Innovation is key for developing business in the region and UAE entrepreneurialism is on the up and up, according to Majed Al Suwaidi, Director of Business Development for Dubai Internet City and Dubai Outsource Zone.
Launched last month by Dubai Internet City (DIC), In5 is a physical business hub for budding ICT entrepreneurs, designed to bring people to a single platform to encourage collaboration, share knowledge and better understand business development.
While there are no specific mentors or dedicated enablers in place, Al Suwaidi is trying to build a platform that has ‘all the bells and whistles’.
“We have inventors, investors, ancillary services, law firms, and all of the people you’d expect to fit within the ecosystem are available within the centre,” he said.
“The big question is always; should you hire everyone or just work with people on the ground? We found that we should just be able to share everything. That’s the reason it’s not an incubator or accelerator – it’s a hub for people to come and link into.”
Despite In5’s natty location in a high-end Dubai Internet City villa, the hub is not a sacred space for locals alone. The venue is open for anyone within the region and Al Suwaidi has found people from ‘all over’ who are interested in the idea. But despite the focus on ICT, the idea is to maintain a fixed physical location.
“At the moment we don’t have a virtual meeting place. It’s about trying to bring people into the centre. The minute people come into the centre we get more value and more validated information on the ground, which is what people are lacking,” explained Al Suwaidi.
“People are saying ‘we don’t have the information, who are the angel investors?’ and I think it is quite imperative you have this face to face interaction – for building trust and sharing knowledge.
People have blogs and different online interactions but virtual reality doesn’t build the kind of relationship where people will ultimately invest money into a company,” he added.
Dubai Internet City is the largest ICT complex in the MENA region and a member of TECOM investments. Its role, since 2000, has been to provide a prosperous ecosystem for technology organisations based in Dubai. Now, as backers of In5, the concept is the same, but with more of a grassroots approach.
“We’re now developing a channel in the ICT industry. It’s not about us getting equity in companies, but about helping and nurturing the industry. Our gain is very little in such a support role, but it’s a long-term pitch and we’re looking much further,” said Al Suwaidi.
The DIC director points to a Middle East legacy of importing innovation from the west, but each region has its own challenges and you cannot always import solutions as easy as technologies. However, he is adamant the talent pool is sufficient to bring the UAE in line with more mature markets.
“Everyone concurs at this point, but in my personal view we have enough talent in the Middle East to go round. There are more than enough people to come up with great ideas. The challenge is putting them on the right path. People weren’t previously required to do this, but there’s been a drought of opportunities and people are venturing into having their own ideas,” he said.
In5’s first potential success story is RihlaPrime.com, a luxury travel deal site offering discounts at high-end resorts. While Al Suwaidi spoke positively of the platform, he admitted there wasn’t too much input into the actual product. The real key was the opportunity to lower initial operating costs.