There are so many opportunities right now in the UAE for entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale-ups. But with so many options can come confusion – like how to set up, where to set up and how to seek the best possible investors…so I’ve taken some time in researching how to navigate the UAE’s ever-expanding start-up scene.
There are so many attractive reasons to launch a business venture in Dubai. Not only is it a perfect testbed for a new product, given the international, cosmopolitan population, but the tax-free environment can really make a difference to a start-up’s success.
Ministry of Economy figures suggest the SME sector represents more than 94% of UAE companies. In Dubai alone, SMEs comprise almost 95% of all companies – contributing around 40 per cent of Dubai’s GDP.
While Dubai enjoys a world-class infrastructure, there are many local business incubators and accelerators, and business-friendly local laws.
A straightforward approach to business formation and set-up is also encouraging more and more entrepreneurs, and with around 30 free zone locations in the city-state, there is a place for all sorts of activities, industries and sectors.
But still, it’s worth taking a moment to go over what we should all do before embarking on any venture – a set of guidelines that we can perhaps call the ‘founder’s mentality.’
With so many set-up options, it’s easy to go for the first option. The company formation sector is competitive – so look for a deal! Many company formation organisations offer incentives; your overriding thought should be on looking into how long the formation company has been in business, how many clients it has, and how happy those clients are.
You might wish to speak to relatively new companies that have used the services of the formation company.
Having researched the myriad ways of setting up your company, consider whether or not you need a partner – local or otherwise.
While the laws are changing, many types of companies still require a local partner, and indeed, benefit from the local experience, contacts and assistance.
Profits are still retained in the company’s name, and partnerships can be drawn up by contract, to ensure both parties enjoy mutually agreed benefits.
Sometimes it’s useful to seek a partner with relevant experience in an area of the business you perhaps have no experience in – like finance, sales or global markets.
Another question to carefully consider is whether to start an onshore or offshore company. Both offer different benefits, and free zone companies come with restrictions on where and how your company can trade.
Finally, there are different benefits to registering locally or internationally, but both options bring their own benefits. This due diligence process shouldn’t be conducted in isolation.
Reach out to business formation companies, lawyers, and network with other business holders.
It’s well known that most start-ups struggle in their first year. So, will you need funding? Where might that funding come from?
You’ll need a solid business plan and an accountant to ensure your business model is solid. Banks and investors alike expect to see your figures and a solid plan in place.
A number of free zone funding and business assistance schemes are also in place, such as the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Center (Dtec) within Dubai Silicon Oasis.
There are, of course, private investors always looking to invest in your fantastic business idea, and crowdfunding has really taken off in the last few years. Again, you’ll need solid plans and financial statements to access crowdfunding.
Finally, don’t forget family and friends – a great way to help get your business off the ground and to involve a team of people who trust and believe in you from the get-go. Just ensure everyone understands what they’re getting into and manage expectations.
Are you ready?
When people believe in their business ideas, they often jump in without much business knowledge, training or understanding.
Is the market really ready for your product or services? Are your financials realistic?
Perhaps examine the range of courses available – both online, at local business schools and colleges in subjects that will help give you the knowledge and confidence to pursue your business.
Experience counts for a lot, but in today’s ever-evolving markets, it’s worth refreshing your actual expertise and re-considering what you think you know.
A mentor is another way to ensure your readiness – seek someone who has experience in your planned sector and spend time with them before you dive into your new venture; there are now many websites where you can link up with a potential mentor.
Take the early days of your business to learn what you need to know, and take advantage of having the time to fill any knowledge gaps before you get deeply into business.
As well as mentoring, joining an incubator can help navigate the issues many start-ups face. And Dubai is a hotbed of business incubators.
A good starting point might be Dubai Start-up Hub, a Dubai Chamber initiative, which offers a wide range of help for entrepreneurs, and puts them together with corporates looking to work with start-ups, as well as linking the emerging business community with investors. It also hosts events, training and workshops.
Meanwhile, The MBRIF Accelerator, a federal government-backed programme sponsored by the Ministry of Finance, “identifies, equips and provides bespoke services to the highest potential innovators to thrive.” In practical terms, the Accelerator offers mentorship-level business advice and a helping hand to get your innovative business idea going.
SANDBOX is the incubator element of Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Center (Dtec), helping early-stage tech entrepreneurs navigate their first year of business with a 12-month programme delivered by the Dtec Ventures team.
SANDBOX is built around six pillars – product development, traction, scaling, financial diagnostics, legal support and wellness, with a bespoke programme of required resources.
Finally, talk to everyone you meet about your business idea. A true leader is a great storyteller, and every time you tell someone, it helps spread the word about your new business.
Take advantage of the UAE’s rich business landscape by attending events, joining like-minded groups, and finding your tribe.
Try joining websites such as meetup.com and Eventbrite to gain access to local networking events.
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