A flexible business environment, generous incentive packages and a climate of collaboration position the UAE capital as a destination of choice for ambitious technology startups with big ideas
In recent years, the UAE capital Abu Dhabi has emerged as a vibrant global hub for innovation, attracting companies dedicated to the development of new technologies and smart solutions for today’s rapidly changing world. The city’s thriving business and technology environment is showcased as part of the ‘Find Wonder’ campaign, a government initiative highlighting the limitless possibilities that await those who seek to work, live and explore in this modern, welcoming destination.
Home to a diverse multicultural population, the UAE capital Abu Dhabi stands at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa and serves as a bridge connecting cultures and continents, the old with the new, and entrepreneurs to exciting opportunities. The city’s flexible business environment, coupled with a range of incentive packages designed to encourage investment and offer support for promising startups, are proving an attractive proposition for businesses of all kinds and empowering change-makers as they strive to develop the next generation of ideas.
Reaching for the Stars
The Al Yah Satellite Communications Company, or Yahsat, is one of many enterprises that have benefited from these favorable conditions. Founded in 2008, the company provides multipurpose satellite solutions for broadband, broadcast and communications. In keeping with Abu Dhabi’s history of building connections between cultures, its business now enhances the lives of more than one billion people in 65 countries across the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Brazil, and Central Asia.
Yahsat specializes in providing communications solutions for under-served communities. For instance, the company has worked with a clinic in a remote region of Kenya. With the nearest well-equipped hospital located over 100 miles away, test results and diagnostics previously took weeks to arrive. Today, the satellite connection provided by Yahsat has reduced the waiting time to just a few hours. “Hearing testimonials from the doctors, we realized that what we do here touches peoples’ lives in ways we couldn’t even imagine,” recalls Yahsat CEO Masood M. Sharif. This is just one example of how the company’s technology is helping to empower communities across the globe.
In 2017, Yahsat partnered with Northrop Grumman and Khalifa University to take their activities to new heights with the launch of the Middle East’s first multi-disciplinary academic space program. Endorsed by the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the initiative demonstrates the thriving spirit of innovation and collaboration that attracts ambitious change-makers to Abu Dhabi. “There are points in time in the history of the development of nations and cities, where moments of excitement create a long-term impact – this is one of these moments,” said Mahmood.
Turning the Desert Green
Another Abu Dhabi-based company that has found success in applying cutting-edge technology to solve global challenges is Pure Harvest Smart Farm. Led by co-founder and CEO Sky Kurtz, Pure Harvest’s prototype hydroponic greenhouse is located in the desert on the outskirts of the city. Capable of operating throughout the year in the most arid of environments, the high-tech facility employs water-efficient growing practices that are up to 30 times more efficient than traditional farming.
Pure Harvest harnesses the power of solar energy – a natural resource that is abundant in the region – as part of its drive to tackle long-term global food security. “By 2050 there will be 9.5 billion people on this planet, and to feed those people we will need 70 percent more food,” explains Kurtz. The company’s greenhouse facility currently produces 500 tonnes of tomatoes a year for distribution across the UAE.
In a bid to further accelerate Abu Dhabi’s growing agritech ecosystem, Abu Dhabi Investment Office has introduced a three-year program for innovators seeking to expand their operations to the city. The program offers a range of incentives, including a 75 percent rebate on all R&D activities. Reflecting on the fertile business environment that is nurturing Pure Harvest’s ambitious plans, Kurtz added “It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur here. You have an incredible, supportive environment of young entrepreneurs aspiring to do big things, and that’s the kind of thing that rings the bell at the beginning of a movement.”
Connecting Innovators to Opportunities
“Abu Dhabi is ripe for disruption, primarily because it’s an untapped market,” according to Ashlene Ramadan, Director of Operations and Communications for Plug and Play, a venture capital company that connects technology startups with the world’s largest corporations to create mutually beneficial relationships. First launched in Silicon Valley in 2003, Plug and Play has partnered with Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) to act as bridge between the city and the rest of the world.
Partnerships such as these, together with generous incentive packages and a flexible regulatory environment make the UAE capital the ideal destination for SMEs with big ideas. “It’s the perfect place for startups because we have corporations and government entities that accept and embrace innovation,” added Ramadan. The aspiring young business leaders of tomorrow appear to agree, and together are building a robust local entrepreneurship ecosystem that positions Abu Dhabi as one of the world’s foremost centers of excellence for technology and innovation.