Land Of Opportunity
In December, global thought leadership and capital introduction forum, SALT, hosted its 14th annual conference in Abu Dhabi for the first time. Previous speakers at the event have included presidential candidate Joe Biden and Hollywood actor, Will Smith.
The Abu Dhabi chapter brought together politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, ministers and journalists from around the world to promote the U.A.E.’s unique position and the opportunities that the country offers. Here are some key insights from the four-day forum.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
The U.A.E. is emerging as a key competitor in the global economy. According to the 2016 Arab Human Development report, 60% of the population in MENA is under the age of 30. Of these, 30% fall within the 15-29 age bracket. The tech-savvy generation adapts quickly to new technology. The region is quickly becoming an ambassador for adopting new technologies, with projects such as NEOM in K.S.A. and District 2020 in the U.A.E. underway. Cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, fintech and edtech are especially alluring sectors for regional investors and entrepreneurs alike.
OPTIMISM AND CHALLENGES
There is a sense of optimism in the region’s culture—if someone in the region has an idea, they make it happen. This is an important characteristic for entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurs in the Middle East need to have grit,” says Maha Abouelenein, founder of Digital and Savvy.
The region also has its own unique challenges that make launching a company more difficult than in other parts of the world. One of the most significant challenges that entrepreneurs face is obtaining funding. Although later stage funding is easier to obtain, seed funding is nearly impossible to come by. It is possible to look for funding abroad, but this is time-consuming and might not pay off.
AN EXCITING TIME TO INVEST
“Because the world is getting decentralized, starting with bitcoin and moving to all the other decentralized technologies, we’re going from being tribal as people to global as people. Since we’re doing that the Middle East is completely opening up,” said Tim
Draper, founding partner of Draper Associates Global Venture Capital. “I feel like there are going to be a lot of interesting opportunities here for cooperation and bringing some of our ecosystem knowledge to the Middle East.”
According to MAGNiTT’s MENA Venture Investment report, the MENA region saw a 66% increase in investments in startups during the first half of 2019. The U.A.E. is currently also ranked 16th out of 190 countries in the 2019 Doing Business report by the World Bank.
Danny E. Seabright, President for the U.S.A. and U.A.E. Business Council, says more partnerships are on the horizon, with some U.S.based organizations exploring the option of manufacturing their goods in the U.A.E.
ADVICE FOR NEW ENTREPRENEURS
Anthony Scaramucci, best known for his six-day stint as Director of Communications at the White House, advises entrepreneurs to bury the hatchet and move on. “I tell younger people, when you make a mistake own it. The second thing you have to do when you make a mistake is to take the millstone of regret off of your neck and just drop it,” he says.
When telling their company story, Aboulenein advised entrepreneurs to focus on upscaling. People don’t invest in companies—they invest in people. Entrepreneurs need to ensure that individual talent is able to grow and develop, and then showcase the value that talent is bringing to the organization to increase marketability and ability to scale.
Danny E. Seabright