What can the UAE do to cement its status as the best place in the world to start a business?

This probably won’t come as a shock to those of us who live and work in the emirates, but the UAE is the best place in the world to start a business.

That’s not just my opinion. The UAE topped the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s (GEM) 2022 rankings, which judged the start-up ecosystems of 50 countries based on a total of 13 framework conditions. Impressively, our nation improved upon its historic performance in 11 of these areas this year.

Our country has also succeeded in catalysing positive action through its involvement in the World Entrepreneurs Investment Forum (WEIF). In March of this year, several WEIF participants signed up for the ‘UAE Declaration’, which calls for a greater focus on the role of women entrepreneurs in achieving economic growth.

The support put in place by the UAE government during the global pandemic, which came in the form of a stimulus package worth approximately $2 billion, has not only served to bolster our country’s standing on the international stage but also seems to have reassured its already-thriving start-up ecosystem. The GEM report indicates that entrepreneurial confidence remains high in the emirates, with more than three quarters (75.9%) of respondents planning to leverage the latest digital technologies to grow their businesses during the coming six months.

By investing in innovation, the UAE is successfully promoting start-up growth while marketing itself effectively to aspiring entrepreneurs the world over.

But anyone familiar with the track record of our nation’s leaders will know that standing still is not an option. So, what more can the UAE do to facilitate the growth of new businesses and cement its position as the number-one choice for budding innovators?

Empowering women business leaders

The success of the ‘UAE Declaration’ is just one example of the leading role that our nation has adopted in promoting and supporting female business leaders on the global stage. It also reflects the positive steps being taken to empower women entrepreneurs domestically. Such efforts already appear to be paying dividends, with multinationals committing significant resources to support businesswomen both in the Emirates and across the wider Middle East.

Proctor & Gamble, for instance, has already achieved significant success in addressing gender imbalance within its own workplace, with 51% of senior management roles in the UAE currently held by women. What’s more, the company is looking to invest $300 million into partnerships with women-owned and -led businesses across its Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMA) region during the course of the next three years. Female Fusion, meanwhile, has partnered with government agencies to launch a directory of UAE-based women-founded and -led businesses – the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

To ensure sustained success, it is vital that this level of momentum is maintained among both public and private sector organisations. Continued investment will be necessary to cement the UAE’s world-leading gender-inclusive ecosystem.

Investing in tech

Initiatives such as Scale2Dubai, a programme launched by District 2020, are already yielding impressive results when it comes to forging connections across the UAE’s corporate sector.

The initiative has hosted 85 SMEs and start-ups since opening in March 2022, with qualifying participants benefitting from a wealth of incentives, including two years of free office space. Having already attracted leading multinationals such as Siemens and Terminus, the Expo 2020 Dubai legacy programme is bringing together established Fortune 500 companies with newer entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs.

Elsewhere in the UAE, Hub 71 Abu Dhabi has established an exciting tech ecosystem that has been specifically designed to support and boost the success of start-ups and SMEs across the emirate. Having onboarded its most recent 16-strong cohort of start-ups in March 2022, the organisation is engaging and facilitating many of the region’s most promising entrepreneurs within key focus areas such as fintech, software, e-commerce and artificial intelligence (AI).

Such initiatives, which span the length and breadth of the corporate sector, play a crucial role in maintaining a flexible, innovative and dynamic business environment. The key to ongoing success lies in ensuring current-generation start-ups receive the support and guidance they need to develop and grow, while committing additional investment for future ventures. By adopting this dual-pronged approach, the UAE can ensure the longevity of its entrepreneurial ecosystem, avoiding stagnation over the longer term.

A sustainable model

The UAE has already clearly outlined its intentions to help businesses grow in a sustainable manner. The Dubai Centre for Family Businesses, for example, is focused on delivering legal systems, tools and services that enable family-run ventures to establish themselves as sustainable entities for the coming century and beyond.

Further progress towards sustainability can be seen in planned developments such as the new 1,500MW-capacity solar plant in Abu Dhabi’s Ajban region. Once completed, this facility will be capable of powering up to 160,000 homes, reducing the city’s CO2 emissions by more than 2.4 million tonnes per year.

At every level, the UAE is making huge strides towards a sustainable future, transitioning to decarbonisation through renewable resources such as solar, offshore wind and green hydrogen production. But again, long-term sustainability will only be achieved if future generations of leaders are willing to pick up this baton and run with it. As sustainability continues to take centre stage in the global business world, a long-term commitment to the efforts being made today should serve to attract more entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs to the UAE for decades to come.

The start-up capital of the world

It’s certainly encouraging to note that, despite already being the best location on the planet for budding innovators, the UAE is showing no signs of complacency when it comes to its future business ecosystem. While there is always more work to be done, our leaders in both the public and private sectors have identified avenues for long-term growth and are working diligently to ensure the requisite investments are made today.

As an entrepreneur from a family of business-minded individuals, I know that a supportive, dynamic and inclusive ecosystem is by far the most important driver when it comes to the success of new ventures. The UAE is far and away the best place in the world to be an entrepreneur right now and, judging by the progress that continues to be made, I fully expect it to retain its crown for many years to come.