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Members of Young Presidents’ Organization Confirm Dubai’s Emerging Role as Technology Startup Destination

Published Feb 22, 2016

Members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), the world’s premier network of 23,000 chief executives and business leaders in more than 130 countries worldwide, are leveraging the rise of Dubai as a hub of innovation, while the UAE continues to outperform all other MENA countries in global competitiveness and entrepreneurship, according to the December 2015 report by Wamda Research Lab.

YPO members Fadi Ghandour, co-founder and vice chairman of Aramex, Bahjat El-Darwiche, lead partner with Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company) and Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, chairman of the management executive committee of the Abraaj Group, a private equity firm with USD 9 billion under management, all point to the Dubai’s entrepreneurial spirit of making the impossible possible as inspiration for entrepreneurs and investors.

As an entry point to the fast-developing markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Dubai presents unique advantages. "These are markets growing at double the rates of the developed world, and the hub for accessing these markets is Dubai," said Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, chairman of the management executive committee of the Abraaj Group.

Ghandour, who is executive chairman of Wamda Capital, which recently launched a USD 75 million regional growth stage venture fund for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), reiterates the importance of Dubai’s strategic location as a gateway to emerging markets. “Dubai is ideal for any company – not only IT ventures – interested in expanding across MENA, South Asia and Africa. Most media companies and advertising agencies doing business in the region are based in Dubai, attracted by its world-class infrastructure and a very diverse and multinational workforce,” said Ghandour. “As an investor and a participant in the regional MENA entrepreneurship eco-system, I am extremely optimistic about the nascent IT sector in particular. We are at the cusp of major growth in technology and internet commerce with Dubai leading the way.”

Bahjat El-Darwiche, partner with Strategy& and leading the Communications, Media, and Technology practice in the Middle East, noted the advantageous governmental policies that Dubai is introducing for innovation by facilitating linkages between universities, corporations and startups in different fields, including data analytics and business intelligence. “Not everything is in place, but things are happening at a fast rate, particularly with regards to technology, media, and innovation-focused budgets allocation, public private partnership frameworks, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) support programs, companies’ law amendments, and bankruptcy laws enactment.”

El-Darwiche also cited the general enabling infrastructure, including a solid telecom infrastructure in addition to large government led initiatives like technology and innovation parks. “Dubai offers the ideal gateway to the UAE, as an attractive test-bed market for tech products and services, and to surrounding regional markets thanks to its position as a trade and telecom connectivity hub. Furthermore, Dubai offers an end-to-end ecosystem for tech companies to grow. Companies can raise angel funding from Beirut or elsewhere, but second funding is more accessible in Dubai where a number of venture capital funds are active.”

As Dubai prepares for the World Expo 2020, expected to draw 25 million visitors from October 2020 to April 2021, declining oil prices have created uncertainty among those thinking about launching a start-up business. But Ghandour remains optimistic: “Oil prices always affect the MENA region. The low prices should be seen as an opportunity for reform, which most countries within the region are looking at very seriously. Technology is at a different trajectory. It is still in its early days and it will continue to grow substantially for the coming few years.” El-Darwiche is also confident about the future and believes that oil decline is driving economic reform across GCC countries, forcing government administrations and large corporations to become more efficient and competitive leveraging technology.

“YPO encourages bold leadership by connecting members with new ideas, potential markets and the power of shared experience. There is no finer education, or inspiration, than peer exchange among equals, and we have learned a great deal from YPO members in Dubai and the region who are transforming industries and creating innovative new businesses”, said Scott Mordell, CEO of YPO. “We look forward to learning more about the opportunities that the regional IT sector holds and connecting peers from around the world with the incredible transformation and ambition of Dubai at YPO EDGE, our annual flagship event taking place in March.”

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