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Dubai VC Ecosystem; the best and the worst. According to founders and investors.

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

This report has been compiled from contributions of founders and investors from the Dubai Ecosystem from the 18th of Jan, 2023 til the 14th of Feb, 2023, as part one of DSRPTD MAG's Dubai Venture City Guide.

Dubai. The city of the future, land of opportunities and hope.

If you are not very well acquainted with the city, living at least for one year in Dubai, then you have totally no idea what Dubai is, no matter what your opinion is, whether its good or bad, you are totally wrong either way.

Its either way better than you think or believe if you think its good, or if you think the opposite. Then you didn't really spend enough time to know what sits Dubai apart from any other city in the world and whether its the right choice for you or not.

If not now maybe later.

So here is the naked truth about Dubai if you are thinking of making it into the city that outpaces any other destination and sets the comparison irrelevant.

Dubai is just another planet.

  • Strategic location 8 hours on average from any where with almost 24/7 direct flights to any destination.

  • High connectivity and pool of talents.

  • World's best infrastructure and the world's safest city.

  • A top digital nomads destination.

  • Vibrant ecosystem and environment with a very well developed global financial system.

  • The destination of the world that reached an annual 1 billion flights to its airport.

  • Beyond cosmopolitan, diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance, with more than 90% of the population from 200 nationalities. (That's insane. Its not international, nor global. It's universal).

  • Home to some of the biggest tech names and funds such as Binance, Ripple, JP Morgan, and HSBC, as well as Nasdaq Dubai.

  • The region's tech and scalability hub and the crypto blockchain hub of the world with the first, leading and most comprehensive virtual assets regulations issued by the VARA, and the world's fastest growing crypto and blockchain ecosystem; Crypto Oasis.

  • Home of the world's best free zone for 8 years in a row DMCC Dubai Multiple Commodities Centre bearer of the DMCC Crypto Centre.

  • Home to some of the biggest VC acquisitions such as Uber x Careem, Amazon x, and the Nasdaq SPAC issuance of SWVL with Queen's Gambit, and the Vistas Media x Anghami SPAC on Nasdaq, among other global VC acquisitions of many tech startups in various sectors.

  • Some of the world's players have raised from Dubai such as Elon Musk's Neuralink, among many more.

Table of content

  • Introduction to the Dubai Venture Ecosystem

  • Best things about Dubai Venture Ecosystem

  • Worst things about Dubai Venture Ecosystem

  • Best places in Dubai for founders & entrepreneurs to work from their laptops

  • Best places in Dubai for investor meetings

  • Contributors to this report

We asked some of the most experienced founders and investors in Dubai regarding their views, comments, and tips on the Dubai VC Ecosystem, and here is what we got.

Introduction to the Dubai Venture Ecosystem

Vibrant, hassle free, frictionless, emerging, buzzing, inverted demographics, cosmopolitan, supportive

Vibrant and forward thinking

The ecosystem in Dubai is as diverse, all-encompassing and strategically aligned as they come. The government of Dubai has been actively promoting the ecosystem since its independence in 1971 up to modern due, now with the emergence of blockchain technology and set a goal to become the world's first blockchain-powered government by 2020. The Dubai Blockchain Strategy was launched in 2016 with the aim of making all government documents digital and paperless by 2020, however as things evolve, and timelines moved, it has still not downgraded the pace in change of the ecosystem. The government has also established a number of initiatives to support the development of the blockchain ecosystem in the city, including the Dubai Future Accelerators, which provides funding and support for startups working on blockchain projects, and the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Blockchain Lab, which conducts research and development on blockchain technology. Additionally, several private companies in Dubai are also working on implementing blockchain technology in various industries such as supply chain, healthcare, finance, and real estate, thus making the ecosystem as potent and attractive as it has ever been.

The Dubai ecosystem in technology, investment and talent is vibrant and expanding rapidly with many startups, investors and human resources relocating here.

