Julia Ofer provides an overview of options available for creative minds to realise their creative ideas with support of the UAE technology ecosystem.

On 1 June Dubai Silicon Oasis (“DSO”) Authority, together with its strategic partners Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (du), Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Orange Business Services, Rochester Institute of Technology New York, Smart Dubai Office and Visa, launched Dubai Smart City Accelerator.

Dubai Smart City Accelerator attracted AED18.4 million (approx. USD5 million) of investment as a carrot for start-ups and creative inventors from all over the world to apply for the programme. The aim of the Accelerator is to develop new technologies, which will make cities “smarter”, and help overcome the typical challenges associated with a metropolis. In addition, the programme aims to improve life for citizens by finding solutions within smart homes, smart living, smart urban planning and smart logistics. The programme will initially accept 40 start-ups and run over a period of three years. The offered package includes office space in Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (“Dtec”), as well as advisory and financial support in consideration for a 6% equity stake in the new venture.

Dubai Smart City Accelerator is the latest addition in a series of programmes boosting the UAE’s leading role in supporting entrepreneurs and innovation related to seven sectors in the region. Having the Accelerator placed within the DSOA’s wholly-owned Dtec does not come as a surprise, noting that DSO has for many years already taken a lead role in supporting innovations. A few examples include the installations of the first smart street lights, the Innovation Ignition Lab operated in collaboration with Intel, or the smart weather pole a technology developed together with Pacific Control.

Other programmes supporting technology innovations already operating successfully in the UAE include the following:

  • the “FinTech Hive” at DIFC, launched in January this year, developed to help creators of innovative fintech solutions to refine and test their proposition with the support of the world’s leading financial firms;
  • the “Reglab” at Abu Dhabi Global Market, which was the first of such FinTech regulatory framework in the MENA region. The initial 5 participants were selected from 11 applicants and registered last month to further develop and test their FinTech innovations;
  • the “Dubai Future Accelerators”, launched in July 2016, which provides technology companies the opportunity to gain access to resources and expertise of Dubai’s government entities, with a fast track process for administrative aspects, allowing participants to focus on delivering transformative technologies and services;
  • “in5”, a programme launched in 2013 by TECOM Group in Dubai, and gaining increased attention in recent times due to its offering of three specialised innovation centers for tech, design and media to students, entrepreneurs and start-ups;
  • the “UAEU Science & Innovation Park Business Incubator”, a programme launched in November 2016, particularly attractive for young entrepreneurs with a vision and ambition to contribute to the UAE’s vision 2021. This programme offers its fellows the required infrastructure, coaching and mentoring services to support launching a start-up; and
  • the “Research and Development Hub” at Masdar, Abu Dhabi. The internationally recognized institute is accessible for cooperation by global players as well as start-ups with a focus on clean technology and renewable energy, upon registration in Masdar City free zone.

These are all examples, and certainly not the only options, as to how innovators from all over the world can take advantage of the UAE’s leaders’ visionary approach to bring technology in multiple sectors to the next level.

Recently reported actions, such as (i) testing of driverless vehicles on Dubai roads and investigations to provide taxi services with fully automated drones, (ii) RTA Dubai ordering electric cars for its fleet, (iii) the execution of agreements between Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, a Japanese company, and a Chinese manufacturer for a USD 870 million project to build the world’s largest solar power plant, and (iv) reports of a Dubai resident receiving the region’s first fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg, illustrate that the UAE is serious about achieving its goals and becoming the region’s leader in innovative technologies.

More programmes and initiatives are already planned, such as the “Research, Technology and Innovation Park” that is under construction adjacent to American University of Sharjah campus which intends to become home to knowledge-intensive businesses focusing on the areas of water and environment technology, renewable energy, logistics and production architecture, as well as digitization. The RTI Park aims to promote industry-university linkages and entrepreneurship.

Our experiences with relevant government authorities highlights that, at times, there is a lack of detailed regulations for new technologies given the fast-changing nature of the development. However, the same fact allows flexibility to test innovations in a multicultural environment with young, ambitious and demanding users/customers, where rules and regulations develop as and when required, together with the improvement of technologies.