A deep-dive into Abu Dhabi's entrepreneurial hub with ADIO's H.E. Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi

MAGNiTT recently spoke with H.E. Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi, Director-General of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to deep-dive into all things ADIO. He explains why Abu Dhabi is a focal entrepreneurial hub, what the organisation is aiming to achieve, and explores his personal insights into local innovation and foreign investment, along with tips for startups looking to scale to the Emirate and investors looking to invest. 

H.E. Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi leads the organisation’s efforts to grow and diversify Abu Dhabi’s economy through private sector investment. He also oversees strategic initiatives that support the emirate’s economic growth and reputation on the world stage.

Check out his insights to hear about this and more. 

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Why is Abu Dhabi a safe ground and launchpad for innovation in the region? What actions have been taken to implement/ensure this?

Abu Dhabi offers innovative businesses a competitive and safe environment that facilitates ease of doing business. Recognising that governments are uniquely able to de-risk the critical early phases of a new enterprise, the Abu Dhabi government has put a lot of emphasis on supporting innovative entrepreneurs through accelerator programmes like Ghadan 21, and more generally through building a technology ecosystem that provides startups access to talent, capital and markets.

Abu Dhabi also offers financial support through incentives, such as ADIO’s grants and rebates, and equity investments through key ecosystem players like ADQ and Mubadala.

Other factors that make Abu Dhabi a great place to do business include an enabling regulatory environment, stability and security, digital innovation, infrastructure, connectivity and a knowledge-based economy with a highly skilled population.

Beyond Silicon Valley, have you looked to any other hubs as a framework for what ADIO is trying to achieve?

When it comes to building an innovation ecosystem in Abu Dhabi, we have had the opportunity to design and deliver an offering that is unique to the emirate. We've looked at various models from around the world and while there’s a lot to learn from the best practices and experience of major hubs, Abu Dhabi has built into our framework a distinct and competitive offering for businesses of all sizes.

Our ambition is to learn from successful models but tailor it to what works with our infrastructure, our geographic position, our legal system and so on. The goal is to support the private sector, upskill our labour force and drive technological solutions that are regionally relevant and globally exportable.

Why should an investor look to make an investment in an Abu Dhabi-based startup and why should a startup look to expand to the Emirate?

There are many opportunities for innovation-focused businesses across Abu Dhabi’s ecosystem. 2020, has highlighted the importance of technology and innovation in driving solutions and Abu Dhabi is supporting the ambitions of big thinkers, helping them harness the ideas, creativity and innovation that emerged last year to reignite the economy.

Abu Dhabi has the resources and networks to help innovators and businesses move quickly from uncertainty to unlimited ambition and ADIO is building on Abu Dhabi’s stability by facilitating connections and supporting businesses. ADIO is here to connect the private sector to the right opportunities and partnerships across the emirate, helping them grow and expand while building an ecosystem where innovation and ideas can thrive.2021 MENA Venture Investment Report

How can a startup successfully scale to the Emirate and beyond? Can you share any tips?

In Abu Dhabi, we’re focused on long-term, sustainable development, and similarly for a startup, it’s key that they’re not just looking at growing their business, but also at the opportunity to provide the people they work with a great place to live, while creating impactful solutions that can benefit the region and even further beyond.

Abu Dhabi provides a holistic environment where startups can really thrive and it's about how startups take their ideas and grow them with immense support from across the whole ecosystem. From policymakers and the government, to sovereign wealth funds and the private sector, startups must engage with the right players that can ensure their journey here gets off to a great start. And that’s something Abu Dhabi does so well – the ecosystem working in sync to support progress and innovation.

Do you believe a local innovation hub or foreign investment is more important?

Both have an equally important role to play and is the reason behind Abu Dhabi’s push to develop a robust local innovation hub and attract high levels of foreign investment.

Foreign investment helps to build the ecosystem, bring in expertise and talent, and boost economic growth. At the same time, international companies coming in may have requests and requirements to set up that can be provided locally or will need to be built, which will then help support local companies already on the ground.

Abu Dhabi is committed to building an environment that fosters local innovation and brings in foreign investment and we will continue to introduce policies and support mechanisms that ensure long-term growth and success for all.

You recently invested $100M into Agtech-focused startups, why is this industry a priority for ADIO?

ADIO recently partnered with seven AgTech companies, providing over AED 500M (these are not direct investments) in incentives to drive next-generation agriculture innovation in the emirate.

We see huge potential for AgTech to address global food security challenges. As climate change continues to change Earth’s environment, AgTech offers solutions to address our collective future food security. At the core of AgTech is a drive to use technological innovation to advance farming practices and improve food production capabilities, whether by solving pre-existing problems or improving established methods.

ADIO is supporting AgTech innovators developing agriculture solutions that are locally relevant and globally exportable. We want to continue building scientific and industrial capabilities that can boost expertise and resources across the entire value chain and strengthen Abu Dhabi’s position as an AgTech hub.

As Abu Dhabi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to grow, are there any other particular sectors you are looking to invest in? 

We are especially focused on building and supporting innovation-driven businesses, in line with Abu Dhabi’s diversification strategy and the long-term vision to grow the economy. ADIO has identified high-growth areas, including financial services, information and communications technology, health services and biopharma, tourism, and AgTech, among others, and we are providing incentives to support innovative companies in these sectors through our AED 2B ($545B) Innovation Programme.

ADIO does not offer direct investments to companies. It supports companies through its Investor Care services and incentives, as well as connecting businesses across the ecosystem. 

What are you hoping ADIO’s new partnership with Microsoft and Plug & Play will achieve?

ADIO has partnered individually with Microsoft and Plug & Play to roll out a series of programmes aimed at providing founders and entrepreneurs with tools and resources to successfully scale their businesses and realise ideas that drive positive impact in Abu Dhabi

The partnerships reinforce Abu Dhabi’s commitment to solving global challenges by supporting businesses and ideas that drive positive impact. We’re ensuring that ambitious companies aligned with our long-term goals are supported to develop cutting-edge innovation and technology. The partnerships also provide a platform for the development of human capital in the emirate, ultimately, contributing to the creation of high-skilled jobs.

How has the past year affected ADIO’s priorities and the way you view the region’s investment landscape?

Many of the initiatives you see now, from ADIO’s Innovation Programme to startup support, were planned many months and years back – this speaks to the long-term vision of our leadership in building a holistic environment for companies. In that respect, despite the events of the past year, ADIO’s priorities have remained firm and we’ve focused on executing initiatives and programmes to support companies.

What has changed is the increase in interest from companies all around the world. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Abu Dhabi government has prioritised the safety of its people while ensuring businesses are provided support. This has sent a strong signal to the world and has resulted in an influx of interest.

There is evidently a huge appetite in the region from both startups and investors. The level of innovation and hunger from startups continues to grow, and it’s about ensuring that they have the right support – whether in the form of capital, talent or access to markets – to help get their ideas off the ground. And this is where ADIO can come in and facilitate connections with relevant opportunities to boost their growth.

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