Understanding the UAE startup opportunity with Brad Gerstner and Ibrahim Ajami | E1751 | Summary and Q&A

May 26, 2023
This Week in Startups
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Understanding the UAE startup opportunity with Brad Gerstner and Ibrahim Ajami | E1751


Abu Dhabi is experiencing an unprecedented surge in innovation and technology, driven by a coordinated effort between government, investors, and capital providers. The region is attracting top talent and offering significant support to startups through initiatives like golden visas and favorable taxation policies.

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Key Insights

  • ♻️ Abu Dhabi's coordinated approach between government, investors, and capital providers has created an inviting and supportive environment for entrepreneurs and founders.
  • 💨 The region's focus on diversifying its economy away from hydrocarbons and investing in technology has positioned it as a major global player in innovation.
  • 🧑‍💻 Abu Dhabi's initiatives like golden visas, favorable taxation policies, and access to capital provide significant advantages for tech startups and companies.


the first time I met Bill Gurley yeah I went to his office in San Francisco and he walked into the meeting with a folder that was full of research about our company and our CEO and he walked in he said you know hey I just read all these interviews about your CEO and and and he was asking all these questions and he was so curious and I walked out of... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How has Abu Dhabi positioned itself as a technology and innovation hub?

Abu Dhabi has made a strategic effort to create an inviting and enabling environment for entrepreneurs and founders. They have invested in technology companies globally, built relationships with leading venture capitalists, and established a technology ecosystem through initiatives like HUB 71.

Q: What advantages does Abu Dhabi offer to tech startups and companies?

Abu Dhabi provides benefits such as golden visas, allowing talented individuals to live and work in the UAE for 10 years. The region has favorable taxation policies, offers access to a diverse and cosmopolitan market, and has a deep chip stack that can support startups with capital and resources.

Q: How does the UAE differentiate itself from other countries in terms of innovation and technology?

The UAE's commitment to long-term strategic planning, leadership, and investment in technology sets it apart. The government's focus on diversifying the economy away from hydrocarbons, coupled with its openness to collaboration and knowledge-sharing with Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs, contributes to its unique position.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected tech investments and the startup ecosystem in Abu Dhabi?

The pandemic accelerated the focus on technology and innovation globally, and Abu Dhabi was quick to adapt and provide a safe environment for entrepreneurs and businesses. While some companies were impacted by the economic downturn, the region's commitment to long-term growth and innovation has allowed it to withstand the challenges and continue supporting startups.


This video features an interview with Ibrahim Ajami, who discusses the development and growth of technology and innovation in the UAE and Abu Dhabi. The discussion touches on topics such as the region's commitment to diversifying the economy, attracting and supporting entrepreneurs, taxation and visa policies, the difference between UAE regions, and the current state of the venture capital landscape.

Questions & Answers

Q: Can you share an example of how Mubadala has been actively investing in technology?

Mubadala made the strategic decision to invest in semiconductors in 2008, even when others weren't investing in the sector. They created a company called GlobalFoundries, which ultimately went public. However, they realized that they needed to be more active in software and the internet economy to continue growing. This led them to set up a presence in Silicon Valley and London to learn from and partner with the best in the industry. They have also focused on creating an ecosystem in Abu Dhabi by investing in technology both abroad and in the region.

Q: How does the UAE attract and support entrepreneurs?

The UAE has taken a coordinated approach to create an inviting and enabling environment for entrepreneurs and founders. They have worked on building relationships with investors, regulators, and financial institutions to support entrepreneurs. They have also established initiatives like Hub71, which is a startup community that provides physical space, connections with potential customers, and access to venture capitalists. Additionally, the UAE offers golden visas, which allow talented individuals and entrepreneurs to live in the country for up to 10 years.

Q: What are the advantages of establishing a company in the UAE?

The UAE offers advantages such as low taxation and the availability of golden visas. With low taxation, businesses can retain more of their profits. The golden visas provide long-term residency, which is attractive to entrepreneurs and talent from around the world. Additionally, the UAE has a diverse and cosmopolitan society, making it a great market for various industries, such as food delivery and fintech.

Q: How do valuations in the UAE compare to Silicon Valley?

Valuations in the UAE can be higher than Silicon Valley due to the smaller number of companies and larger number of investors. There is more competition in the market, leading to higher valuations. However, this can also pose challenges for exits. Despite this, the region's enthusiasm, optimism, and willingness to try new technologies make it an interesting market for investment.

