Land Of Op­por­tu­nity

Forbes Middle East - - PROMOTION -

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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.

Tim Draper

Maha Aboue­lenein

An­thony Scara­mucci

Danny E. Seabright

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