Dubai – Innovation Hub and Startup Ecosystem of the Middle East

When one thinks about the Middle East in general or even Dubai in particular, one does not generally think about technology-based innovation unless it has to do with oil drilling, large scale construction (remember The Palm or the Burj Khalifa?) or the world’s hottest new DJ. When I was traveling back and forth to Dubai, UAE for business almost every month in past years, for some reason, DJs were all the rage.  Please tell me the world does not care so much about cutting edge DJs anymore. Hopefully, we are all more focused on the disruptive and transformational changes that cutting edge technology can make on our lives.

However, if you think a bit outside the box and look a little further, Dubai is slowly, but surely, becoming the technology innovation center of the Middle East.  We have said this before and we will keep saying it.  The leadership of Dubai and by extension of the United Arab Emirates has been innovating since day one.  That leadership, now personified in the Sheik CEO, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai understands that the diversification of the economy away from oil is job one for him and his team.

When this team decides that they want to be the leader in the Middle East in any particular vertical, they go at it and they go at it hard…and with a detailed and considered plan.  Look no further than the DIFC (the Dubai International Financial Center) as the model for Dubai’s success.  When Dubai committed to being the financial center of the Middle East (starting from scratch, by the way), the world scoffed.  They had no prior experience. They had no particular expertise. At the time, all they had was a real estate bubble. If nothing else, innovators are undeterred.  This is the perfect way to describe this leadership team…Un…De…Terred!

The tech startup world is no different. Once Dubai made the commitment to be the technology startup epicenter of the Middle East, it was practically inevitable.  Willing itself to be the financial center of the Middle East was a good start to this process. I like to use the word ‘prescient’ when I talk about leadership here.  They really seem to be able to anticipate what is coming and plan properly for it in advance.

Think about this. Dubai always takes the long view.  In 1999…which feels like almost a different century (maybe because it barely was..), Dubai conceived and built Dubai Internet City (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubai_Internet_City).  Yes…in 1999.  When I said this team was prescient and ahead of the curve, I meant it.

While there is a massive focus on The World’s Expo 2020 in Dubai, do not underestimate the impact of the tech startup ecosystem here.  Dubai is home to some incredible startup companies (https://uae.startuphrtoolkit.com/top-startups-in-dubai-2020/), world-class investors and some of the most forward-thinking venture capitalists in the world.  I have personally been in the offices of Beco Capital (https://becocapital.com/) and other VCs in Dubai and I can say that they are as focused on tech innovation as much as any VC in Singapore or Silicon Valley.

For better or for worse, startup technology ecosystems are judged on their ability to generate exits for their investors.  Dubai, even in its short-lived existence into this space has punched above its weight. Look no further than Careem (magnitt.com) and Souq.com.

More than that, look no further than the Dubai Expo for some of the greatest events in the Middle East startup space (collisionconf.com)(dubailynx.com) and let DETEKT be your guide to the Dubai startup ecosystem.