Vibrant and one the faster growing tech ecosystem in the world. Arguably, best place to showcase tech innovation.

Dubai has been actively working to establish itself as a hub for startup and technology companies in the MENA region. The city has seen a significant increase in venture capital activity in recent years, with a growing number of local and international investors setting up shop in the city. Overall, the venture capital ecosystem in Dubai is one of the most mature in the region and is showing strong signs of growth and development The city has a number of initiatives and programs in place to support the ecosystem, such as:

The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA): This is a government-owned free zone that provides infrastructure and support for technology companies, including office space, labs, and other resources.

The Dubai Future Foundation (DFF): This is a government-affiliated organization that focuses on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in Dubai. It offers a range of programs, including incubation, acceleration, and investment opportunities.

Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (DTEC): This is a government-backed incubator that provides support to early-stage startups, including office space, mentorship, and access to funding.

Dubai Internet City (DIC): This is a technology park and free zone that provides office space and resources for technology companies

Dubai is an ideal place to locate for startups, Dubai is distinguished as a commercially affluent destination offering direct investment, innovative expansions, accelerators, financial upliftment, and technologically advanced measures.

Dubai ecosystem has undergone a profound transformation over the 19 years since I moved out here back in 2004. Dubai 2.0 (as I refer to it today!) exemplifies the shift from 'Dubai 1.0 (focus on labour camps) to 'Knowledge camps', viz Incubators, accelerators, VCs, entrepreneurs; building blocks for the knowledge economy.

Best things about Dubai Venture Ecosystem

Safe, clean, dynamic, scale-up hub, accessibility, proximity, pool of talent, connectivity

Pragmatic regulations and focus in cluster building

The top 3 would be the government support, the ability to innovate and experiment and the physical location of dubai as the financial and technical hub of the world. See below for some more detail:

Government support: The government of Dubai has been actively promoting the use of blockchain technology and startup economy for many years. This includes initiatives such as the Dubai Blockchain Strategy and the Dubai Future Accelerators, and the nation holding several of the world's biggest events.

Innovation and experimentation: Dubai is known for its forward-thinking attitude and its willingness to experiment with new technologies. This has led to a number of innovative blockchain projects being developed in the city and continue to spring up in different areas.

Financial Hub: Dubai has a strong financial sector, and blockchain technology has the potential to greatly enhance its efficiency and security. For instance, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Blockchain Lab conducts research and development on blockchain technology, and there are several web3 companies in Dubai such as ourselves who aim to solve the teething issues for many early-stage projects through incubation and acceleration.

The best elements of Dubai Ecosystem is the energy, fast paced action, conferences and regular meetups creating a vortex which amplifies delivery results and generates growth.

- Adoption of emerging tech in government and their support is number one.

- Connectivity and PR through meetups & events.

The Dubai venture capital ecosystem has several advantages for startups and investors. Some of the best things about the ecosystem include:

1. Government support: The government of Dubai is actively working to support the ecosystem through initiatives such as the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, the Dubai Future Foundation, and the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre, which provide infrastructure and support to startups.

2. Access to funding: There are a number of local and international venture capital firms operating in Dubai, as well as government-backed programs that provide funding and support to startups.

3. Access to mentorship and resources: There are a number of accelerators and incubators in Dubai that provide mentorship, office space, and other resources to startups.

4. Strategic location: Dubai is a strategic location for businesses looking to expand in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It has a strong economy, a well-developed infrastructure, and a business-friendly environment.

5. Growing startup ecosystem: Dubai has a growing startup ecosystem, with an increasing number of international and regional entrepreneurs and startups launching in the city. This creates a favorable environment for investors as there are more opportunities to invest in startups.

innovation hub under government leadership for tech startups and Tech ScaleUps

Fairly easy to access the participants in the knowledge economy both in the public & private sector and the quality of life/standard of living being resident in Dubai. This is an important factor in attracting and retaining talent to relocate to Dubai and contribute to the ecosystem.