Q: How do governments in the UAE view technology and innovation?

The governments in the UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi, recognize the importance of technology and innovation in driving economic growth and competitiveness. They have a national imperative to diversify the economy and transition away from a hydrocarbon-based economy. The governments are curious, knowledgeable, and actively seeking ways to leverage technology, including AI, to improve various sectors, such as healthcare, finance, and government services.

Q: How do the UAE and Saudi Arabia compare in terms of progress and reforms?

The UAE has been working on its growth, diversification, and transformation for several decades. The leadership has shown a long-term perspective and commitment to developing various industries and sectors. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is also undergoing reforms and diversification efforts, but their progress may not be as advanced as that of the UAE. Each country has its own unique cultural and economic characteristics that shape their strategies and approaches.

Q: How does Mubadala view its role as a sovereign wealth fund in technology investments?

Mubadala sees itself as a partner and long-term investor in technology companies. They aim to provide financial returns and become enduring partners throughout the journey of a company, from seed to IPO and beyond. They offer access to relationships, assets, and businesses, and they actively engage with their portfolio companies to help them grow, open markets, and unlock opportunities. Mubadala's focus is on identifying great companies, investing in them, and ultimately contributing to the economic and societal development of the region.

Q: How do the UAE's taxation and visa policies attract entrepreneurs and investors?

The UAE has very low taxation, which allows businesses to retain more of their profits. This can be attractive to entrepreneurs and investors who want to maximize their returns. Additionally, the golden visa program provides long-term residency to talented individuals and entrepreneurs, creating a stable environment for business growth. These policies aim to encourage talent, innovation, and investment in the region.

Q: What is the current state of the venture capital landscape in the UAE?

The venture capital landscape in the UAE is evolving and attracting more interest. The region has seen a growing number of fund managers and capital allocators who are actively investing in technology. While the region has experienced a financial correction and a pullback in valuations, there is still a strong level of curiosity and interest in technology. The UAE's commitment to technology and its strategic planning provide a unique advantage in attracting capital and building a thriving startup ecosystem.

Q: How do the UAE's governance and board structures differ from Silicon Valley?

The UAE has its own unique cultural and social norms, which are reflected in its governance and board structures. While Silicon Valley may have a well-established playbook when it comes to technology and startups, the UAE is developing its own playbook that aligns with its growth objectives and national priorities. The emphasis is on creating an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship, innovation, and long-term partnerships. The country relies on its deep relationships and engagement with investors, regulators, and entrepreneurs to drive its technology ecosystem forward.

Q: How does the UAE navigate the current uncertainties in the global market and technology landscape?

The UAE takes a long-term perspective when it comes to investing in technology and navigating uncertainties. They recognize the potential of technology to drive economic growth and development. By diversifying their economy, attracting talent, and actively investing in technology, they aim to create a sustainable and enduring business model. They view challenges as opportunities and are committed to building trust-based relationships with investors and partners to collectively navigate the technology landscape. The UAE's national imperative and coordinated efforts position them well to adapt to changing market conditions.


The UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi, has shown a strong commitment to technology, innovation, and diversifying the economy. They have created an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and startups, actively invested in technology companies, and attracted talent through initiatives like the golden visa program. The region's low taxation, willingness to try new technologies, and strong government support make it an attractive market for investment. The UAE's long-term perspective, focus on partnerships, and emphasis on technology's impact on various sectors position it as a key player in the global technology landscape. As a sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala leverages its financial resources and relationships to support the growth of technology companies and contribute to the economic and societal development of the region. The UAE's approach to governance, board structures, and engagement with investors reflect its unique cultural and social norms, which shape its strategy and long-term planning. Overall, the UAE is primed to navigate uncertainties and emerge as a technology and innovation hub in the coming years.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is undergoing a transformative journey to diversify its economy and become a global technology and innovation hub.

  • The UAE, formed in 1971, has shown remarkable leadership and commitment to growth, development, education, and innovation. Abu Dhabi has leveraged its oil resources to transform into a major financial center, education hub, and healthcare center.

  • The region is actively attracting entrepreneurs, founders, and technology companies through initiatives like golden visas, offering long-term residency to talented individuals. The government is also investing heavily in technology startups and providing support for market expansion.

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