In association with Hub71
  1. Economics
December 15, 2020

From west to east – the new tech entrepreneur’s journey

Start-ups and business owners are moving east, particularly to the UAE and its tech-savvy capital, Abu Dhabi.

By Sarah Williams

While many astonishing inventions have happened all over the world, location has always been important in tech advancements. Hotspots such as Silicon Valley are where tech entrepreneurs and start-up founders have gone to seek fortune and fame – and to raise capital.

But in 2020, the old rules have gone out the window, and rather than head west, a lot of movement is occurring in the other direction; start-ups and business owners are moving east, particularly to the UAE and its tech-savvy capital, Abu Dhabi.

“Abu Dhabi is becoming a magnet for ambitious, US-based tech start-ups looking for growth opportunities within a progressive, future-led and flexible regulatory environment that enables companies to expand their target markets earlier in their journey than they originally were able to,” says Alaa Halawa, the Silicon Valley-based head of US ventures at Mubadala Investment Co.

Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi-based global investment company, is among an exclusive set of strategic partners powering the burgeoning tech ecosystem there known as Hub71. With partners as respected as Microsoft, Techstars, Mastercard and Thales Emarat Technologies, Hub71 is growing from strength to strength as it attracts an ever-expanding list of international tech start-ups that want to join the ecosystem.

Tech entrepreneurs forming partnerships

And as it attracts more US start-ups, the growing tech hub has formed another strategic partnership that will see it continue that trend – namely with Silicon Valley-based TechWadi, a non-profit formed in 2006 by a group of Arab-American business owners to increase collaboration between the MENA region and Silicon Valley. The new partnership will foster cross-border knowledge sharing, investment deal flow and market access for both organisations.

“In our pursuit of staying ahead of the curve, we are continually assessing and improving our offering and quest to help start-ups to thrive,” comments Nader Museitif, head of partnerships and business development at Hub71. “Our partnership with TechWadi creates value for both our international communities of founders as well as any US start-ups looking for growth opportunities in the Middle East. Companies on both sides will gain cross-border knowledge sharing, support, access to capital and new market opportunities to scale their businesses abroad.”

Hub71 is a global tech ecosystem located in the heart of Abu Dhabi that brings together key enablers for start-ups to succeed. Find out more and apply at

To celebrate the partnership, TechWadi and Hub71 hosted a webinar this month to inform US start-ups about the opportunities in Abu Dhabi. Moderator Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council, talked with four participants about moving your business east.

One of the panellists, TechWadi board member and CEO of May Habib, had this to say, “Without a doubt, Abu Dhabi is the most entrepreneurial city in the world, and because of that, we now have tens of billions of dollars of deals going back and forth between our two countries, and so many cool things have happened already – it’s just the beginning for tech entrepreneurs.”

Ahmad Alwan, head of strategy and corporate development at Hub71, agreed: “Out of all the founders we have in Hub71, most of them are from the US. And on top of that number, we have ten start-ups that have actively relocated their HQ [from the US] to Abu Dhabi.”

From the US to the UAE

John Hensel, co-founder and COO at regulatory and fintech firm Securrency, is one of those to have relocated their business and has found the process of moving to the UAE with his American team overwhelmingly positive.

“As Securrency grew and it was time to expand, we started to look internationally for opportunities,” Hensel explains. “As a financial services market infrastructure company, we anticipated our customer base being global, and we wanted to establish an international HQ. We evaluated a number of markets – Singapore, Switzerland, London and others – and concluded that the UAE, and specifically Abu Dhabi, was where we would call a home for our international headquarters.

“Along the way, we established a fantastic rapport with the financial services regulatory authority in the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), which led to opportunities like access to a regulatory sandbox and exposure to the regulators that would be responsible for the environment.

“But we joined Hub71 in 2019, and it’s been a huge game-changer for us. Through their Incentive Program, we’ve been able to attract incredible talent from all over the world we might not otherwise have had access to. We’ve had a huge helping hand in the form of subsidies for housing, insurance and so on, and that’s not even to mention how the networking opportunities have just expanded our options.”

Learn more about the Hub71 Incentive Programme in our free white paper Roadmap to Abu Dhabi: How to unlock new opportunities for your Tech Startup, which includes information on page 19 for how to be one of the few start-ups chosen to join the programme and best tips for success. Download white paper.

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