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UAE aims to be home to 20 unicorns by 2031 as part of programme to back start-ups and SMEs

Ministry of Economy introduces Entrepreneurial Nation initiative to attract and support start-ups valued at more than $1bn
The UAE aims to become home to 20 unicorns, or start-ups valued at more than $1 billion, by 2031 as part of a programme it launched on Wednesday to attract and expand small-and-medium enterprises.

The Entrepreneurial Nation initiative aims to offer support through a series of public-private partnerships that help entrepreneurs set up in the UAE, expand their businesses, export their products and tap into online sales, Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said during a conference in Dubai.

The UAE will also set up a Dh1bn ($272 million) private equity fund for lending to SMEs based in the country and operating in strategic sectors, which will be released from the first quarter of 2022 and over the next five years, he said.

“Our aim today is to transform from a regional to a global entrepreneurship hub,” the minister said.

SMEs are the backbone of the UAE economy, with the government introducing economic support packages to help business owners weather the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also taken measures to create a more attractive environment for foreign investment by easing visa rules, liberating company ownership rules and updating laws.

“The UAE, federally and locally, is amending laws because this is the most important factor in attracting capital and also talent,” the minister told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.

The programmes under the UAE's Entrepreneurial Nation initiative will start this month, according to the ministry’s presentation.

The Entrepreneurial Nation, a unified destination for start-ups from inception to growth, encompasses three stages or tracks.

The Skill-Up Academy is intended to equip participants with entrepreneurial skills and to be suited to a variety of participants, including students, recent graduates, employees, retirees, homemakers and jobseekers.

Its Start-Up track will target entrepreneurs who are seeking to establish a business and will offer incentives, products and services to support start-ups and innovative companies in the country. This includes a partnership with Emirates Development Bank to open bank accounts as quickly as within 48 hours.

The Scale-Up programme will back fast-growing, revenue-earning companies that are more than three years old to expand and eventually become unicorns.

The various tracks will offer services from facilitating access to funding, offering a network of experts for mentorship, exporting to international markets, digitalisation and sourcing talent, according to the presentation.

Entrepreneurial Nation has partnerships with global companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Cisco, Huawei and UPS, as well as local entities such as Etihad Credit Insurance and Khalifa Fund For Enterprise Development to support entrepreneurs.

“The Entrepreneurial Nation is a partnership and scalable platform with the private sector,” Mr Al Falasi told The National.

The ministry is still considering whether the new Dh1bn fund for start-ups and SMEs will be for early stage or late-stage businesses, he said.

“We will only intervene when there is a gap,” Mr Al Falasi said.

“So when we release the fund, we size it in a way without overwhelming the market … at the same time, I don’t want to cannibalise and overstep on VCs. So we’re taking our time in understanding what's the best way in complementing the sector.”

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