Why the MENA region is an enterprise hub

Inside the alchemy of why the MENA region is home to a vibrant enterprise ecosystem


London Business School alumna Evie Boustantzi was recently interviewed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) business title, Arabian Business, speaking about what makes the region such a powerful incubator for talent, with startups having access to a vibrant ecosystem with an abundance of enthusiasm.

The term Silicon Valley has become synonymous with a global centre of high-tech research, innovation and enterprise. The use, or rather over-use of ‘Silicon Valley’ in recent years signifies the importance of this famous region in Northern California, but what has become increasingly clear is that the MENA region has fast become a competitor to leap ahead of such a well-known location for innovation, with new tech hubs such as Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem, enabling the growth of startups.

Silicon Valley came about thanks to the happy union of several key factors, including an educated workforce, a highly developed science and technology research base drawn from leading universities and abundant venture capital, leading to solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Cities from Dubai to Riyadh are now overtaking rivals to attract the world’s most exciting and innovative tech startups and establish their place as global leaders of technological innovation. It has become an often-coined phrase that Dubai is the ‘Silicon Valley of the Middle East’ as it nurtures global entrepreneurs and creates the economy that enables them to achieve success.

The region is an incubator for talent, with startups having access to a vibrant ecosystem and is a great example of where there is an abundance of enthusiasm for enterprise across the region. While one of the youngest global innovation hubs and the Dubai Silicon Oasis buzzing with new technology, the Middle East is drawing some of the leading entrepreneurs and investors who are looking to elevate their ideas to the next level.

Enthusiasm and an entrepreneurial ecosystem

This enthusiasm may well be innate, but it is also certainly helped along in the most practical sense by governments and wider body of ecosystems and adjacent business support. Ambition, entrepreneurship, and innovation can be found in droves across the UAE. As a global hub, it is rivalling some of the great tech hubs around the world from Tokyo to Singapore. Earlier in the year the United Arab Emirates ranked first globally in entrepreneurship and was deemed “The Most Supportive Environment for Entrepreneurship” last year. In the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the UAE has been rewarded for its actions across innovation and has excitingly been rated the best country for entrepreneurs in 2022.

One wouldn’t want to presume and lay claim to any of these locations as examples of greater prominence and success as spawning grounds for new enterprises and innovation, but it might be worth observing that one cannot create an entrepreneurial ecosystem just by posting, for example, the word ‘Silicon’ in front of a natural geographical feature. What is key to entrepreneurs is having access to financial support and government behind them who is supporting them to achieve their ambitions, prepared to be backed by investment and innovative policies to make their dreams a reality.

Location key to the success of today’s innovators

That is exactly the case in Dubai and other hubs in the region. Location is proving to be vital to the success of today’s innovators, with the local landscape now offering entrepreneurs access to excellent resources and unprecedented support. The UAE continues to rank highly among several world economies over the past few years, and it is fascinating to note that 95% of the Gulf country’s firms are small and medium-sized businesses, or startups, employing 42% of the UAE’s workforce and accounting for over 40% of its GDP.

Startups recognise the entrepreneurial environment available to them in the UAE, as it aims to become the top startup nation by 2031. The country also launched the Entrepreneurial Nation project, a one-stop-shop platform that unifies the entrepreneurial ecosystem, brings together public and private sector entities and aids innovative companies to help them better establish and develop their businesses. The country’s operation 300bn, is also ambitiously aiming to develop the industrial sector and enhance the economy, driving industrial innovation.

The impact of startups is seen first-hand by London Business School and its Gulf Association Club, which consists of almost 2,300 LBS alumni professionals across the gulf region. Less than a year ago the Guf Association set up a Middle East Entrepreneurship Club covering all industries from Fintech to Medtech, and full of aspirations as they aim to support the region’s entrepreneurs. Leading AI Dubbing tech startup Ollang was recently crowned the winner of the inaugural London Business School MENA Startup Competition 2022, which was established through the collaboration between the LBS Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital, the Entrepreneurship Club in London and the Middle East Entrepreneurship Club. The competition, backed by global giants, Amazon Web Services Activate, Strategy&, part of the PWC network, and regional telecommunications powerhouse Zain, marks the first time the London Business School has brought its highly successful entrepreneurship model to the Middle East.

Putting together ambition and enthusiasm, alongside this vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, the region will continue to soar ahead as a global leader in innovation and business, most obviously seen as the country leaps to the top of lists for the best place for entrepreneurs. Enterprise will continue to be driven ahead.

The region’s position as a global leader of innovation is most obviously seen as it tops the lists of the best place for entrepreneurs, and it no doubt will continue to maintain this position as its initiatives across Government, business and institutions are driven forward. By bringing together ambition and enthusiasm, with the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, enterprise will continue to thrive in the region and enable it to compete with the world’s leading tech hubs.

Evie Boustantzi is President of the LBS Gulf Association, the official LBS alumni community in the Middle East