Game of hubs: The battle for the Middle East's startup capital

Source: Wamda

For several years, Dubai, with its strategic location and stability, has been able to establish itself as the hub for the private sector across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

Boasting superior infrastructure, vibrant cultural and entertainment lifestyle sector, the emirate has been able to attract expatriates from across the world to its manmade islands and glittering skyscrapers.

The latest stakeholders for this destination are startups and the government is working hard to maintain their presence. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) that took place in Jordan at the beginning of April this year, Dubai announced that it would grant the top 100 Arab startups (picked by WEF) five-year visas.

The UAE is already home to 20 of them and in a statement to WAM, Abdullah Bin Touq, secretary general of the UAE cabinet said the move “reflects our commitment to facilitate businesses, create an attractive and encouraging environment for growth, and underline the UAE's position as a global destination for talents”.

But Dubai is expensive, the most expensive city in Mena for startups due to the high real estate prices, visas, licences and telecommunications costs.

A recent report by OC&C identified Dubai as one of the most expensive cities in the world to launch a startup, accounting for 13.4 per cent of income per capita, compared with 6.8 per cent in Saudi Arabia and just 1.1 per cent in the US.

And so, several other cities across the region are attempting to position themselves as an alternative destination hub for startups in Mena.

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