(Updated with more background information on the fund and DIFC's long-term plans)

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) on Tuesday announced it is establishing a $100 million fund to invest in early-stage and growth start-ups in the financial technology space.

The fund was announced by the governor of the Dubai International Financial Centre, Essa Kazim, during his introductory address at the DIFC's inaugural Global Financial Forum event in Dubai on Tuesday morning.

Kazim said the fund would help to establish "start-up and growth-stage fintech firms looking for access to the MEASA (Middle East, Africa and South Asia) markets".

"The fund will leverage the DIFC's fintech ecosystem consisting of attractive experimental licences, market-leading pricing and collaborative spaces," he said.

In a separate media briefing, Kazim added that the $100 million fund would be "fully supported by DIFC, but we don't mind having other entities - mainly government, semi-government entities - to participate in this fund."

He said that it was not looking to leverage the fund with external bank finance, but that it has been in talks with federal and local government departments to broaden involvement in the fund. It is currently managed solely by DIFC, but if other entities become involved the fund could be separately managed.

In the meantime, Kazim said that the fund "is set up, it's there, it's supported from our own internal resources".

We are ready to spend money, but it depends on the opportunities," he added, stating that investments would be commercially-driven.

Kazim said that he did not expect the fund to be the sole source of investment into target companies, and that the size of investments would depend on the requirements of individual firms.

"It's $100 million, so you would be thinking of.... not $1 billion in Uber, it's not that. It's really to support the start-ups, the smaller sized companies.

"Some companies probably need around $50,000, and some maybe need $1 million or $2 million."

In August, DIFC launched its Fintech Hive - an accelerator aimed at helping financial technology companies to grow by offering them access to finance and expertise. The first cycle of the accelerator, involving 11 firms, completed earlier this week.

DIFC's long-term plan

When asked about the progress of DIFC's 10-year plan, which was initially announced in 2014 and is aimed at tripling the size of the district, Kazim said "we are on track".

It is looking to have 1,000 registered firms within the financial free zone, employing up to 50,000 staff.

"In certain areas, probably, we have passed our targets but other areas we are probably lacking a bit," Kazim said in the media briefing.

"One area is employment. Although the number of licences are on track, attracting companies.... our offices are fully leased out in terms of DIFC-owned [space]. But it's not significant. We will catch up as we go further.

"If you look at our own statistics, prior to the drop in the oil price we were averaging 150 companies licensing a year. After that, the average jumped to 300 companies a year."

Kazim said that although the lower oil price is generally considered to be a negative for the region, it has a positive impact for some aspects of the financial services industry.

"I met a banker and they did their own analysis of what really would be the best oil price for them. They indicated that the range should be between $50-$70 [per barrel], so they would be able to provide financing to the governments. Otherwise, if the governments are too rich, they would not come to the banks for borrowing.

"Governments have also been active in issuing bonds, sukuk and that also encourages financial activities in DIFC. So it's not totally negative."

© ZAWYA 2017