Abu Dhabi is an increasingly enticing destination for entrepreneurs seeking an international launchpad from which to grow their business. The UAE leads the region in the World Bank’s Doing Business index. Government efforts to diversify the economy, underpinned by significant access to public and private funding in tech enterprise and talent, has created a hotbed of start-up activity, incubators and accelerators.
In January, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) and Microsoft for Startups announced a strategic five-year partnership to launch a series of initiatives, providing a range of tools and resources to accelerate the growth of nascent, regional B2B businesses.
The first two programmes are the Microsoft GrowthX Accelerator, a virtual accelerator providing participants with extensive access to Microsoft platforms and corporate partners; and Highway to 100 Unicorns, an engagement initiative running activities for start-ups through regional partners to recruit high-potential businesses for the accelerator and future programmes.
“Our core mandate, from a policy perspective, is developing a start-up ecosystem that focuses on innovation and technology,” explains ADIO director-general Tariq Bin Hendi, “and building a new set of jobs to prepare for that future.
“Our partnership with Microsoft is a proof point in this evolution, demonstrating concerted support for these start-ups to keep growing and thriving in Abu Dhabi. The partnership expands on a raft of Abu Dhabi government initiatives to connect these businesses with major international institutions to help accelerate their growth here, across the region and beyond.”
Microsoft for Startups’s managing director, Roberto Croci, recognises the need to build upon already strong foundations. “It’s about continuing to change mindsets,” he says. “We’re making a long-term commitment, helping create an entrepreneurship hub that thinks globally, exporting technology from the region, but develops and invests in local talent.”
Neither party takes any equity in participating ventures; the only requirement is that the businesses be built on Microsoft platforms. In return, explains Croci, participants are guided in making their start-up “enterprise-ready”, leveraging Microsoft’s expansive ecosystem in order to accelerate time to market.
For Bin Hendi, it is crucial the emirate attracts “constructively disruptive” entrepreneurs, who have already identified existing corporate pain points alongside the solutions to treat them. “What we’re seeing is that many of the start-ups are working within a framework of, ‘How can I solve some of the problems that the incumbents in the market are facing?’” he explains.
Croci adds that such enterprises are often under-resourced, but “are also often more scalable, because once you nail a challenge faced by many corporates, it’s a more robust model to invest in”. It’s within that paradigm that he sees Microsoft delivering particular value.
Microsoft’s global corporate client base offers huge potential for support and collaboration. “We talk with many corporates that want to work with start-ups but they don’t know how, and, on the other side, we work with start-ups that have the solutions but are struggling to access the markets,” Croci explains. “We designed the programme to bridge that gap.”
The result is an ecosystem where everybody wins: incumbents get access to the innovation and agility of budding enterprises, while entrepreneurs are able to connect with clients and grow their businesses.
Looking ahead, Croci is excited to see what the partnership will bring. “This requires long-term commitment,” he stresses. “Supporting current and emerging entrepreneurs in the region with a focus on people and products, ensuring that everybody profits.”