Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) is a thriving, robust international financial centre that operates under English common law. Founded in 2015, it offers a modern business infrastructure and a holistic ecosystem that supports companies, start-ups, financial institutions and SMEs to operate, innovate and grow seamlessly in the UAE and across the MENA region.
Today, ADGM is home to global powerhouses including Citibank, HSBC, State Street, BNP Paribas, UniCredit, Standard Chartered, Bank Lombard Odier, the Mirabaud Group, Siemens, Plug and Play (the world’s biggest start-up accelerator) and more. With more than 2,800 registered entities, ADGM’s ecosystem also includes treasury centres, professional services firms and global investors, among others.
Juma Al Hameli, senior executive director of strategy and business development at ADGM, shares his insights into why investors and start-ups love being part of the centre and why the UAE government has worked so hard to make sure the regulatory process is as smooth and snag-free as possible.
What advice would you give to a tech start-up wanting to succeed in Abu Dhabi and more generally in the current economic climate?
First, chase your dreams and don’t be afraid to try again. Secondly, look for a home with partners and an ecosystem that work with you and help you maximise your opportunity for success.
With that in mind, look for opportunity: many tech start-ups from around the world are recognising that Abu Dhabi is strategically positioned in the centre of a dynamic and young demographic and one of the fastest-growing populations (the MESA region) in the world. Abu Dhabi serves as a stable and fertile ground for start-ups and SMEs to anchor their growth and access that underserved market.
– Look for mentors and a responsive community – especially in the current economic volatility, start-ups need an innovation-driven environment and like-minded community to grow, learn, change and thrive. Such an ecosystem will provide a valuable source of mentorship, collaborations, learning, job creation and investment/funding.
Whether a start-up is looking to test a fintech idea through ADGM’s leading RegLab/sandbox, raise funds or accelerate their growth through our global accelerator programmes, ADGM and Abu Dhabi provide the ideal launchpad for tech founders with global aspirations. At ADGM, our regulators are directly involved in shaping the entrepreneurship ecosystem yet without trying to frame and constrain it.
– Know your environment and incentive programmes – Abu Dhabi is uniquely positioned to support the growth of innovative tech start-ups by providing an array of incentives and support programmes that provide access to an end-to-end support system that allows tech start-ups to grow exponentially in the coming years. The tech start-ups community can have direct access to funding, market and talent in one location through the Ghadan 21 programme as well as the collective efforts of key government and ecosystem enablers such as Hub71, ADIO, ADQ, among others.
With Hub71’s programme, start-ups will also enjoy benefits such as easier access to capital, regional market access, global networks, mentorship and Abu Dhabi’s open and flexible regulatory framework; as well as 50% to 100% subsidised housing, office space and health insurance for up to 25 employees over a period of up to three years.
ADGM is only five years old, but so much has been achieved in that time – what are some of your notable achievements?
Our IFC was named Financial Centre of the Year (MENA) by Global Investor magazine for four consecutive years since 2016. The prestigious accolade continuously highlights ADGM’s year-on-year growth and ground-breaking regulations on digital banking, private financing platforms, virtual assets and robo-advisory, and ADGM’s commitment to sustainability. ADGM also received the Best International Financial Centre (EMEA) award from Capital Finance International for two consecutive years, initially awarded in 2019 and 2020; FinTech Regulator of the Year (MENA) by industry leader Seamless Middle East in 2018 and Most Innovative MENA FinTech Regulator of the Year by FinX in the same year.
Is the positive regulatory environment a compelling reason to locate to Abu Dhabi? What start-ups have moved there for that reason?
ADGM launched the first regulatory sandbox (known as the Regulatory Laboratory, or RegLab in short) in the MENA region in 2016 to allow fintech start-ups to test and deploy their solutions in a controlled environment under the supervision of the regulator. Today, ADGM has the most comprehensive suite of regulatory frameworks in the region, catering to a diverse range of digital financial services, from digital banking and payments to digital assets, securities and robo-advisory. Many start-ups have benefited from the innovative, progressive and robust regulatory frameworks offered by ADGM. The RegLab is one of the most active sandboxes in the world and has seen start-ups in the programme successfully deploy their solutions in the wider markets. For instance:
- NOW Money, a digital payroll and accounts solution for low-income employees, worked with ADGM to enable the efficient and complaint digital onboarding of their customers to enhance financial inclusion.
- Digital payment services providers such as Pyypl and NymCard have gone on to apply for a financial licence to conduct their e-wallet activities out of ADGM as its regional HQ.
- Start-ups that specialise in tokenised securities, such as Securrency and Jibrel Network, have chosen ADGM as the jurisdiction of choice due to its comprehensive regulatory regime in digital assets.
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.