Worst things about Dubai Venture Ecosystem

Overwhelming, a lot of wannabes, pretenders, fakers, and dreamers without qualifications.


* Regarding this point, you can check the cost of living in Dubai, and compare it to other cities all over the world on Numbeo here.

"Worst" identifies something comparatively bad, but for me, worst means a change to improve. So for me there are three improvements that can be made. First is an improvement in regulation, second is the lack of standardization and third is the talent pool.

Lack of regulation: While the government of Dubai has been supportive of blockchain technology, there is currently a lack of clear regulation globally and locally in place for blockchain-based projects and businesses. This can make it difficult for companies to operate and can also limit investor confidence in the ecosystem.

Lack of standardization: If one incubator accelerator wants to compare to another, there are no agreed best practices, processes or KPIs. The only way to improve services collectively to the customer base is to improve benchmarks.

Talent Pool: While there is a growing community of blockchain enthusiasts and experts in Dubai, the talent pool is still relatively limited, if not so much for the infancy of the technology and business models, but there is a lack of talent coming from the youth which needs to be developed at the college level. This can make it difficult for companies to find the skilled personnel they need to develop and implement their projects.

*Surprisingly while compiling the contributions and inputs for this report, Dubai government through its newly established VARA Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority has issued the world's first, up to date, and most comprehensive regulations on virtual assets as described by OKX's Government Relations Officer.

The worst elements of Dubai ecosystem are the transient resources (sometimes only staying for a short period of time), over promise of results, maturity of regulation.

- Missing legit investor base. We need more Angels, VCs, Investment Funds etc.

*Below we listed the UAE SME Toolkit which contains the details and contacts of some of the UAE's top Investors, Incubators, and Accelerators.

- Lot of fake influencers, projects and drama.

- Hiring tech talent & basics like internet are too costly here.

There are a few potential issues with the venture capital and startup ecosystem in Dubai. Some of the main issues include:

• Limited local market: The local market in Dubai is relatively small, which can make it challenging for startups to scale their businesses in Dubai only.

*Dubai is a global hub for scaling businesses in the GCC, MEASA, and Globally with a number of free zones approaching 50 free zones in the UAE doing businesses with the whole world, the UAE is a scaleup nation. You can find a list of the free zones in the UAE in the UAE SME Toolkit listed below.

• Limited access to talent: Finding experienced and qualified employees can be difficult for startups in Dubai, particularly in niche industries.

• High costs of starting a business: The costs of starting a business in Dubai, including rent and other expenses, can be high which can be a challenge for early-stage startups with limited funding. It should be noted that Dubai has been working on improving this ecosystem and some of these issues may have been addressed or improved in the recent years. startups with Immature business models will be lost due to high competition.

The traffic can be quite overwhelming during the busy periods (conference season etc) and journey times could increase 3~5x.

*As we understand that a lot of founders might get frustrated with the setup and legal requirements for starting a business in Dubai or moving their business to the city, specially if they are new to Dubai and the UAE. You may want to consider some of the following resources:

  • Company structure/legal form

  • Company name and activity

  • Trade licence

  • Company registration

  • Certificates

  • Finance and Banking

  • Visa

  • Taxation

  • List of investors, VC Funds, Accelerators, and Incubators with their thesis and direct contacts

  • Handling legal issues

  • Ecosystem companies

  • Startups and projects

  • Service providers

  • VCs

  • Corporates

  • Logistics

  • Fintech

  • Healthcare

  • Education

  • FnB

  • Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality

  • Sustainability

  • Impact

Or Youtube here

You might want to watch KARM Legal's Managing Partner's Masterclass from DSRPTD MBA on Setup, Trademarks, and Commercial Law in the UAE.

UAE | Bahrain | Switzerland | Liechtenstein | UK | USA

You may also want to watch KARM Legal's Senior Associate Masterclass from DSRPTD MBA on VARA Virtual Assets Regulations, and the new business taxation in the UAE.

