Top 10 initiatives driving SMEs to Abu Dhabi
Pratiksha Rastogi
10x Industry

Top 10 initiatives driving SMEs to Abu Dhabi

In the competitive realm of global entrepreneurship, Abu Dhabi stands tall as a shining beacon of opportunity and innovation. Renowned for its bold innovation and unwavering commitment to nurturing business growth, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has solidified its position as a world leader in fostering entrepreneurial endeavors.

In the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2022-2023, the UAE proudly claimed the top spot globally two times in a row, a testament to its unwavering dedication to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Moreover, according to the esteemed Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, the UAE emerged as the ultimate destination for establishing and launching businesses, offering an unmatched environment that fosters entrepreneurial success. Within this thriving ecosystem, Abu Dhabi has taken the helm, spearheading a remarkable array of initiatives that are propelling SMEs toward unparalleled heights.

The Pivotal Role of SMEs:

As of mid-2020, the 350,000 SMEs in the UAE made up more than 94 percent of the nation’s businesses, employed some 86 percent of its private-sector workforce, and accounted for more than 60 percent of GDP. The reasons for this have always been plain: private innovation and government commitment. 

Impactful Initiatives Driving Abu Dhabi's Entrepreneurial Success:

  1. Ghadan 21

This ambitious economic development program, launched in 2019, accelerates Abu Dhabi's economic diversification and fosters entrepreneurship. Ghadan 21 encompasses a range of initiatives tailored to support startups and SMEs, ensuring their growth and success. Notable initiatives under Ghadan 21 include the Startup Matching Fund, which provides matching capital to attract private investment in startups, and the New Managers Fund, which supports emerging fund managers.

Ghadan 21's initiatives aim to transform Abu Dhabi at a local level by improving infrastructure, education, and creating jobs, while also positioning the city as a global innovation hub and preparing its economy and workforce for the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.

“Making Abu Dhabi one of the best places in the world to invest and innovate is at the core of Ghadan 21’s mission and at the center of ADIO’s mandate,” says Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi, ADIO Director-General. “Ghadan’s program is helping ADIO to support businesses of all sizes to establish, innovate and grow in Abu Dhabi.”

  1. Sandooq Al Watan

It is a non-profit organization, established in 2016, that embodies social cohesion, alongside the directives of the UAE’s leadership, in providing opportunities for the people of the UAE to succeed in life by empowering them to be engaged actively in the economic and social development of the country.

The fund invests in promising startups, providing them with crucial financial backing. Additionally, Sandooq Al Watan offers comprehensive support programs, mentorship opportunities, and access to valuable networks, enabling entrepreneurs to navigate the challenges of business growth and achieve their goals.

  1. Hub71

Serving as a vibrant tech hub in Abu Dhabi, Hub71 provides startups with access to vital resources that fuel their growth. The hub offers funding opportunities through partnerships with venture capital firms, access to a network of mentors and industry experts, and state-of-the-art workspace facilities. By attracting leading global tech companies to establish a presence in Abu Dhabi, Hub71 fosters collaboration, innovation, and knowledge sharing among startups and established players, further bolstering the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Hub71 published its 2022 Impact Report ‘Gaining Traction, Driving Impact’. According to the report, in 2022, Hub71, Abu Dhabi's global tech ecosystem, experienced a remarkable 102% growth in its community, with more than 200 start-ups joining its ranks, including 51 early-stage companies relocating to the UAE's capital to scale their businesses rapidly. Since its inception, these start-ups have collectively raised nearly AED4.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) in venture capital and created over 900 jobs.

  1. Abu Dhabi SME Hub

The Abu Dhabi SME Hub, a government-run organization, plays a pivotal role in supporting startups and SMEs. It provides a range of valuable services such as business advisory support, mentorship programs, access to training and capacity-building initiatives, and networking opportunities. By offering these resources, the Abu Dhabi SME Hub has successfully guided thousands of businesses, enhancing their chances of survival and growth.

The Hub has helped over 17,000 businesses in Abu Dhabi, creating over 10,000 jobs and helping businesses to secure over $1 billion in funding. This has had a positive impact on the economy of Abu Dhabi, as SMEs make up a significant portion of the private sector.

For instance, the hub played a pivotal role in empowering "Greenify," facilitating the creation of a robust business plan and securing vital funding. As a result, the startup successfully introduced its revolutionary green cleaning product to the world, leaving an indelible mark on the industry.

  1. The Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (KFED)

The Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (KFED) was established in 2007 to support entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi and fill a market gap in SME services. As an independent, not-for-profit organization, KFED aims to foster entrepreneurship, promote innovation, and strengthen the UAE's SME ecosystem. Through workshops, training, initiatives, and funding schemes, KFED provides diverse support to its beneficiaries. Starting with AED 300 million in capital, the Fund grew to AED 2 billion in 2011 and expanded its reach across the UAE through branch networks.

