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Business & Finance

In wooing entrepreneurs, Dubai has Pakistan startups on its radar

  • Dubai Chambers President and CEO says Emirate’s startup ecosystem can help expand UAE-Pakistan economic cooperation
Published January 31, 2022 Updated February 1, 2022
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KARACHI: Pakistan has close economic ties with the UAE and there is massive potential to further these links, particularly in the startup space, said Dubai Chambers President and CEO in an exclusive interview with Business Recorder.

H.E. Hamad Buamim heads Dubai Chambers - a non-profit public organisation that looks after the interests of the business community in Dubai. He told Business Recorder that trade volume between the two countries hit more than $8 billion in 2019, making the UAE Pakistan’s biggest trade partner in the Middle East and Northern Africa region.

The UAE is also one of the biggest foreign investors in Pakistan and Dubai accounts for a large share of the UAE’s non-oil trade with Pakistan – at almost $4 billion.

Pakistan companies are well represented within Dubai’s business community, operating in a wide variety of sectors, such as real estate, finance, industrial machinery, automobiles, education, media, and technology.

Additionally, the Pakistan Business Council in Dubai, established under the umbrella of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, is a business policy advocacy platform with 600 members that includes Pakistani businesspersons, investors and professionals based in the UAE. It plays a crucial role in promoting trade and investment between business communities in Pakistan and the UAE, said Buamim.

There are more than 15,000 Pakistani companies registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. Shining light on how this relationship can be expanded, Buamim said Dubai’s startup ecosystem “can play a huge part in expanding economic cooperation between the UAE and Pakistan… as Dubai looks to transform itself into a global innovation hub” and is “wooing entrepreneurs from around the world”. Helping startups get investment plays a big role in this courtship.

Buamim explained that businesses looking for funding in Dubai have plenty of options at their disposal, ranging from traditional banks and venture capital firms, to business incubators, accelerators, government programmes, crowd funding and angel investors – the list is endless.

Then there is the Dubai Startup Hub, an initiative of the chamber. Buamim described it as “an ideal platform to access valuable insights, resources and support”.

It has published sector-specific guides on how to set up shop in Dubai called the Dubai Startup Report, which contains information on Dubai’s economy and business environment for foreign startups and investors, as well as research on key trends shaping the entrepreneurial landscape in the emirate.

For those wondering which industries have the most growth potential and high chances of securing funds, Buamim said the Expo 2020 has created “plenty of new business opportunities, especially within travel, tourism, hospitality and retail sectors.”

Pakistan can benefit from Dubai’s ‘structured’ approach to boosting startups

“Digital economy sectors such as edu-tech, health-tech, fintech and artificial intelligence continue to see growth as Dubai attracts innovative startups from around the world that are leveraging the emirate’s competitive advantages.” He stressed on the potential of e-commerce in particular.

“Dubai has become one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world and this trend has accelerated after the Covid-led digital shift. The convergence of offline and online in the retail industry and the advancement in technology available to retailers and consumers has transformed the sector.”

Pakistanis are no stranger to this space – the e-commerce sector in the country is booming. In August last year, delivery app maker Airlift raised $85 million in the largest-ever funding round for a Pakistani startup while Bazaar, a B2B marketplace, raised $30 million.

Pakistanis looking to innovate in the space should be looking at artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, and other technologies which “are blurring boundaries between the physical and digital”.

“Here in Dubai, shopping mall operators and retailers are adopting the latest technologies to attract potential customers and retain existing ones by personalising and innovating the entire retail experience,” said Buamim.

“The emirate’s focus is primarily on technology-driven startups that can support its transition to a knowledge-based digital economy,” he added.

Another example of cooperation in this space between the two countries is NextGenI, founded by Pakistani Farzal Dojki. It is a firm that works with founders of tech startups to build their tech teams and helps firms in their push towards digital innovation.

He told Khaleej Times: “The validation from the UAE government increases our motivation to continue to invest our best people’s time into GCC startups.”

Despite already having plenty to attract businesses, the UAE never gets complacent. Buamim said Dubai has a business-friendly environment, low-taxation, excellent logistics facilities, and world-class infrastructure.

And yet “the emirate continues to add more incentives that boost its value proposition to companies and investors from around the world.”

Several business-friendly measures and initiatives were introduced by the Dubai government over the last few years such as long-term and permanent residency for investors and virtual work visas. “These measures aim to boost Dubai’s attractiveness as a global business hub, reduce financial burden on companies and enhance the emirate’s competitiveness.”

He said Dubai’s model of integrating free zones, ports and airports has served it well and enabled it to not only survive but thrive during the pandemic. “Location is extremely important to keep in mind for foreigners who want to open a business in Dubai,” said the CEO.

“Foreign companies will want to set up in a location where most of their potential customers would be located. Dubai’s free zones’ cluster-specific approach groups together similar businesses to create a network of knowledge and expertise in one location, to the advantage of both businesses and users or consumers.”

Economic cooperation between the two countries is by no means limited to startups. Last year at the Sindh Investment Conference held in Dubai, officials explored how Sindh’s deep-sea port linking it to the Arabian Sea has a massive investment potential for the UAE and GCC countries.

Earlier this month, UAE’s Bu Abdullah Group of Companies, which owns more than 270 companies in real estate, legal and business consultancy, said it is interested in tapping the Pakistani market.

And recently Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finalised a Joint Action Plan for Strategic Dialogue, which will provide an institutional approach to deepen cooperation in various fields, including trade and investment.

“It is not just about business,” said Buamim, “it is about building something together.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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