Best places in Dubai for founders & entrepreneurs to work from their laptops

Dubai has a very distinguished cafe culture, you literally can find anything you want as if its native, from American, Latino, to European, African, Middle Eastern, to Asian you find every atmosphere almost everywhere. A lot of places all over the city with good vibes and relaxing cozy surroundings, with very high quality, and good connectivity.

Most co working spaces are fine.

Business Bay, DIFC, Anywhere with a WiFi connection

The best places are DIFC, Business Bay, down town.

Good number of co-working places along with range of incubators, accelerators and flexi work places from free zones. I personally like the vibe in DIFC Innovation Hub.

There are several great spots in Dubai for entrepreneurs and founders to work from their laptops. Some popular options include:

1. Co-Working Spaces: This is a great option for entrepreneurs who are looking for a collaborative and productive environment. There are several co-working spaces in Dubai, including WeWork, Regus, and The Executive Lounge.

2. Cafes: Dubai has a great cafe culture, and there are many cafes that offer free Wi-Fi and comfortable seating. Some popular options include multiple cafes across DIFC

3. Hotels: Many hotels in Dubai offer coworking spaces, such as the Ritz, and Intercontinental Hotel.

Emirates Towers, DIFC Innovation Hub.

As the internet connectivity is reasonable, I would say ubiquity plays to founders/entrepreneurs advantage to work from their laptops.

Best places in Dubai for investor meetings

Almost all hotel lobbies and podiums are fine, also most of the fine dinning restaurants.

Hotel lobbies work best

5 star hotels like Ritz, 4 seasons, Intercontinental, and the Address hotels.

Dubai is a popular destination for business and investment opportunities, so there are many options for holding investor meetings. Some popular spots include:

1. Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC): Located in the heart of Dubai's financial district, the DIFC offers a range of meeting and conference spaces, as well as a business community of over 22,000 professionals.

2. Dubai World Trade Centre: This large exhibition and conference center hosts a variety of events, including trade shows and business conferences, and also offers meeting spaces for rent. These are just a few options, but there are many other hotels, meeting spaces, and event venues in Dubai that could be suitable for investor meetings.

Well-organized events for investors with qualification.

DIFC and the major hotels in Dubai.

Contributors to this report:

Feroz Sanaulla, Global Co-Head of Crypto Economy and Partner at Roland Berger heading Financial Services, mainly fintech, insuretech and digital banking solutions. He has been active in building the operational blockchain solutions business offering to financial services companies (e.g. identity solutions, L/C and escrow solutions, 3rd party interaction protocols for banks. He has a vast regional network and am often a sounding board to C-level executives regionally. He has traveled extensively and has worked with clients in US, Europe and Asia.

With his past experience as a VC, he has also assisted incubators and worked with all of the major regional and silicon valley based VC and PE funds

Nathan Cooper, Chief Program and Innovation Officer at Sheesha Finance.

Nathan Cooper, MBA is a highly skilled and experienced Strategy and Execution professional with a proven track record of defining and delivering change plans to drive business readiness and employee adoption. With 20 years of experience, he has successfully led initiatives in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the US and Canada, focusing on Operational Excellence, Change Management and is passionate about building ecosystems, connecting needs to resources, addressing root causes of complex systems problems and impacting culture change.

Nathan's exceptional communication, collaboration, and presentation skills, along with his ability to work with geographically dispersed teams, make him a valuable asset in fostering strong global partnerships, aligning business strategy and delivering communications and training interventions. He uses his experience in customer-centred design thinking, critical analysis and synthesis, data analytics, technical expertise, and interdisciplinary collaboration to innovate experiences, product-service development, and workflow efficiency.

