Q&A: Dubai Silicon Oasis

We quiz Dubai Silicon Oasis about its role in helping tech start-ups thrive in the region
Director of Silicon Oasis Founders, Hans Christensen.
By Neil King
Wed 05 Mar 2014 11:08 AM

Government-owned free zone Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) has been helping guide, aid and promote technology business since it opened in 2004.

With a strong focus on entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs, it is helping develop the tech industry through a series of programmes and initiatives.

We quizzed Director of Silicon Oasis Founders, Hans Christensen, about DSO and the future of technology.

Please give some background to DSO. why it was established, what is its vision, and how has it grown since it was launched?

Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO), a 100 percent government-owned free zone, was established with the mission to “facilitate and promote modern technology based industries” thus supporting the region’s demand for business expansion. DSO is an integrated technology park with a surrounding community so people can work and live close by.

The vision of DSO is to create one of the world’s leading centres of advanced electronic innovation, design and development in order to play a fundamental role in the UAE’s overall economic development. Training and development of local talent within the domain of advanced technology manufacturing is also a focal point of the vision.

Built over an area of 7.2 million square meters, DSO continues to grow its five main pillars of industrial, commercial, education, living and residences, and public facilities. The technology park enjoys state-of-the-art utility infrastructure featuring advanced telecommunications, electricity, and road networks.

What does DSO do to accommodate start-ups? How does it help them to grow? Why should they join DSO rather than go it alone or join another free zone?

DSO focuses on creating a comprehensive environment for entrepreneurs to survive. Companies can go through many stages before maturing into established businesses.

We see start-ups as the engine of innovation and that is why we provide small and medium-size businesses with the launch pad to propel themselves to their full potential.

At DSO you’ll find everything is geared to see young entrepreneurs and start-up companies flourish. By joining DSO we offer entrepreneurs and start up’s the following support:

• Comprehensive incubation programs including funding
• Peer-to-peer mentorship enhancing collaboration and innovation
• Access to MENA markets
• Advice on market strategy & business planning
• Introduction to large DSO partner network supporting with  business development
• Support with company establishment and visas

We provide the support needed to establish and operate small company businesses ranging from plug & play offices to licensing in addition to investor visas needed.

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Please can you tell us more about Silicon Oasis Founders

Silicon Oasis Founders (SOF) is a wholly owned entity of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA). As a hands-on incubator SOF not only host entrepreneurs, but becomes a shareholder and partner to the entrepreneurs.

For this reason the selection process is very thorough, and as a member of NBIA (National Business Incubation Association) SOF is applying international standards of best practice incubation, and modern methods of following and supporting the growth of its ventures including working toward set milestones.

SOF has a strategic commercial ambition and clear long term vision: To become the leading incubator that supports regional high potential ventures in the seed phase.

SOF focuses on fostering local entrepreneurial talents in the promising mobile application space and related technologies, by helping emerging entrepreneurs refine their business proposals, and accelerate growth.

Among the Silicon Oasis Founders benefits are:

• Offers the largest selection and best quality incubation services in the region
• Meets the individual needs of the incubated venture
• Increases the likelihood of success of venture
• Accelerates the time to market
• Improves the chances of receiving venture capital
• Lowers the risk of personal liability
• Benefits from the know-how of serial entrepreneurs
• Forces the entrepreneur to think through all important aspects of a start-up
• Access DSOA Network

What do start-ups offer that’s different to larger companies? Why are they important to the DSO community?

Start-ups are important to DSO because they are agile in nature and free of the constraints that tend to shackle larger organisations in areas such as decision making, resource planning and so on. Also, start-ups are uniquely positioned to challenge ‘business as usual’ and be positively disruptive.

Through leading examples such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter social media through innovation changed the way we communicate, share content and search for what we need.

At DSO we are in a position to value innovation and reward it, because we believe an entrepreneurial synergetic eco-system is best fostered in an environment with successful small, medium and large business and lots of start-ups in various stages of growth.

Companies of different sizes live in symbiosis in DSO and I guess you can say the start-ups add the spice, the speed of growth and innovation to the mix.

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Are you encouraged by the innovation you see among start-up businesses? How are they driving the technology sector?

Start-ups are in an envious position as by nature they are prone to take risk more freely than longer established businesses. We are very much encouraged by what we are seeing so far from the start-up businesses. Through a wide array of services, including consultancy expertise and a broad network of companies as part of the incubation process, the start-up company gains the advantage of a structured managerial support from SOF.

We are confident about the opportunities that the technology sector offers and we firmly believe that it’s never been a better time to be entrepreneurial – we will continue to support that ideal.

It is often said that the Middle East is years behind its counterparts in the US and Europe. Do you believe this is true? If so, is that gap closing?

We have entrepreneurs from around the world who want to be incubated with SOF. Some come from Silicon Valley (USA), some from Skolkova Russia’s very own technology heartland.

When these entrepreneurs come to the UAE they bring with them intellectual property. This then results in higher level of technological know-how and skills being imported, i.e. brain drain. Effectively this allows countries that have under developed and emergent technology sectors to leap frog the initial testing stages that the more mature markets have to experience.

The MENA region is becoming an increasingly attractive place to establish a start-up business. With more opportunity awaiting the entrepreneurs and less competition, the gap that is between markets is narrowing fast and we believe that this process is bound to accelerate. As a matter of fact we are investing millions in this trend, betting it will continue and be strong for at least the next decade.

Are you encouraged by young people in the region? Are they helping to build the tech sector? Are schools, colleges and universities doing enough to give them a strong business foundation?

In just the past two years there has been a significant increase in support from all kinds of institutions in the UAE to support and prepare the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. The level of encouragement and support offered to make the individual think outside the box, boost innovation and learn to seize opportunity is encouraging.

We are very encouraged by what we see not only in the tech sector but across all sectors, with incubators off all kinds opening around the world. We are seeing this happening in the MENA region as well.

Investment and funding is a major issue for many start-ups and SMEs. What does DSO do to help them access vital funds?

Part of the services provided to start-ups by DSO is funding from SOF for acceleration and incubation. Additionally, we support very much with securing follow on funding through teaching the entrepreneurs on how to prepare themselves and pitch in front of potential investors. As we often are shareholders of these ventures we actively partake in pitching for funds increasing the likelihood of receiving funds and thus help the start-ups become successful.

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How does DSO fit within the wider entrepreneurial, SME and start-up landscape in the UAE? Does it collaborate with many other institutions?

Ultimately, it is the entrepreneur who chooses which kind of support they wish to solicit. From the perspective of the incubator and as a potential stakeholder we would support any partnerships that are positive to the growth of the start-up.

We strive to give our best, and will support each other for the common good of fostering the talent of tomorrow.

Looking ahead, what do you believe the next tech leaps will be in the region?

Robotics will be a growth area in the years to come as will any technology which makes life easier.

As the price of chips is dropping, combined with the increase in computing power, more and more complicated everyday tasks can be delegated to software and robots. We are just seeing the beginning of this today.

Human roles such as creative thinking, software programming, design, consultancy, leadership, and so on, will become increasingly important as other repetitive tasks will be replaced by in the beginning by simple robots and later on with more sophisticated robots.

The metro in Dubai runs without a driver for example. A more imminent example would be the interconnectivity of both government and private services, making life simpler.

There is a multitude of ventures being developed in this space right now connecting social networks with services, combining GEO fencing technology with people’s preferences - almost second guessing your next wish.

For more information about Dubai Silicon Oasis visit www.dsoa.ae

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