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Exclusive Interview: Hub71 and MITEF Pan Arab discuss partnership and Abu Dhabi startup scene

AMEinfo had the chance to discuss the partnership between Hub71 and MITEF Pan Arab with Mahmoud Adi, Head of Hub71, and Maya Rahal, Managing Director of MITEF Pan Arab.

"We aim to offer an integrated all-in-one program that encourages MENA entrepreneurs to think of Abu Dhabi as their next growth market" - Maya Rahal, Managing Director, MITEF Pan Arab According to a recent MAGNiTT report there was a 222% increase in MENA-based startup investments between 2015 and 2018 MAGNiTT’s report also demonstrated that ‘35% of all startups in the Arab world have HQs in the UAE’

Hub71, a global tech hub driven by Mubadala Investment Company in collaboration with Microsoft, SoftBank Vision Fund and Abu Dhabi Global Market, has announced a new partnership with MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) Pan Arab, part of a global network of chapters dedicated to promoting and enriching the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Arab region. The announcement was made at the Arabnet Beirut X Conference, which took place last week. 

Hub71 is a flagship initiative of the Ghadan 21 programme established to accelerate the existing economic agenda and Abu Dhabi’s economy, as well as to create an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive.

With the joint mission of supporting entrepreneurs to go global, this partnership is part of a bigger movement across the MENA. Hub71 will work closely with MITEF Pan Arab to find startups who are ready for global growth, offering unprecedented access to global markets, capital and flexible regulatory policies in the United Arab Emirates.

AMEinfo had the chance to discuss this significant partnership with Mahmoud Adi, Head of Hub71, and Maya Rahal, Managing Director at MITEF Pan Arab.

How did this partnership between MITEF Pan Arab and Hub71 come to be? What regional challenges are you trying to address? 

Adi: Hub71 and MITEF Pan Arab have come together because of our joint desire to address what is needed in the Pan Arab region – a joined up approach to supporting the tech industry and startups alike. We want to be at the forefront to forge new alliances with regional partners, connecting the dots and bringing resources together. It’s our belief that together we can enhance this region’s position as a global tech leader, making technology and innovation the next big thing to come from the Middle East.

Rahal: It is our mutual commitment to support MENA’s entrepreneurs and a joint vision for Abu Dhabi as a leading technological hub in the region, which paved the road towards this strategic partnership between MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab and Hub71. Together, we are able to leverage our regional network of innovators, technical expertise, and longstanding legacy as an avid enabler of entrepreneurship and economic empowerment. We aim to offer an integrated all-in-one program that encourages MENA entrepreneurs to think of Abu Dhabi as their next growth market. This strategic partnership will, hopefully, be the first of a series of initiatives and programs that will empower MENA’s innovators to pursue their ventures.

Mahmoud Adi, Head of Hub71

Which unique assets and services will MITEF Pan Arab and Hub71 each bring to the table, and how will this synergy result in an even greater service for your client base?

Adi: Blessed with amazing tech infrastructure, global partnerships, Hub71’s incentive packages, access to capital and a huge pool of global talent to dip into, Abu Dhabi is fast becoming the best place to launch your globally minded startup. By partnering up, we’re giving MITEF Pan Arab alumni access to venture beyond their immediate market, to find opportunities to scale and grow from Abu Dhabi to the world.

Rahal: MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab has been operating in the MENA region for the past 13 years and its impact on the regional economies has proven to be tremendously positive by the numbers included in our latest Impact Report. So far, our flagship program, the Arab Startup Competition, has enabled the creation of 14,000+ jobs in the technology sector, which are mostly women led (51%). Through this partnership, MITEF Pan Arab will further empower its network of entrepreneurs, mentors, trainers, industry experts, and investors to come to Abu Dhabi and explore what it has to offer from benefits, whether it is venture capital, flexible legal frameworks, and acceleration/incubation opportunities.

What potential do you see in Abu Dhabi as a tech transformation hub, and what are some local startup success stories that are proof of this? 

Rahal: Abu Dhabi, like many of the region’s capital cities, is adapting to the seismic shifts happening in the global economy. The government aims to diversify its economic portfolio, in which the city becomes the hub for the regional knowledge-sector where innovators, entrepreneurs, international investors do business in an environment where they can call ‘home’. In recent years, the government has made several progressive decisions to achieve that agenda, which includes bringing the best talent to the city, attracting global investors, and encourage more entrepreneurs to launch from Abu Dhabi. We, at MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab, believe that the ‘next big thing’ will come from the brilliant entrepreneurs and the stories they bring with them to the city. 

Adi: Abu Dhabi is going through vast change. You can see this from the top down. Our progressive Abu Dhabi government is very clear about what they want to achieve in this great city – an inclusive, diverse, dynamic and innovative society that people want to call home and do business in. Hub71 is at the very core of this and is the flagship initiative of the Abu Dhabi government’s economic accelerator program, Ghadan 21, with a purpose to drive transformation throughout society and business and to make Abu Dhabi a global beacon for technology and innovation – hence Hub71 was born. It’s early days yet but we’ll be announcing Hub71 startups in the coming months, so stay tuned. But it’s our hope that through our partnership with MITEF Pan Arab, we’ll see some of their highly regarded alumni moving to Abu Dhabi, seeing it not only as their launchpad for global growth, but as a welcoming second home.