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Economy / Investment

The future of proptech is in Abu Dhabi

It’s not just the buying, selling and renting areas of the property market that are flourishing there.

Anyone who’s been to the UAE or even seen aerial shots of the country knows how quickly the construction and property markets move there, with high-rise buildings and new developments appearing seemingly overnight.

The capital city and largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, is continuing to boom despite Covid-19 putting a halt on sales and even rental property movement. According to a study produced recently by Bayut.com, (a home-grown UAE brand and one of the region’s huge proptech success stories), even with the pandemic, Q1 and Q2 market movement in Abu Dhabi remains at the same level as in 2019, with some regions showing some growth – a positive sign for the UAE economy generally and the property market specifically.

But it’s not just the buying, selling and renting areas of the property market that are flourishing in Abu Dhabi – proptech companies focused on the tech side – including products and services and B2B – are seeing the UAE as a growth market. The reason for that is most likely the country’s push for tech innovation, which is, according to businessman Ahmad Alwan is a “top-down directive that comes straight from the government”.

According to Alwan, who leads Strategy and Corporate Development at Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem, Hub71, there is a “real ambition in the UAE to drive the economy from being a technology consumer to a technology producer”. And while that’s been happening for quite some time, this year the government has given a real push via Hub71 to attract foreign high-growth technology companies to Abu Dhabi to set up their proptech businesses. Hub71’s incentive programme includes subsidised housing, office space and health insurance for companies in their seed and emergent stage, anywhere from two to 25 people that have raised more than $100,000 in institutional funding.

Maan Al Awlaqi, executive director of strategy and transformation at Aldar Properties shared his thoughts on the market and what Hub71 is bringing to the table. Aldar is the capital city’s largest property developer and is responsible for the city’s most notable developments.

“Above and beyond fiscal incentives – which are necessary but not enough on their own – Hub71 offers real benefit for members in the network that they plug into. It’s a vibrant incubation space for entrepreneurs working on a wide variety of sectors.

“The platform works closely with international venture capitalists to facilitate funding for members and has actively partnered with leading corporations to catalyse activity across its focal sectors. As an example, last year Aldar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Hub71 so that start-ups across the ecosystem can benefit from our support, including mentoring, innovation workshops and piloting new proptech products.”

One such startup who benefits from the comprehensive Hub71 network, SensGreen, which provides cleaner air for buildings with its smart, AI-based system. SensGreen’s owner, Turkish national Hasan Tosun knew that Abu Dhabi was the next logical step for its third office (the first is in Ankara, Turkey and the second in Singapore).

“Abu Dhabi is the best place in the world to start a cleantech company right now, because it offers very competitive advantages for clean energy technologies. The emirate has been incentivising a lot of companies to invest more into renewables and energy efficiency, which is where we come in.”

But not only has Tosun seen the advantage of being in a country dedicated to clean energy and property tech, he’s also profited from the network of mentors and business strategists.

“Hub71 has really been our dedicated partner in upselling and improvement, introducing us to companies and clients, marketers and investors – all which helps to make us better. As a tech entrepreneur here, I’ve not only expanded my network, but it’s also made me a better businessman – to make decisions in a better way and take critical decisions faster.

To sum up the benefits of Abu Dhabi as a location for property technology startups, Awlaqi had this to say: “Bringing together all the threads of our previous discussion, it is essential for such startups to base themselves within a dynamic, diverse and well-resourced ecosystem that allows them to tap investment and collaborate.

“We will continue our march towards a world built around the Internet of Things, machine learning, AI and blockchain. Proptech startups focused on these areas – be it through smart buildings, AI-powered broker portals or otherwise – will be well placed to drive Proptech 3.0 and the shared economy forward.”
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