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Three reasons startups fuel any innovation ecosystem

A guest post by Tala Al Ansari, Director of District 2020‘s Innovation Ecosystem and supporting partner to the Triumph of Innovation impact study and report.

Startups are often referred to as the lifeblood of an economy, being representative of the kind of bold thinking, innovation, and rapid deployment that are so important in a world that moves at a ferocious speed. It’s clear then why it’s a priority among many nations to invest in budding enterprises and create an environment that is so fertile for their growth.

The UAE is among them. Earlier in November 2021, the nation’s Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Ahmad al-Falasi, stated the UAE’s goal to become home to 20 ‘unicorns’ by 2031 — startups that are worth more than $1 billion. This ambition to create an environment ideal for growth is shared by my team at District 2020, the human-centric future city set to evolve from EXPO 2020 into a mixed-used community and an innovation ecosystem that supports people and businesses to thrive.

Startups are fundamental to our vision for a city that is designed to help unlock this potential. It’s the reason why we’ve launched a dedicated global entrepreneurship program, called Scale2Dubai, where we will bring start-ups and small businesses together with Fortune 500 companies, academia & citizens to collaborate and co-create.

But just why are startups so fundamental to a nation’s growth and prosperity? And why, by extension, are they so important to innovation ecosystems like District 2020, and the larger enterprises within them? Here are three reasons for starters.

 

1.) They encourage a culture of experimentation and bravery

It’s natural, and entirely deliberate, that startup employees are entrepreneurial. They’re expected to take on a border set of responsibilities, being part of a smaller team of multitaskers that needs to pull together to support one another. This same family-like environment also encourages a culture of experimentation and bravery both within the organization and also outside of it, because what startups lack in personnel numbers they need to make up for in creativity and disruptive ideas. That can only come from a culture where fresh thinking is a necessity and people aren’t afraid to be bold.

 

2.) They’re problem solvers

Related to the need to experiment and be brave, startups are also built to be problem solvers. Disruption is a key word here. What most often separates small businesses from large, well-established corporations is the foundation of their business model, which is typically disruptive in nature. So many startups were born in garages and spare bedrooms because the founder identified a problem that needed to be solved in an industry. That’s a powerful strength to have not only at a company’s founding but as part of an innovation ecosystem and when in a partnership. This instinct to solve problems is why many large businesses actively seek out partnerships with startups, bringing them in as something of an innovation partner. And, this tactic is something we at District 2020 will actively encourage and enable. We’re creating a multi-stakeholder platform that brings together diverse stakeholders (incubators, accelerators, government, academia, large and small entities) with the aim of facilitating collaboration, co-creation and advancing competitiveness.

 

3.) Their speed accelerates wider change

Finally, startups bring such value to an innovation ecosystem, when working in close proximity and collaboration with larger companies, and out in the wider economy because of their agility in implementing new ideas. A large part of the reason why comes down to competitive pressures, as larger businesses know they must keep up with their smaller peers when they present something new to the market. Similarly, innovation quickly becomes the norm as market players adapt their own offering to steal back market share from those who were brave enough to skirt convention and do something different.

 

The UAE’s startup ecosystem is thriving

The UAE ranks 9th in the 2021 World Competitive Ranking, surpassing USA, UK, Germany & China! This is due to our ease of doing business, great tax policy; connectivity & business legislation.

We’re eager to see all of the above in play once the doors open to District 2020 in October 2022; just a few months after the close of EXPO 2020. As mentioned above, Scale2Dubai aims to directly support the UAE’s already thriving startup ecosystem. The program was developed through a design-thinking approach, where we looked at the challenges facing start-ups and identified the need to help them during the most critical stage of scaling.

Therefore, Scale2Dubai is purposefully designed to give start-ups and small businesses a soft landing in Dubai, using District 2020 as a launchpad to grow and gain access to new markets. Each year, the equity-free program is expected to support between 80 – 100 of these businesses, with the first group being selected during March 2022; the final month of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Members of this equity-free program will have access to two years of free working space, two years of subsidized living, a two-year visa, business set-up support, access to special rates from service providers, and links to a calendar of social and networking events. This support includes access to deal flow, funds, talent and services. Previously, start-ups would have to work tirelessly to access all of this and partners; they now get to embrace this as a part of the innovation ecosystem at District2020.

With all the different investors, partners, and visitors that EXPO 2020 is attracting, the program will carry forward the EXPO spirit of global collaboration. Much more is sure to come from the UAE’s community of startups, which shined during the pandemic for its creativity and sense of community in overcoming the challenges of such unprecedented times.

Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; it is the one most adaptable to change”. A lot can be learned from the success of UAE-based startups during the pandemic, and that’s why on 8 December 2021, District 2020 is proud to join our partner, UBI Global, at EXPO 2020 to reveal the findings of the Triumph of Innovation report; and to play a role in cultivating connections that will build bridges between innovation ecosystems and players to support future growth.

The report will showcase just how the world’s top business incubators, accelerators and corporate innovation teams solved challenges and redefined best practices. The session will be packed with insight and lessons; be a part of it by registering here today!

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