Family biz, startups eye new legacy in region

UAE initiatives to help burgeoning sector — a key economic driver — attract more investors, capital

  
The Burj Khalifa, stands surrounded by other skyscrapers on November 29, 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Image used for illustrative purpose.

The Burj Khalifa, stands surrounded by other skyscrapers on November 29, 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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The UAE is carefully knitting a progressive society, picking new and vibrant threads of innovation and blending it in its rich legacy, and that is where we would witness a merging of family business offices and family businesses with the very powerful startup ecosystem of the nation, which is building its vision on a strong foundation where disruption and legacy will complement economic growth.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, introduced bold measures to empower budding entrepreneurs, while at the same time introducing business-friendly policies to strengthen the local community. The nation is all geared up to welcome global talent to further boost growth and economic development.

Sheikh Mohammed said: “In the UAE, we constantly work on enhancing our economic model in innovative ways to achieve our key objectives of attracting the brightest talent from across the world, promoting advanced technology, and creating a truly knowledge-based economy.”

Last June 28, Sheikh Mohammed launched an accelerator for family-owned businesses that supports them in accessing new markets.

The proposed platform, which seeks to improve these entities’ performance, will help them enter new markets and build their brands.

The new accelerator also supports startup projects by enhancing their ability to attract investment opportunities, fast-track growth and build their capabilities and skills. Entities including Skill-Up Academy and Scale-Up Platform were launched too.

Gopa Kumar, managing director at corporate service provider Amicorp, says that the setting up of an accelerator platform for family-owned business is a game-changer for the startup industry in the UAE.

There is strong evidence that accelerators and incubators play a key role in the growth of startups; an institutional framework supported by the government will go a long way in building credibility and trust within startups.

“It is important to attract investors to provide capital and mentor these startup businesses. UAE-based ultra-high net worth [individuals] and the family office community are not active in startup investing; the new initiatives will be the tipping point to attract capital from these investors. In the last decade, this class of investors in the US, Europe, China and India have achieved significant wealth creation by investing in startups, while wealth preservation has been taken care of by traditional investments. Investors can take pride in participating in the economic growth of the UAE in the next 50 years,” added Kumar.

“The UAE has attracted the highest amount of startup capital in 2020 in the region. With the new initiatives, the UAE will become the key technology and startup incubator that will spawn companies that can play in the larger Mena market. This will lead to deeper and broader participation by global VCs [venture capitalists] and investors in the UAE startup sector.”

Last week, Mumzworld, the largest mother-and-child e-commerce platform in the Middle East, announced that it signed a sales and purchase agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group for the proposed acquisition of a majority stake in the former — a classic example of a startup-family business office deal.

“The outbreak of Covid-19 accelerated digitalisation globally, paving the way for tech startups to emerge, and this created verticals that would bolster economic growth. The new initiatives are providing a learning curve for everyone in an extremely competitive era, in a world without boundaries,” said Sultan Ali Rashed Lootah, chairman and managing director of Vault Investments.

“Our focus is to create an interconnected and diversified futuristic impact through projects we invest in through top sectors like real estate, logistics, retail, technology and energy. Dubai’s ability to create unicorns in startups makes it more appealing and compels family businesses to look at it. Family business and family business offices in the region have started making attempts by diversifying their investment portfolio by investing in new initiatives and startups.”

Another initiative is Kaplan Professional Middle East’s Family Business Emerging Leader programme, aimed at teams within family businesses who recognise the need for skills to improve their strategic commercial acumen and to seek appropriate investment growth opportunities.

“With the Mena region, particularly the UAE, being a startup hub and an attractive destination for foreign investors and entrepreneurs, there is a strong appetite from family businesses expressing interest in co-investing in up-and-coming startups in the region, especially in the tech space. The industry will only continue to grow post-pandemic as the global market becomes more dependable on digitalisation and e-commerce,” Kaplan managing director Fiona McBride said.

The latest Family Business Survey from PwC clearly illustrates the extraordinary resilience and agility of family businesses in the Middle East. While many have been hit hard by the pandemic, they remain optimistic that growth will return in the coming months and years, and are looking forward to the future. Top of the list is diversification, with 58 per cent planning to expand into new markets or client segments, but digital capabilities will also be the key to success in the future. While many family businesses have historically underinvested in digital, the pandemic has added a new urgency — almost 75 per cent — say that digital, technology and innovation initiatives are a key priority.

“Family businesses have and will continue to be a driving force behind the growth and development of the region’s economies with many family businesses in the Middle East aiming to invest in GCC startups that help them lead the way to sustainable business practice. In the next years, there will be a high demand for family businesses investing in tech startups especially in artificial intelligence, e-commerce, blockchain, smart apps and the Internet of Things. As the region experiences a more robust recovery phase, there will also be an emerging interest in investing in startups focused on healthcare, education, energy, and sustainability,” said McBride.

The 15th Global Family Office Investment Summit concluded on July 2 at the Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel in Monaco and has reportedly attracted 300+ family offices, private investors, Sheikhs, royal families and leading businesses from 30+ countries representing more than $4.5 trillion in wealth.

Sir Anthony Ritossa, chairman of, Ritossa Family Office, said: “ The UAE’s prominence as a global powerhouse is strong and will continue to strengthen in the coming years. This is largely due to the support of family offices and family businesses that see great potential for startups who are choosing to grow their business here. Examples of companies relocating here include an impressive number of companies leading the way with sophisticated technology, artificial intelligence, biotech and medicine, solid waste solutions, safe and sustainable food, fintech, and more. Many of these are backed by leading families.”

Ritossa further said: “As a gateway for innovation, the UAE meets the needs of aspiring startups, with impressive multinational design centers, high-tech startup hubs, and strategic partnerships. Our current position as a global hub is due largely to strong leaders, whose vision led to Dubai’s rise. Today, international businesses are interested in the UAE due to the strong government support of SMEs. As an example, Dubai’s Smart City 2021 initiative is transforming the city, revolutionising the way government services are delivered, promoting private sector partnerships, increasing happiness, and attracting more interest in the region. Expo Dubai 2021 is another exciting milestone for the UAE,” said Ritossa.

 

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