Abu Dhabi Government sets up tech hub luring SoftBank, Amazon and Microsoft

Hub71 in ADGM will offer Dh1bn of investment funds and subsidies to start-ups

Mubadala Investment Company, Microsoft and Japan's SoftBank, with funding from the Abu Dhabi Government, are opening a tech hub in Abu Dhabi to attract the likes of Amazon and WeWork, as the capital's strategic investment company aims to nurture tech companies and start-ups.

Under the patronage of Sheikh Khalid bin Mohamed, member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and chairman of the Executive Committee, Hub71 will have office space for venture capital funds, Softbank, Microsoft and Amazon. It will also tap into the Abu Dhabi Government's Ghadan 21 fund to offer Dh1 billion in investment and cost-of-living subsidies to start-ups that open for business in the hub, as an incentive to encourage engineers to live and work in Abu Dhabi.

Hub71 is in talks to bring in the US co-working company WeWork and India's hotel chain Oyo, both part of the Vision Fund portfolio of investments.

“Adapt or face the consequences,“ said Waleed Al Muhairi, deputy group chief executive and chief executive of alternative investments and infrastructure at Mubadala at the Hub71 launch event on Sunday.

The UAE accounts for 30 per cent of all fundraising deals done in the region and has the highest start-up presence per million people in the GCC.

“This makes Abu Dhabi the perfect test bed for scalable technologies,” Mr Al Muhairi said.

Mubadala Ventures, the technology investment arm of Mubadala with more than $225bn in assets under management, was set up in October 2017, to oversee its parent company's $15bn investment in the Vision Fund. The unit also has an office in Silicon Valley.

The fund counts Apple, Qualcomm and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as investors. Mubadala is the second-biggest investor in the vehicle, after PIF.

Elham Al Qasim, the acting chief executive of Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which is funding Hub71's start-ups under the Ghadan 21 initiative, said the application process for interested start-ups will open on April 28.

Selected ventures that commit to having their tech teams based in Abu Dhabi will qualify for housing and health care subsidies. “Talent is the lifeline of what will make this successful,” she said. 

Mubadala, like other GCC strategic investment companies, is pursuing opportunities in emerging high-growth sectors such as technology to reduce dependence on oil.

Since launching its venture arm, Mubadala has invested in autonomous driving through GM Cruise and Nero, vertical farming with Plenty, tech infrastructure at Arm and communication tech with Slack. “We have invested in companies that are reshaping society and touching many aspects of our lives,” Mr Al Muhairi said.

“Many of these companies will have a presence in Abu Dhabi” through the tech hub, he said.

Hub71 marks Mubadala Ventures’ first foray into building a local presence.

"We believe now is the time for an entity like Mubadala to start being active here," Ibrahim Ajami, head of Mubadala Ventures, told The National

Hub71, named after the year of the UAE's formation in 1971, will span four floors at the Abu Dhabi Global Market. One floor is already open and the remaining space will be accessible in the next six months, Mr Ajami said. 

Start-ups and SoftBank companies will move in around that time, and the goal is to accommodate 100 enterprises in and out of Hub71 in the next three to five years. 

“What makes Hub71 different from a lot of the initiatives in the region is our partnership strategy around working closely with the universities in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, supporting venture funds and that ecosystem, and working with strategic partners like Microsoft,” Mr Ajami said. 

Another critical component, he said, is Hub71’s partnership with the Government.

At Hub71, there will be start-ups involved in health care, commerce, trade, finance and transportation among other sectors, he said.

“These are all companies that have significant impact on society and you need to have the regulators involved and to be pivoting with the start-ups as they move,” he added.

Mr Ajami believes Hub71 can be the doorway to the region for the 65 technology companies in SoftBank Vision Fund's investment portfolio.

"Most of them are enquiring about how they can expand in the region. Hub71 becomes a potentially very exciting platform for them to expand," he said. 

Since Mubadala Ventures set up in Silicon Valley in 2017, Mr Ajami has spent much of his time there. He called the experience a critical learning period.

Creating a space like Hub71 for venture capital, large tech companies and nascent ventures in Abu Dhabi presents huge potential, he said.  

Regional start-ups will “get to sit alongside leading technology companies around the world. That dialogue, that engagement, that support is absolutely immense.” 

As for Mubadala investing further in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Mr Ajami said, “There’s a lot of talk about Vision Fund II, but that’s not something we are talking about now.

“But this is a long-term partnership for us.”