How digitalization is supercharging Dubai’s economy – in every sector
Digitalization is the new space race. Nations worldwide are jockeying to create the ideal environment for digital innovators to thrive.
In the UAE, the digital economy is projected to more than triple in size by 2031, contributing $140bn to the economy, comprising 20% of the country’s non-oil GDP.
A large part of that growth will be the result of a swathe of initiatives part of – and working with – the Dubai Economic Agenda ‘D33,’ which are putting digital at the heart of every area of the emirate’s economy.
Leading the charge are two of the three chambers that operate under the umbrella of Dubai Chambers: Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy (DCDE) and Dubai Chamber of Commerce (DCC). DCDE aims to strengthen Dubai’s position as a global leader in the digital economy by building a world-class digital infrastructure and creating a stimulating environment that enables tech companies to thrive.
DCC, meanwhile, provides support, services and initiatives to Dubai’s business community in their commercial activities, including sector-specific business groups that help to shape practices and policies in the emirate.
The two chambers’ commitment to nurturing Dubai’s digital economy has seen it grow two and a half times faster than global GDP over the past two decades. Four key sectors – education, retail, finance, and health – offer a window into the breadth and depth of Dubai’s wide-ranging digitalization.
Education technology (EdTech) expanded rapidly as the pandemic forced classrooms online, using remote teaching and e-learning platforms. The boom is set to stay: the MEA EdTech market is projected to grow from $3.5bn in 2019 to $7.6bn in 2027.
Dubai is a major contributor to this growth, playing host to a burgeoning community of EdTech startups. Founded in 2016, Al-Mentor is already one of the leading video learning platforms in the region, having raised $24.5 million.
And the self-described “LinkedIn for higher education”, Educatly, helps students across the world connect with opportunities at universities in 150 countries. The company is based at the Dubai business incubator in5, one of a host of incubators and accelerators supporting EdTech companies in the emirate.
The Dubai Future Foundation’s Future Accelerators program supports startups in developing, testing and scaling solutions to future-facing challenges across a range of sectors, including education. 2020’s cohort were even challenged to map the future of education.
While Dubai is committed to digital education, it is equally committed to education in digital. The UAE National Programme for Coders aims to attract and train 100,000 coders with subsidized education and long-term Talent Visas. Meanwhile, the DCDE recently launched the Emirati Training Academy, a new programme designed to empower homegrown digital talent as part of the ‘Create Apps in Dubai’ initiative.
The UAE is one of the world’s fastest growing ecommerce markets, projected to grow 8.4% per annum, generating $17.2bn in revenue by 2027.
This enthusiasm for online shopping has bred a swathe of successful e-tailers in Dubai. Souq was the largest ecommerce trader in the Arab world before it was absorbed by Amazon in 2021. Luxury fashion e-tailers Namshi and Ounass represent a new generation of Dubai-based ecommerce successes.
The sector has also received a boost from DCC’s newly launched business group for ecommerce, as well as Dubai Customs’ innovative blockchain-based e-commerce platform, which cuts transaction clearances to just five minutes, by integrating directly with the systems of major logistics providers like DHL.
It is part of the emirate’s wider ecommerce strategy, which aims to cut business costs of ecommerce traders by 20%, through process improvements, lower taxes, and lower fees.
Meanwhile, the Entrepreneurship Visa offers up to 10-year residency for entrepreneurs, including those looking to join the emirate’s booming ecommerce market.
Dubai is a major global financial hub. One third of MENA investors are based in the emirate. And in 2021, it was the number one destination for financial services FDI, beating out London and Singapore.
A major part of the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) Strategy 2030 to consolidate its position as a leading finance hub is expanding FinTech in the emirate. The number of innovation and FinTech companies in the free zone grew 23% between 2021 and 2022.
In part, this is thanks to the DIFC Innovation Hub Accelerator which matches FinTech startups with supporting partners to develop products, access funding, and ultimately market their solutions.
Participants can also access the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) regulatory sandbox, obtaining an Innovation Testing Licence (ITL). Under the scheme, usual regulations are suspended while FinTechs develop their products under close supervision – collaborating with the DFSA to ensure compliance for launch.
It’s a flexible, forward-thinking approach that is widening under Sandbox Dubai, one of the first ‘D33’ initiatives to be announced.
Additionally, in December 2022, DCC announced the launch of a new Fintech & Payments Business Group, aimed at bringing together companies of all sizes within the sector to improve the ease of doing business and drive further growth.
According to the Dubai Healthcare City Authority, MENA HealthTech startups are collectively worth $1.5bn, a 22-fold increase since 2016.
Dubai’s startups are major contributors. Smileneo – which was recently acquired by Asia’s leading clinical beauty platform, MakeO – delivers home teeth straightening kits. Alma Health helps patients remotely manage chronic conditions, working with government health departments in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Egypt. And digital eye-care startup ShopDoc recently partnered with US-based CLEAR to launch world-first eye tests in the metaverse.
Companies like these are supported by the Dubai Healthcare Strategy, guiding billions of dollars in investment towards transformational HealthTech, with a strong focus on digital technologies like AI, robotics, and data analytics.
Further support comes from the Dubai Healthcare City freezone, which offers a range of infrastructure and incentives to healthcare businesses, within a supportive community of like-minded organizations. And to further strengthen Dubai’s burgeoning healthcare industry, DCC announced the establishment of the Medical Labs & Diagnostics Centres Business Group in January 2023, which acts as a platform to discuss ideas critical to the healthcare sector and influence policy changes to improve the sector’s competitiveness.
The phrase ‘digital economy’ often conjures images of coders working on websites. As these four sectors demonstrate, Dubai’s digitalization reaches into every corner of the economy, and daily life.
With its staunch and wide-ranging support, the emirate has built a powerful launching pad for entrepreneurs with future-facing solutions for everything from remote learning to dental cosmetics.
Dubai’s digitalization is also a testament to the power of partnerships. With over 100 business groups now set up by DCC serving as a bridge between government entities and the private sector, the emirate can continue to improve the business environment and support member companies through collaboration.
In the global race to digitalize, Dubai is ahead of the pack.