 2020 with a target to reach 100 start-ups … despite all of the challenges, we were able to reach 102 and this shows our perseverance, resilience and clear vision,” she added.

“Our plan for 2021 is to continue to build on the traction that we have got so far … [and] attract the start-ups in the tech space that focus on solving real-world challenges,” said Ms Al Yafei, who did not reveal the number of new start-ups that the community is aiming to attract this year.

Hub71 start-ups, which represent 16 tech sectors, collectively raised more than Dh185 million last year. This year, they aim to generate more than 340 jobs in the next 12 months.

The tech ecosystem on Wednesday also released its first Impact Report that detailed its achievements and progress.

Its WeWork x Hub71 workspace capacity was 96 per cent, with 65 per cent of start-ups at the seed stage and remaining at an emergent stage.

“We have observed a pattern … there is a focus on seed level start-ups in the region and investors are keen to identify the talent early and work with them as they grow and scale,” Ms Al Yafei said.

Hub71’s global community of 209 tech founders come from 43 countries, with 18 per cent women and 15 Emirati founders.

Its latest cohort originate from 13 countries, including companies from Israel, South Korea, Czech Republic and Nigeria, which joined the community in December.

“After the Abraham Accord, we have seen interest not only from Israeli start-ups but also from VC [venture capital] funds that want to explore Abu Dhabi and tap into this flourishing market. Israeli tech ecosystem is thriving, they are known for their talent … there are many areas where we can collaborate,” Ms Al Yafei said.

Set up in March 2019, Hub71 is a start-up incubator based within Abu Dhabi Global Market, the emirate's financial free zone. Courtesy Hub71

Hub71 was set up in March 2019 by the Abu Dhabi government, Mubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi Global Market, Microsoft and SoftBank.

“As a global tech ecosystem located at the heart of Abu Dhabi, we have a clear mission to drive an environment for start-ups, corporates, governments and investors … as well as supporting and enabling founders,” Ms Al Yafei said.

“We are delivering to the Hub71 mandate and contributing to Abu Dhabi’s digital transformation by positioning the capital on the global map of innovation and tech excellence … building a vibrant ecosystem that fosters entrepreneurship and collaboration.”

The start-up hub is a flagship initiative of the Dh50 billion Ghadan21 economic stimulus programme. In May last year, the Abu Dhabi government also rolled out a Dh535m Ghadan Ventures Fund, which specifically targets start-ups and is being managed by state holding company ADQ as part of its venture capital programme.

The tech ecosystem is particularly popular among FinTech start-ups and HealthTech companies, which accounted for 26 per cent and 15 per cent of its latest cohort, respectively.

“Abu Dhabi has many opportunities to offer to the global start-ups and businesses. People come here because it is one of the safest cities, offers best lifestyle and conducive growth environment,” Ruba Yousef Al Hassan, executive director of Ghadan21 at Abu Dhabi Executive Office, said.

Abu Dhabi is not the only hub vying for tech talent in the region. Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's largest economy, is building a futuristic project called Neom and has picked up stakes in next generation innovators such as Uber and Lucid Motors among others in an effort to diversify.

“Anybody who is successful in the region is good for the region ... that’s 100 per cent,” Ms Al Hassan said.

“We like competition, it’s good to have healthy competition that supports the region and encourages us … collaboration is the key here, growing in the market together … growing the talent in the region.”