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VC Video Interview: Entrepreneurship in Dubai

VCJ LogoThe following story was a guest column by Kauffman Fellows CEO Jeff Harbach in VCJ.

Entrepreneurship in Dubai is endlessly growing, it seems, like its famous skyline.

Some now refer to Dubai as Silicon Oasis, as this global mecca of technology and innovation is brimming with incubators and accelerators, along with venture capital and private equity firms.

Dubai is betting big on tech, too, particularly as its economic sands shift to a post-petroleum future. Already, about 95 percent of its revenue comes from sources other than oil production.

The city long has had a reputation for being Western-friendly and internationally oriented; about 85 percent of the population are expatriates. It’s also one of the youngest cities in the region, if not the world, which makes it ideal for startups.

Take, for example, Yousef Hammad, one of our Kauffman Fellows. Yousef was a young angel investor, and, in Saudi Arabia, he co-founded several businesses, ranging from a coffee shop to a corporate event management company to an industrial chemicals distributor.

After a stint as a General Electric executive, he then became a managing partner at BECO Capital, a venture capital and private equity shop in Dubai that specializes in early-stage internet and mobile companies looking not only for seed money but also for mentors, particularly with operational skills. They’ve already invested in 15 Middle Eastern businesses.

Yousef Hammad, BECO Capital

Yousef Hammad, managing partner, BECO Capital

I bet many more investments are slated for the future, especially given the government support for innovation efforts.

As Dubai’s leaders have realized they cannot depend on an oil-based economy forever, and the country is aggressively looking for groundbreaking ideas to move forward.

Taking a page from talent competitions, Dubai is inviting tech entrepreneurs from all over the world to help solve the biggest problems, starting in Dubai.

Areas like 3D printing, blockchain technologies, and autonomous driving are being thrust into the present due to the support from the government. The expectation is there will be more innovative, and possibly less costly approaches, to government challenges. The United Arab Emirates even recently appointed its first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, who has been tasked with spearheading government efforts to invest in and support AI technologies.

Hammad believes more governments should adopt this innovative approach.

By applying a startup mentality to solving government problems, he believes countries will move farther, faster, leapfrogging the traditional approaches that often result in conventional results.


Jeff Harbach

Jeff Harbach is president and chief executive of Kauffman Fellows. He tweets at @jeffharbach.