What does the future hold for UAE-based start-ups?

20/09/2022 by Ali Sajwani

Regular readers know I’m a passionate entrepreneur, and the subject is certainly one I follow closely. 

As discussed in my previous blogs, the UAE is a perfect place to start a business, with its world-class infrastructure, well-developed government and private sector-driven business support framework, economic stability, and, of course, a favourable tax regime. 

And over and above these factors, the large expat population, wealth, and lack of unemployment mean it’s a fine test bed for new product and service testing. 

Only in the UAE you can gain rapid insight into potential business success with minimal effort. We have a relatively young, affluent, tech-savvy population too. 

So, in the spirit of the investigation last month, I conducted an online poll to see which technology-driven sectors you, my dear followers, believe will see the most start-up activity in the coming year. 

In my poll, I asked which field, from a choice of four – healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI), quick commerce, or fintech – would see the most significant start-up growth.  

And it’s interesting to see the results: 

Twitter: 1,557 votes 

Healthcare – 33%

Artificial intelligence – 31%

Quick commerce – 18%

Fintech – 18%

LinkedIn: 257 votes 

Healthcare – 19%

Artificial intelligence – 42%

Quick commerce – 10%

Fintech – 30%

On Twitter, voters believe healthcare will see the most growth, while on LinkedIn, voters suggest AI will drive most start-ups. 

Twitter, of course, offers a broader demographic than LinkedIn, which focuses on business. 

The pandemic, concerns over future viruses, and the emergence of telehealth applications in the last few years are all good reasons why I agree that healthcare start-ups will undoubtedly become more prevalent in the next 12–24 months. And it was interesting to recently read that the UAE’s global Zayed Sustainability Prize – which awards funding to nascent companies – saw the second largest number of entries from companies working in the health sector. 

Vezeeta.com, for example, is certainly one to watch. The patient-centric medical care booking app is going from strength to strength from its Dubai HQ. It has secured $71.5 million in funding to date and has a presence in several MENA countries. TechCrunch called Vezeeta “something of a MENA success story” by allowing patients to see Uber-style ratings for healthcare providers, putting power in patients’ hands.

Altibbi is described as the biggest digital health platform in the Arab world, including 1.5 million pages of medical content and a 24/7 telehealth service. It has secured some $52.5 million in funding to date and is another one to watch. 

Of course, the expanding healthcare app universe is driven by technologies such as AI, VR, and AR, and we will undoubtedly begin to see healthcare enter the metaverse. There’s even talk of digital operating theatres

It’s a thrilling sector to keep abreast of and given Dubai’s popularity as a centre of medical tourism, combined with its start-up-friendly environment, we are sure to see rapid growth in this arena. 

Meanwhile, the LinkedIn poll reveals that most people think AI start-ups will dominate the new business scene in the coming year. While talk of the metaverse is everywhere, I think AI-driven business will indeed come to the fore as we understand more and more how AI can help us in everything from real-time decision-making to working in dangerous environments. 

I believe the unicorns will come from the AI start-up sector as savvy investors and interested consumers will build the business case. According to Kiplinger.com, the AI industry is poised to grow to an estimated $126 billion by 2025. How much of that will be generated by start-ups remains to be seen, but with companies such as Observe, the call centre software system which utilises big data and real-time analytics to deliver enhanced customer service to clients, and Viz.ai, the intelligent healthcare system, showing rapid growth, it is the only positive news that I’m seeing in AI terms. 

Quick commerce apps seem to be popping up everywhere, bolstered by sector predictions which suggest the MENA region’s quick-commerce market will be valued at $47 billion by 2030. Giants like Careem have launched grocery delivery services, and it’s common to see start-ups emulate the success of big players. 

One to watch in the Q-Commerce sector is Veppy.com, a UAE-based Q-commerce product aggregator which allows SMEs to sell a range of items from household via gifts and fashion to pet food via the Veppy platform. 

Expect to see growth beyond groceries in the sector in areas such as fashion, beauty, and last-mile deliveries. 

Fintech, of course, is growing apace, especially given the favourable environment offered by the likes of DIFC and ADGM. I think, again, we will see some innovative start-ups that utilise bleeding-edge technologies–especially in the crypto sector, fractional investment, and personal finance applications. It’s amazing that this website lists fewer than 71 fintech start-ups, a positive sign of confidence and sector growth. 

But it perhaps comes as no surprise, then, as a result of the poll, that my advice for market watchers, investors, and those simply keen to spot trends is to keenly look out for opportunities to invest in AI-driven health applications. I believe this is where we will see innovators, investment, and the most excitement.

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