As the Chief Program and Innovation Officer of Sheesha Finance, Nathan drives organizational growth through innovative solutions and effective team management, consistently delivering measurable results across the business development, marketing, IT and projects departments. He also advises on innovation and new technologies to clients, investors and startups he advises. He was previously a Senior Program Manager at Société General and a Technical Program Manager of Operational Analytics at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, holding multiple certifications including Scrum and Agile, and is In his final year completing his doctoral studies in Strategy and Innovation.

Jorge Sebastiao, CEO at Global Blockchain Organization, and Co-Founder of EcoX.

International ICT speaker. Seasoned CTO, with Blockchain, Web 3.0, AI, NFT, IoT, Gaming, Digital Twin, Cyber Security, Managed Services, Cloud Computing, Big Data, & ICT innovation professional focused on business value; brings experience, creativity, structure, motivation, & agility. Over 35 years of ICT experience, covering, innovation, architecture as well as risk management, compliance, auditing, certification, business continuity, & disaster recovery. Served sectors include Telecom, Oil & Gas, Financial , Government, Defense, HealthCare, & Education. Created the process A6 of security: Assess, Architect, Apply, Administer, Awareness & Agility. He architects practical & business focused solutions using standards & industry best practices.

He has been the speaker at numerous international conferences with topics including: ICS Security, ICT Security, Business Continuity, ICT Architecture (TOGAF), Wireless Security, Regulatory Compliance, Physical Security, Biometrics and Smart Cards, Ethical Hacking, ISO27001, ISO27002 (ISMS), ISO2000 (ITIL), ISO13335 (Risk Management), ISO22301 (BCMS), CobIT, Basel II, EMV-2, PCI-compliance, SOX, Info warfare, Fraud, Identity Theft, SAP-Security, CISSP, Forensics & Incidence Response.

Jorge is action and results oriented with passion to deliver a results in a collaborative approach.

Mr. Sebastiao also co-authored book "La Face Cachée du Credit".

Languages Advanced: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Learning: Italian, Greek, Arabic, Russian

Quote “Information security is a continuous skilled process…”

Specialties: Cyber Security, Cloud Services, blockchain, big data, IoT, Managed Services, Business Continuity, BCP, Disaster Recovery, DRP, Virtualization, CMS, Workflow, Storage Management, Infrastructure, Information Security, IT Architecture, TOGAF, Satellite, Wireless, VoIP, Managed Services, Physical Security, Homeland Security, CCTV, Training, Security Awareness, Ethical Hacking, Security Monitoring, Forensics, Data Recovery

Muhammad Salman Anjum, Salman has been named a “Top 100 Blockchain Leader in World.” As a Founder and Chief Mate of InvoiceMate he is co-creating future of invoice financing with blockchain enabled invoice financing marketplace. Aiming to solve real world business issue of inefficient invoice processing and enabling businesses reach out to all important working capital finance.

A key influencer in the space of Enterprise Blockchain adaption, Salman has moderated events & presented keynotes at stages around the world including a talk at esteemed TEDx platform. He’s a Blockchain & FinTech specialist in PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Faculty. A results-driven professional with over 20 years in corporate & entrepreneurial roles aligning People, Performance and Profit. He has been featured as success story in “Soul Beats @ UAE” the book published by Dubai Government. Pursuing his Doctorate degree, he is a CIPD Member and one of the pioneer Lead Auditors of ISO 29990:2010 for L&D operations.

Salman lives, plays and works in Dubai and on stages around the world committed to empower the human potential.

Walid Hanna, Founder, Chairman, and Co-CEO of MEVP Middle East Venture Partners, a $260M AUM VC firm focused on Tech investing in MENA, with offices in Dubai, Beirut, Cairo, Riyadh, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

Walid has been active in venture capital and new venture development for the past 20 years, successfully completed more than 50 VC investments in the past 10 years and several exits.

Walid has also co-founded, invested in, and led several startups in the MENA region, spanning a range of industries with a focus on technology. Walid holds a Bachelor's of Economics from McGill University (Canada), and a Master's in Finance from Hautes Études Commerciales, H.E.C (France).

