Despite the COVID-19 crisis, MENA’s startups saw an increase in funding in Q1 2020, according to a special Q1 2020 MENA Venture Investment Report.
$277M was invested in 108 startup investment deals in MENA, an increase of 2% in total funding from Q1 2019 to Q1 2020.
COVID-19 opened SME business opportunities for entrepreneurs (or aspiring ones) in the United Arab Emirates, but there are those that stand the test of time.
Regardless, if you are one of those looking at potentially lucrative business opportunities, you often need to hold relevant qualifications and/or demonstrate abilities and hands-on experience.
Before we look at the top COVID-19 and time-tested SME business ideas today, let’s see why the UAE is the right place to do so.
Favorable business environment
The UAE and Dubai in particular is an ideal place to start or expand your business.
Due to its central location, you may be able to reach more than 1 billion potential customers.
The UAE enjoys a favorable tax environment with zero corporate tax and only 5% VAT.
There are many free trade zones in Dubai and only three sectors are significantly assessed in taxation: Oil, banking, and tobacco processing.
As part of the economic stimulus packages unveiled by many governments across the region, many fees are waived off for new businesses and SMEs. Abu Dhabi banks, for instance, are offering reduced minimum average balance requirements for all SME account categories.
Competitive digital marketing rates
Advertisement rates across many platforms have declined, making it a great opportunity to increase brand awareness for your brand in the UAE and the region. Also, Euronews reported that global advertising in the MENA region reached $579 billion in the last year, with a significant portion of this directed in Dubai. Digital advertising, which accounted for over $50 billion of advertising in the region.
A lot of people are in a mood to help during difficult times and would love to support fellow community members. Some social media influencers created awareness campaigns and helped publicize local businesses for free on their platforms.
Talent in abundance
Many people have lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 crisis but this gave access to a larger talent pool of remote workers you could recruit for your new business.
Three COVID-19 SME business ideas
It’s common for accountants to see an increase in business during a crisis like COVID-19 as they try to help individuals and companies make use of the tax benefits available to them. It’s also when governments create enhanced loan schemes and alter financial regulations. Having a tax accountant on-hand in these situations becomes vital for businesses.
Food and grocery delivery are an area that thrives in any economic situation, but most specifically in a pandemic. Plenty are already doing it (Talabat, Uber Eats, etc.) but there are gaps in the market for smaller, more agile food delivery apps and so it’s really about choosing the right ones to align with. Outside of food, Pharmaceutical pickup & drop-off could be a life-savior in a contactless economy. The online grocery delivery penetration in the total grocery market is expected to increase to 25% by the end of 2025. The average ‘Basket Size’ order increased to 180-200 Dirhams ($49-$54.5) and 15-20 items respectively in 2020 owing to the corona pandemic. The online grocery delivery market will be valued at 3.8 billion Dirhams ($1.04 bn) by the end of 2025.
One thing people don’t tend to do in tough economic times is to purchase a new car, bike, or truck. More likely, they’ll repair their old ones. So, auto repair shops and detailing do well during recessions. We also tend to fix whatever is broken at home. Home repair services can prove very lucrative with the right team, and marketing approach.
Four non-COVID-19 SME business ideas
Recent blogging statistics show that tens of thousands of bloggers are creating profitable content on topics as diverse as home cooking, travel, film, lifestyle, personal finance, and more. It doesn’t cost much to blog, about $65/year and the potential is to grow the business into a six-figure income.
Domain name trading
Domain name types include four sub-categories: Generic (.com, .net, .org, .info), and then you have generic restricted (.pro, .biz) and sponsored (.edu, .gov) and others.
The opportunity to create new names in these categories like Carinsurance.com ($50 million), VacationRentals.com ($35 mn), and Insure.com which went for $16 mn in 2009, is still there and for relatively cheap. You could even use a smart domain name generator to find and buy a good name today, then sell it to the right buyer.
If you don’t mind parading yourself around in public places as a side business idea, and enjoy a little attention, then working as a human billboard can pay a surprising amount of dividends.
You can start by holding a placard or wearing a sandwich board. If you think this is a good side business idea, you can go all the way and turn it into a full-on small business idea with enough hard work. Use the idea to sell customizable T-shirts, a lucrative business opportunity requiring only a digital printing machine and some plain t-shirts.
Opportunities exist for a variety of IT and web development innovations, including app development online PR firms, online marketing, and online security. But also available are businesses like online life-coaching, online therapy, or an online financial advisory.