Thanks to the Abraham Accord, dynamic startups and entrepreneurs from three nations will be key to driving the agenda of mutual collaboration and global partnerships.
Last week, the virtual world was host to a start-up networking that brought together entrepreneurs from the newly-minted friendship of the UAE and Israel - as well as dozens of participants from India.
More than 100 participants from these countries joined others from the US and elsewhere around the world in a first-of-its-kind joint event hosted by the Dubai and Israel chapters of Start-up Grind, a community made up of over 3.5 million global members.
On the agenda: how to accelerate the cooperation among start-ups and SMEs to leverage the full potential of the recently signed Abraham Accord between the UAE and Israel, that normalizes the relations between the two countries and opens up a plethora of opportunities for investors.
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“The Israel-UAE normalisation can create a network that will connect the world's two hemispheres. This will benefit the economies of both countries, and the region. But if we think about the global markets that each party can help open for the other, this becomes a partnership that will benefit the entire world,” said Dr Sabah al-Binali, the Emirati head of Gulf Region at OurCrowd, the Jerusalem-based global investment platform.
If the interest from entrepreneurs and business groups is any barometer to go by, then the commercial response to the peace accord has been phenomenal - and not only from Emiratis and Israelis. The dozens of free zones around the UAE, for instance, have grown into bustling hubs of research and innovation for several Indian companies - and with the enticing prospect of Israeli start-ups sharing the same space, everyone is excited.
“Israel is one of the top 10 start-up ecosystems in the world; this normalisation [of bilateral ties] will bring opportunities for everyone,” Dr Saeed Al Dhaheri, chairman of the board of Dubai's Smartworld and a leading member of UAE academia, told Al Bawaba. “We need to strengthen our relationship in the R&D space; we need to capitalise on it and link it to the industry,” said Dr Al Dhaheri, one of the speakers at the Start-up Grind event.
Dr Erel Margalit, another speaker at the event, is one of Israel's most high-profile start-up entrepreneurs, and recently led a high-level delegation of Israeli tech CEOs to Dubai in which they met with ministers, investors, customers and business leaders based in the UAE - including a host of expat entrepreneurs.
The founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners Fund and chairman of Margalit Start-up City, Dr Margalit said that working together would unlock regional and global opportunities for every stakeholder in the equation, including those from India. “Entrepreneurs will be creating the bridges, with the large things that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general want to achieve. The startup ecosystem can play a huge part in building the bridge between these countries, and this is not just about business; it is about building something together,” he said.
With visions of new hubs being explored in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Israeli investors are keen to help set up centres of excellence in line with the Margalit StartupCity model of creating theme-based ecosystems worldwide and the UAE's strategy to lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Areas for rapid collaboration in which there's already a great deal of synergy include AI-themed innovation hubs and a free zone dedicated to foodtech and food security.
“Just like Israel, the UAE has been opening up to the world with its technology and entrepreneurship. In the space of a few short years, the UAE has become a world leader in logistics, finance, sustainable energy, smart transportation and smart cities,” said Dr al-Binali, writing for the non-profit Israel21C. “The UAE has become a global financial, business, medical, hospitality and trading center. We have the world's largest solar power installations and through our commitment to zero emissions and zero waste we are developing the world's most water- and energy-efficient cities. While much of this technology is imported, our commitment to world-class education, healthcare and technology has inspired our home-grown entrepreneurs to develop their own startup ecosystem,” he said.
Against the backdrop of the soaring entrepreneurial spirit, this is great news for Indian start-ups like ShipsKart, Loktra and Fresh2Home - which have set up shop in the UAE in the past couple of years. While the first one is a New Delhi-based B2B e-commerce platform for marine procurement, the second company is a Bangalore-based banking operating system delivering banking as a service. These two companies secured a place in Dubai thanks to Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec), while FreshToHome, the Indian e-grocery and agritech platform which specialises in selling meat and fish, has found a stable partner and fresh funding in the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) - as part of its financial and non-financial incentives totaling $41 million to boost the emirate's agriculture technology capabilities across land, sea and space.
Thanks to that funding, FreshToHome plans to scale its land and sea operational capabilities in the UAE - and it comes at a time when roadshows and virtual conferences are courting strong interest and participation from start-ups in both India and Israel, paving the way for new partnerships that foster innovation, create mutual benefits and drive economic growth.
“We use cutting-edge research in AI and precision aquaculture for furthering food security in a sustainable manner while also giving better value to consumers, fishermen and farmers. To this end, we intend to bring our US patent pending AI-powered Virtual Commodities Exchange technology, our e-grocery platform and our nano farm aquaculture technology to Abu Dhabi, enhancing food production and distribution for the region. ADIO has been a terrific partner to us and we are thankful for their support in helping us be part of the vision,” said Shan Kadavil, the Kerala-based CEO and co-Founder of FreshToHome.
The ADIO is not only supporting Indian ventures to set up shop in Abu Dhabi, but has also rushed to invest in Israeli start-ups and opened up an office, its first outside of the UAE, in Israel. It recently took part in a panel discussion hosted by Our Crowd, an Israeli venture investor, which has announced a $100 million partnership with the UAE′s Al Naboodah Investment Co., an arm of one of the country′s most prominent business families, to invest in ventures in both countries.
“We build strong, long-term allegiances and partnerships with companies and countries,” said Tariq Bin Hendi, Director General of the state-owned ADIO. “This is the first step in how we want to solidify this relationship.”
Since the landmark Israel-UAE deal was announced on August 13, the average number of UAE users on the Start-Up Nation Central platform in Israel has increased by 122 per cent, and many Indian entrepreneurs are enthused about the prospects of dealing directly with their Israeli counterparts in an Arab country. With business conditions in the UAE showing strong signs of rebound, the non-oil private sector improving consistently in IHS Markit's monthly Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) and limited flights resuming between India and the UAE, it's a time that nobody wants to waste.
“This is a pivotal moment for Dubai as the emirate is just beginning to restart its meetings and events industry after reopening its borders to tourists only a few months ago,” said Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Companies are reinventing their business models and fast-tracking digital strategies as they prepare for a post-pandemic recovery,” he told Gulf Business.
According to Buamim, several new opportunities have also opened up and a growing number of start-ups are emerging in the fintech, healthtech, education, e-commerce, sustainability, wellness and supply chain spaces. “An interesting trend we have seen this year is a growing interest in Dubai among start-ups from other countries such as India, China and several African markets. We have capitalised on this demand with the recent launch of the first-ever Dubai Tech Tour, a virtual trade mission organised in cooperation with Dubai Chamber's Mumbai office, which is joined by 15 Indian scale-ups specialising in fintech and healthtech,” he said.