Fatma Elsafty, Founder and CEO of MetaEssence.

Fatma ElSafty, is an experienced blockchain business and technical lead with over 15 years of hands-on experience in many vital businesses and the capacity of enterprise and solutions architecture division and enterprise IT solutions implementation and management in different industries including telecommunications, Banking, insurance, education, healthcare and government services. Coming from engineering background; Fatma was able to provide innovative IT solutions supported by solid architectural design using the latest technologies and platforms in the market. Her experience in blockchain and cloud computing enabled her to harness the power of both technologies and work with startups and big companies alike to scale up and achieve sustainable growth. Fatma's main passion is to use her skillset to shape today's technology into innovative, sustainable solutions that simplify, secure, and streamline vital business transactions to bring a high return on investment combined with high customer satisfaction. Fatma is a passionate self-learner and very curious to explore and try new ideas and share her experience with others. Her frequent participation in international technology summits exposed her directly to the latest innovations from every corner of the globe and enabled her to align her solutions to the market needs while building valuable business connections with customers, partners, technology providers, and colleagues.

Sleem Hasan, Founder and CEO of Privity. AKA The Father of Startups. Experienced Owner with a demonstrated history of working in Venture Capital and the Japanese Capital Markets. Skilled in Investor Relations, Securities, Asset Management, Investment Advisory, and working with Technology Entrepreneurs. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a Part III Mathematical Tripos from Cambridge University & M.A.(Hons) Mathematics from Oxford University.

Ahmed Refaie, Founder, CEO, and Global CIO at G.P.I. Global Partners Investments Limited, and DSRPTD Host.

A Financial Engineer, Investment Architect, Mathematician and Computer Engineer who turned into the entertainment industry at a very young age to run the concerts for the most famous singers and Djs from all over the world at the most sought after and international venues. Shifted tremendously to leading a military troop as a lieutenant in the Air Defense Forces fulfilling his service.

Switched to business and finance and started the second wave of his career as an equity portfolio and fund manager, and FX trader. Deeply experienced in the hedge fund industry. Ahmed instructs the CFA Charter levels 2 and 3 as well as teaching on different topics for banking and investment professionals and practitioners such as Technical Analysis & Trading, Asset Selection and Allocation, Alternative Investments, Cryptoassets, Tokenisation, Hedge Funds, Family Offices, and Risk Management. Also with extensive experience in the MICE Industry engaging in running, organising, and managing Tech VC conferences and events globally.

Refaie is a four time entrepreneur in 4 different sectors (Retail, FnB, Education, and Finance) across two regions (Middle East and Europe).

Refaie leads G.P.I. the London based asset allocator for sovereign wealth and MFO Fund of Funds Manager Selection, as well as FDI Foreign Direct Investment Promotion Agency for governments for G2G Startup Acceleration Programmes and PPP Public Private Partnerships Investor Relations and Communication.

Refaie runs, manages, and administrates the Tech VC Browser of the World where they host their very own annual DSRPTD Summit (The world's most untold and unspoken off happening in the VC world) which brings the DSRPTD MBA Course to life, with a lot of initiatives and activities such DSRPTD Expeditions (The Open Accelerator of the World), Web3 Master Course, in addition to a Media Powerhouse (behind the PR, Marketing, speakers, and investors at almost all major tech & VC events and conferences from LA to Tokyo) consisting of DSRPTD Blog, DSRPTD MAG, DSRPTD Reports, DSRPTD News, DSRPTD Radio, and DSRPTD TV (On Demand Streaming of the World's Top Tech Events). Also DSRPTD Press (PR Wire). In addition to branch activities such as (Deal listing and launchpad), and (Open and free databases of all the investors in the world).

Refaie holds a BEng in Computer Engineering, the PMT Professional Market Trader Certification, Cambridge International Diploma in Business majoring in Marketing and HRM, the European Business Competence Licence Level A, and a MSc in Financial Engineering.

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