SME Tech

UAE and the MENA Startup Ecosystem: Where are we headed?

With all the positive outcomes and hysteria of startups in the West, it was always assured that these enterprise efforts would slowly creep their way to the East. In that regard, recent years have seen some great initiatives coming out of the MENA region, with many millennials opting for the entrepreneurial route over traditional professions. 

Start-up-Intelligent-SME-1As startup traction builds in the MENA region, and particularly the UAE, we find various types of businesses and industries moving from classic modes of operation to more tech-reliant systems. And with the startup ecosystem expanding, consumer behavior is changing and new forms of business are simplifying means of interaction. The proliferation of new startups in the region presents a huge opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs as well as to continue capitalizing on new found tech in order to enhance the regions capacity with internet structures; bridging the gap with other pioneering cities like London, New York, & Silicon Valley.

Recent years have seen the rise of an increasingly potent group of cities around the world that are generating new startups in creative and unique ways. Silicon Valley in particular, has set the tone for the explosion of new found concepts coming to life in the field on internet innovation, which has paved the way for an entrepreneurial revolution focused on connecting the modern world through various means and notions. The global dispersion of simple ideas such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Uber have allowed for an increased risk taking movement which has given hope to entrepreneurs all over to push ever so firmly for innovative concepts to come alive. As a result, we find ourselves in an evolving race to change and enhance industries in even the smallest circumstances.

As technology spreads allowing for increased, cheap, and flexible access to the internet, we find that many new ventures have allowed for transparency between people across the globe; resulting in extensive forms of collaboration. With increased awareness of disruptive opportunities and an easier access to global talent, taking the risks involved for the development of startup opportunities has never been so easy. Additionally, a huge upsurge in investment and intellectual capital has become available to many who show promising and cutting edge “early stage” ideas. Although there is great risk and a unknown hills to climb, VC firms, Crowdfunding Platforms and Angel Investors have come together to compete and provide resources for the progress and development of these initiatives.

While a majority of startups fail, backers are finding that with a broad portfolio, one single success story may reap all the rewards to make up for the risks involved. It is, needless to say, the amount of support, mentorship and legal protection provided to startups in the recent years has resulted in an array of goods and services that have revolutionized industries on an international scale.

With all the positive outcomes and hysteria of startups in the West, it was always assured that these enterprise efforts would slowly creep their way to the East. In that regard, recent years have seen some great initiatives coming out of the MENA region, with many millennials opting for the entrepreneurial route over traditional professions. In a region constantly behind, with regard to technology and innovation, access and advancement of internet operations have recently allowed for new initiatives in the online and mobile space.

The UAE in particular has seen rapid growth in e-commerce due to its technological development and dynamic cluster of talent. As the basic building blocks for digital services and products have been established, more support for startup initiatives have been developed. 

With vast resources available to the region in terms of talent and infrastructure, a collaborative effort to provide solutions to the various problems faced was inevitable. Dense cities like Cairo, Amman, Dubai and Beirut have taken the lead in capitalizing on opportunities within each local market. Obvious gaps in their market sectors have given plenty of opportunities to young Arab entrepreneurs to disrupt traditional segments with innovative ideas. Although some have succeeded, there is still resistance and difficulties faced in challenging traditional industries.

The lagging appreciation of E-commerce and a premature online infrastructure has resulted in the slow development of startups in the region; which in turn has also been the reason for cautious investment. But an increasing insurgence of mentorship has been infused to guide visionaries to the Promised Land. One thing is for certain, the MENA region has opted to follow business models that have already been proven abroad rather than lead innovation. These structures have been perceived as minimal risk by founders and investors alike. Those with unproven yet disruptive funnels have found it more difficult due to a lack of understanding in nurturing and scaling these new found models. Conversely, with the continued emergence of Entrepreneurs, VC funds, Angel Groups, Accelerators and support organizations there is plenty of hope for unprecedented growth in the MENA startup ecosystem, and a proven growth of localized ideas to serve local markets.

The UAE in particular has seen rapid growth in e-commerce due to its technological development and dynamic cluster of talent. As the basic building blocks for digital services and products have been established, more support for startup initiatives have been developed. Along with support from the government, mentorship programs and local accelerators have blossomed in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi and encourage entrepreneurial risk taking. Local success stories such as Dubizzle, Careem, and Namshi have paved the way and given hope to those who wish to follow.

These examples in particular have been established on proven structures which in turn have brought about increased success due to familiarity amongst the present multicultural population. As the rollover of proven prototypes continues to conquer the UAE ecosystem, the opportunity has continued to rise for young entrepreneurs to localize foreign ideas and customize them for better fit in the UAE. Alternatively, we have recently come to see that there is also traction in those ideas and models that have been created exclusively to serve the local market itself. Concepts such as Bayzat, MallMate, and Lamsa are amongst a few that have been created exclusively to serve the local market. Truly innovative and unheard of concepts may have had a tougher road to success in the UAE but as time endures; the progress of mentorship programs, funding resources and enhanced internet structures have made it easier to progress and gain traction within this market.

With the immense growth of startups in the UAE, various industries and lifestyle habits are being disrupted and improved through various means. Simple platforms have made it quicker and easier for consumers to run errands. Food delivery, grocery shopping, dry cleaning and many other tasks have now become effortless with a simple click.

As the region becomes more dependent on web and mobile advancements, there seems to be no stopping the ever flowing torrent of quick fix ideas and pioneering solutions. With the new generation of pioneers it is expected that upcoming forms of technology such as virtual reality, 3D printing and augmented reality will be incorporated towards ideas that not only simplify our daily lives but provide addictive forms of entertainment.

One thing startups in the UAE must look at is the time lapse for new technology to establish itself in the region. Recent patterns have shown that tech trends from App structures to new business models lag when moving from West to East, which in turn slows down the process of innovating. This has been a problem for a few startups who adapt on technology too late and find themselves losing out to fresher inventions that are, in some cases, updates of previous technology. To ensure things like this don’t happen, the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs must ensure that they are able to take advantage of technologies coming through the West and capitalize on ideas fast enough to make a significant impact in the market.

With the ecosystem in the MENA region and the UAE in particular looking bright, there is much to do in order to sustain the growth of startups in the region. Moving forward; Funders, Entrepreneurs, and Service Providers must work collaboratively to enhance established modes to reflect advances in the West. As the region experiences growing demand in the form of new age technology, we see a market incredibly eager to adapt. Reliance on E-commerce and mobile systems proves that the market is ready to take transform with the ideas being introduced by creative young minds in the region. With better internet infrastructure, government support, and homegrown talent there is no stopping the influx of new age business models entering the MENA region. The way forward for the region and the UAE, is to ensure consistent growth in the ecosystem, which rests in the development and alignment of the tech community, media, web framework and legal structure. Moreover, with eyes turning to the UAE as the leading habitat for new ventures, times are proving that the market and infrastructure are sufficiently ready to welcome new chapters of change. The question remains; will the new age of pioneers in the UAE lead the rest of MENA into a lucrative technology transformation? Only time can tell.Jessem-Osserian-Intelligent-SME

About the author

SPI Group

SPI Group is a well known publishing house in the Middle Eastern region. The group possesses three premium publications: Intelligent SME, Robust RAK and Apps Middle East. The group also conducts the Emirates NBD Global Business Series, The SME World Summit and The Global App Summit.

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