Start-ups get dream opportunity thanks to Scale2Dubai

District 2020 Scale2Dubai- Abbas Sajwani

Like many of us, I’ve been wondering what will happen to the beautiful, inspiring Expo 2020 Dubai site when the event sadly closes its doors next March. 

Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, the enormous (4.38 square kilometre) site is set to be transformed with great vision and flair into a new residential, office and leisure zone, District 2020. 

This ‘people-first’ community has some fantastic ideas at its heart – such as sustainability and the chance to fully achieve a healthy, balanced lifestyle in an environment that seems truly attuned to the needs of all in the 21st century. 

District 2020, according to its own vision, is being carefully designed to support the future of working and living. 

The master plan aims to attract those seeking a “more balanced” way of life – prioritising well-being, inspiring new ideas, facilitating growth and enabling human potential. 

To me, such lofty ideals are what makes Dubai the most exciting city on earth, and District2020 looks set to create a new paradigm for the way we live in this region. I’m mindful of the ongoing success of Sustainable City, a regional benchmark for net-zero living. 

A key aspect of the District 2020 plan is the ‘Scale2Dubai’ initiative, which is worth studying in more detail. 

I’d like to share my discoveries about this initiative here. 

Firstly, Scale2Dubai is a globally-focused entrepreneurship programme designed to attract top start-ups and small enterprises, with proven business models, to this new city district. 

By the time Expo2020 concludes, some 80-100 companies will have been chosen to take part in the programme. 

Each chosen company – which must be at the Series A or Seed funding stage – will be given a range of incentives to take full advantage of conducting business in and from District 2020. 

These incentives include: 

  • A two-year visa 
  • Two years of subsidised urban living 
  • Two years of free workspace 
  • Business setup support 
  • Guidance on how to scale-up the business 
  • Clear pathways to funding and deal flow 
  • Networking opportunities and connections with renowned global players 

Ahead of the launch of Scale2Dubai, Tala Al Ansari, director, innovation ecosystem and Scale2Dubai, said: “Start-ups and small businesses from Scale2Dubai will have the opportunity to collaborate with large corporations, government entities, accelerators and, universities at District 2020. They will also have access to venture capitalists and funding entities to support their growth plans.” 

The Scale2Dubai programme seeks to attract future-forward businesses. Key sectors the first wave of applicants will be chosen from include those companies working in smart cities, smart logistics, smart mobility and Industry 4.0. 

With a focus on advanced technology, District 2020 aims to attract SME start-ups creating business in Artificial intelligence (AI), big data, 3D printing, robotics and Internet of things (IoT), to name a few. 

Having applied to take part in Scale2Dubai, a judging panel will choose the successful applicants in March 2022, coinciding with the conclusion of Expo2020. 

The finalists will actually be announced during the Expo closing ceremony, and by October 2022, the first cohort under the Scale2Dubai scheme will be onboarded and set-up within the brand new District 2020 site. The plan is then to attract several cohorts, with the second cycle welcoming new business to the site in April 2023. 

I believe Scale2Dubai is an exciting, bold and visionary step towards encouraging innovation, partnerships and collaboration – three concepts which are increasingly driving business in the UAE and 21st century. 

District 2020 and Scale2Dubai are exciting programmes that I will continue to watch avidly, and I look forward to becoming part of this emerging masterplan in whatever way I can. 


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