Ghadan 21: Abu Dhabi’s three-year Dh50bn stimulus fund spurs tech and innovation

Hundreds of millions in funding to support breakthrough research and 39 start-ups at Hub71 in ADGM are among signs of progress

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 25, 2019.  -Ghadan 21 announcement 
of XPrize. -- H.E. sheikh Khalid bin Mohamed, member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and chairman of the Executive Committee, Hub71 chats with Becky Anderson,
Victor Besa/The National
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Reporter:  Kelly Warner
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One year into Abu Dhabi's three-year Dh50 billion economic stimulus plan, more than 50 initiatives are under way, many aimed at attracting and supporting start-ups and small businesses, and spurring innovation through research and development.

Ghadan 21 was envisioned and launched last year by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to boost a knowledge-based economy.

"We are investing in initiatives that make doing business easier and more attractive, encourage ideas and support innovation for a tech-enabled future, as well as ensure the well-being of Abu Dhabi's people," said Sheikh Khalid bin Mohamed, a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council who oversees the programme.

In the past year, Hub71, Abu Dhabi's technology centre, has vetted and welcomed 39 start-ups to its co-working space, which is operated by WeWork. It has done this with the support from funding and strategic partners such as Mubadala, SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Abu Dhabi Global Market.

The hub also launched the Abu Dhabi Climate Initiative, a coalition of the Abu Dhabi government and state-backed partners that seeks to fast-track research and development in water and climate technology, including setting up a Climate Lab.

To support start-ups, the Dh535m Ventures Fund was earmarked in May and revised at the start of 2020 to expand its remit. The capital is going into later-stage ventures, as well as global funds and partnerships with global accelerators.

The fund has invested more than Dh60m in several start-ups and a fund manager, including in technology companies Securrency, Trukker, Sarwa, Yacob and Okadoc – all of which are either based in Abu Dhabi or are expanding into the capital.

In partnership with XPrize Foundation, the Abu Dhabi government is investing Dh300m in crowdsourcing innovation through a series of XPrize Abu Dhabi global competitions. The aim is to accelerate Abu Dhabi’s R&D ecosystem and find solutions to critical global challenges, including climate change, water scarcity and artificial intelligence.

The agreement is the largest government partnership for XPrize, which has previously partnered with Google, Indian conglomerate Tata and Nokia, among others, to organise competitions.

“As you [Abu Dhabi] put out these challenges in the next three years, we are putting a call out to the planet that if you solve this problem, you win. Abu Dhabi wins. The world wins,” said Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of XPrize Foundation, at the announcement of the partnership last year.

The first XPrize competition in 2004 awarded $10m to a non-government project to launch and re-use a spacecraft in less than two weeks. The contest is credited with creating Sir Richard Branson's private space company Virgin Galactic, sparking a multibillion-dollar commercial space industry that now includes Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

Abu Dhabi is expected to announce the first competition in the coming months.

As you [Abu Dhabi] put out these challenges in the next three years, we are putting a call out to the planet that if you solve this problem, you win. Abu Dhabi wins. The world wins.

To build a pipeline of R&D, Ghadan 21 set up the Abu Dhabi Award for Research Excellence, a competitive funding programme for research proposals in targeted areas within the emirate and is run by the Department of Education and Knowledge. The award is aimed at advancing scientific and technological development, as well as develop meaningful partnerships between Abu Dhabi scientists and leading academic and industrial collaborators, both nationally and worldwide.

In January, Adek awarded more than Dh40m in competitive funding to 54 successful R&D proposals.

In support of new, smaller businesses, Abu Dhabi rolled out the SME Growth Loan, managed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which is a risk-sharing scheme backed by the government to encourage qualified Abu Dhabi banks to lend to SMEs at an affordable rate.

The emirate also announced the instant licence scheme, which streamlines the application procedure through a digital portal where approvals are processed immediately. As a result, licence holders in most sectors can now start their business activities straight away. Similarly, the Sharaka initiative supports development in the private sector and enhances the ease of doing business in the capital.

The online platform allows private sector companies in Abu Dhabi to submit their outstanding government invoices to be fast-tracked for payment.