By Sandhya D'Mello / Khaleej Times
The UAE's startup industry has come a long way and now evolved into a strong diversified ecosystem in the Mena region as investments pour from outside affirming that global VCs and investors eye the share in the nation's success story.
"Expect 2019 to continue with positive trend as more startups mature and require bigger funding rounds and 2019 will see more M&A activity taking place as consolidation will take place, said Philip Bahoshy, CEO and founder, Magnitt.
The 2018 witnessed a strong and favourable support from private as well as government bodies. It may be recalled the 2018 did witness the M12. Microsoft Corp's venture funds held the M12 Innovation Summit: Leveraging Data and AI, at Dubai Future Foundation's Area 2071 in demonstration of the company's steadfast commitment to supporting entrepreneurship and economic growth in the UAE.
During the M12 Innovation Summit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Dubai Future Foundation's Area 2071 and Microsoft also came into place.
"The UAE is pursuing aggressive nationwide reforms to diversify its economy and much of the country's hopes lie in the innovation and entrepreneurship of its people. Technology, particularly the cutting-edge solutions we are seeing from the M12 startups can play a vital role in fulfilling such ambitions, fuelling a knowledge-led, futureproofed strategy," said Lisa Nelson, managing director for M12.
"M12 builds the future by giving entrepreneurs they invest in unparalleled access to Microsoft's ecosystem and the experience of trusted partners, who have their fingers on the pulse of innovation.
"We invest in early-stage B2B companies, with a specific interest in those who live in the intelligent cloud and on the intelligent edge. We have made more than 60 investments so far with many more are in pipeline," added Nelson.
FinTech Hive at the DIFC, the first and the largest financial technology accelerator in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region, marked another milestone in its continued support for financial innovation with the completion of the 2018 edition of its accelerator programme, launched in collaboration with Accenture.
The number of startups in the programme doubled to 22 from 11 in the 2017 cohort with areas of focus ranging from innovative blockchain solutions to artificial intelligence, all within the realm of fintech, insurtech, regtech and Islamic fintech. In addition, the 2018 cohort resulted in 20 proof of concepts, of which 4 were executed during the course of the programme.
With its expanded remit, FinTech Hive continues to lead the region's efforts in providing an environment that encourages and empowers innovative concepts in financial services, in line with Dubai Plan 2021 and the DIFC's growth strategy, which will see the centre triple in size by 2024. The DIFC also announced a further Dh10 million commitment towards the expansion of the FinTech Hive workspace, further enhancing the collaborative enabling environment available to startups and entrepreneurs within the centre.
"2018 has been a great year for the startup industry and we have witnessed an upward trajectory in terms of growth. The focus in 2019 for currencies in our opinion will shift from Bitcoin to the true promise of distributed ledger technology (DLT). The DLT technology will make room for the serious technologists and business people. The DLT has massive potential and will present immense opportunity for SMEs. It is a technology with far reaching implications for those with a vision," said Arushi Joshi, chief executive office, AtCash Inc.
More than 10,000 new business licences are issued in the UAE every year, reflecting on both the thriving business environment in the country as well as the growing appeal of the startup culture. The entrepreneurs, accelerators and incubators are contributing to creating a thriving technology ecosystem in the country.
"The UAE startup sector is rapidly gaining momentum, where technology disruptors and social-entrepreneurs are revolutionising the traditional approach in business," said Samer Choucair, director of CE-Creates.
Crescent Enterprises has collaborated with Sheraa, a launchpad for aspiring entrepreneurs in the UAE and the region. Together we founded the social entrepreneurship track to develop the region's social entrepreneurship ecosystem. The programme consists of mentoring events for young entrepreneurs aimed at developing innovative applications for social good.
"An effective strategy would involve a collaborative approach between entrepreneurs, the private sector, the government and academia to catalyse the accelerated growth of the startup ecosystem," added Choucair.
2018 proved that UAE ranks topmost in Mena for entrepreneurs, digital startups and the fast-expanding startup ecosystem. Sectors, specially finance and healthcare, are being transformed by startups using technologies like Big Data, AI, blockchain and IoT to redefine how businesses can enhance their processes, improve security, reduce costs and deliver better customer satisfaction.
"The country is on a fast-track towards meeting its commitment to innovation and empowerment of business and communities. Aided by greater transparency in processes and regulations, emphasis on innovation and sustainable business growth and progressive government initiatives; UAE provides the ideal platform for innovative digitally focused startups to incubate locally and grow into global markets," said Joseph Debs, co-founder of Healthigo.