Additionally, KFED has extended its reach to cover the entire UAE through the establishment of a network of branches. This strategic expansion ensures that entrepreneurs across the country can benefit from the support and resources provided by the fund, irrespective of their location.

  1. Twofour54 

Founded in 2008, twofour54, named after the geographical coordinates of Abu Dhabi, serves as a pivotal force in the sustainable development of the city's thriving media and entertainment industry. Notably, twofour54 operates under the umbrella of ADQ, a prominent holding company in the region with a diverse portfolio of major enterprises spanning key sectors of Abu Dhabi's non-oil economy.

By fostering a new generation of creative leaders, it solidifies Abu Dhabi's position as the region's prominent hub for content creation, media, entertainment, and gaming. Its diverse community comprises over 600 media companies, 6000+ individuals, and an extensive pool of talented freelancers and aspiring professionals, including renowned names such as Sky News Arabia, Image Nation Abu Dhabi, Unity Technologies, CNN, Fox, Flash Entertainment, and M&C Saatchi.

Recognizing the significance of SMEs as the catalysts for creativity, job creation, and innovation within the media industry, twofour54 dedicates itself to providing vital support to hundreds of SME partners to kick-start and scale-up their operations. This support has been particularly evident during challenging times, such as the start of the global pandemic, when twofour54 extended a helping hand by suspending rent for up to six months for SMEs. 

  1. Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO)

ADIO's financial incentives, such as the Innovation Programme, empower SMEs by providing the necessary funding for growth. Through its international network, ADIO facilitates valuable connections between SMEs and potential customers and partners worldwide. By implementing talent attraction programs, ADIO ensures that SMEs can attract and retain the best talent in Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, ADIO's knowledge and advisory services drive significant improvements in business practices and operations for SMEs.

These initiatives have yielded numerous benefits for SMEs in Abu Dhabi. Notably, they have experienced accelerated growth, expanded market access, heightened innovation, and enhanced talent acquisition capabilities.

In addition to direct support, ADIO has spearheaded the creation of a more favorable business environment for SMEs. Collaborating with the government, ADIO has successfully streamlined regulatory processes, simplifying the establishment and operation of SMEs within the emirate. Moreover, ADIO has diligently promoted the significance of SMEs in Abu Dhabi's economy and fostered an entrepreneurial mindset among the youth.

  1. Abu Dhabi Government Scholarships

Recognizing the importance of nurturing future entrepreneurs, the Abu Dhabi government offers a range of scholarships to students interested in studying entrepreneurship or innovation. These scholarships provide aspiring entrepreneurs with the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge, skills, and expertise through world-class educational programs. By investing in the education of future entrepreneurial leaders, the Abu Dhabi government cultivates a pipeline of innovative thinkers, equipped with the necessary tools to drive entrepreneurial success and contribute to the ongoing growth and prosperity of Abu Dhabi's entrepreneurial landscape.

  1. Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW)

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is a premier annual event that unites government, business, and civil society leaders to showcase and discuss the latest sustainability innovations. It offers a diverse range of activities such as conferences, exhibitions, workshops, and networking events.

ADSW is committed to supporting SMEs through various initiatives tailored to their needs. These initiatives include:

  • The SME Sustainability Hub: This provides SMEs with a dedicated space to learn about sustainability, connect with fellow businesses, and access valuable resources. It offers an array of programs, services, and support, including training, mentoring, and funding opportunities.

  • The SME Sustainability Awards: Recognizing outstanding contributions to sustainability, the SME Sustainability Awards highlight the achievements of SMEs. These awards serve as a platform for SMEs to showcase their sustainability efforts, gain recognition, and reach a broader audience.

  • The SME Sustainability Marketplace: The SME Sustainability Marketplace serves as a dynamic platform for SMEs to exhibit their sustainable products and services. It facilitates connections between SMEs and potential customers and partners, fostering collaboration and business opportunities.

  1. startAD

startAD is a leading accelerator based in Abu Dhabi, dedicated to propelling startups towards scale and success not only within the UAE but also on a global scale. Anchored at NYU Abu Dhabi and powered by Tamkeen LLC, startAD represents a fresh and innovative model for fostering entrepreneurship and driving the growth of a knowledge-based economy in the UAE.

As a catalyst for innovation, startAD collaborates with various stakeholders including government entities, corporations, investors, and more, to design and implement tailored programs that have a tangible and meaningful impact. Through its comprehensive suite of programs, state-of-the-art facilities, and an extensive global network, startAD equips participants with the tools, resources, and connections they need to thrive in today's competitive landscape.

Abu Dhabi's meteoric rise as a global powerhouse of entrepreneurship and innovation can be attributed to its unwavering commitment to supporting startups and SMEs. It has created an unparalleled ecosystem where entrepreneurs can thrive. With a robust framework of support, access to resources, and a collaborative mindset, Abu Dhabi continues to position itself at the forefront of global entrepreneurship, fostering a culture of innovation and driving economic growth for years to come.