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Wed 14 Dec 2016 11:39 AM

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Marjan Faraidooni: How start-ups can get involved in Expo 2020 Dubai

In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business StartUp, Marjan Faraidooni, vice president of legacy at Expo 2020 Dubai, explains how regional start-ups will help her team to ensure delivering a positive, sustainable and enduring economic, social and educational impact beyond 2021

Marjan Faraidooni: How start-ups can get involved in Expo 2020 Dubai
Marjan Faraidooni, vice president of legacy at Expo 2020 Dubai

Why are start-ups important to Expo 2020 Dubai?

We believe that start-ups play an integral part in the economy by driving innovation, securing long-term job growth and diversifying our economy. Start-ups also fill gaps in the market with creative and inventive solutions; they leverage technology to enrich lives; they blend thoughts from different disciplines and they create opportunities for talented people.

Every company, big or small, began somewhere. In a way, Expo 2020 Dubai is also a start-up. So were companies like IBM, Boeing, and Apple. In our case, we have sixty months between officially gaining the right to host Expo, and opening our doors to the world in October 2020. Sixty months to evolve from an inspiring vision, to becoming a festival of human ingenuity and the first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Looking beyond the Expo itself, we expect start-ups and SMEs to play an integral part in the legacy for this mega-event, which will live on long after Expo 2020 Dubai comes to a close. Our plans for the physical Expo site and the long-term economic legacy will benefit start-ups, as new opportunities will be created following the World Expo. This not only fits with Expo 2020 Dubai’s goals to integrate these companies into the mega-event, but also supports the visionary efforts by the UAE government to create an ecosystem for start-ups and SMEs.

How can start-ups and SMEs get involved in the journey to Expo?

The power of a World Expo lies in its ability to bring people together. Expo 2020 Dubai will harness this power, and bring together countries, companies, NGOs and individuals to connect, collaborate, and address the world’s greatest challenges.

First, we have our BusinessConnect series, where start-ups can learn more about the opportunities Expo 2020 Dubai offers. It’s also a space where a range of companies can gather to exchange ideas, share relevant expertise, and enable the development of recommendations to find and deliver the best solutions.

Our aim with BusinessConnect is to shift the traditional model of procurement to one based more on the value of collaboration.

This initiative was launched in April 2015, and each edition in the series focuses on a specific aspect of Expo 2020 Dubai and is in the format of an open dialogue with local, regional and international businesses. To date, there have been 11 editions of BusinessConnect, spanning a range of themes including Technology and Innovation, Architecture & Design, Youth and Edutainment. More than 800 business representatives from a wide spectrum of industries have attended and benefited from these sessions.

Another way we are engaging with start-ups is through our Collaborative Entrepreneurship platform, for which we are honoured to have won the Start Up Programme of the Year at 2016 Arabian Business StartUp Awards.

We launched this initiative in collaboration with Wamda in order to unleash value through nurturing meaningful collaborations between corporates and start-ups to spark mutually beneficial relationships. For example, start-ups could leverage the resources of large companies to scale rapidly, and large companies could tap into the innovative potential and flexibility of start-ups to gain access to new markets, technologies and skills.

In May 2016, we hosted a Collaborative Entrepreneurship Summit that was attended by 181 start-ups, 89 corporates and 63 entrepreneurship ecosystem supporters, as well as multinationals and government entities. This presented start-ups with the opportunity to explore how Collaborative Entrepreneurship works and to network with companies seeking to innovate. Our efforts does not end there. In order to raise awareness of the different types of corporate/start-up collaborations, we developed—for the first time in this region—a toolkit that will provide guidance to corporations and start-ups throughout their Collaborative Entrepreneurship journey. It will soon be available in Arabic also, to ensure maximum reach. The second phase of Collaborative Entrepreneurship will see start-ups working with governmental bodies – potentially opening further doors for exciting opportunities.

Finally, we have Expo Live – a €100-million innovation and partnership programme that aims to fund, accelerate and scale creative solutions by harnessing the power of innovation, a large part of which will come from start-ups. We hope that start-ups will play an active role in Expo Live, and work with us to advance the pace of progress - inspiring a more inclusive and prosperous future.

What opportunities are there for start-ups to get involved in Expo 2020?

Transforming the vision of Expo 2020 Dubai into reality will be a hugely ambitious undertaking, and it takes place over three main phases, each with ample opportunities for start-ups and SMEs to get involved. Expo 2020 Dubai’s preparatory phase, including but not limited to construction, has already begun, and will continue until the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai in October 2020. The mega-event will last for six months until April 2021. Finally, the legacy phase will commence from 2021.

Over the coming months, we will roll out our official merchandising and product-licensing programme across five key areas: general gifts and souvenirs, made in the UAE products, luxury goods, mascots, and government partnerships. Around 5,000 official and licensed products and merchandise will be commissioned for Expo 2020 Dubai. Start-ups and SMEs will be able to tender for every product category, with flexible commercial terms ensuring profitability and facilitating future opportunity and growth.

Licensing and merchandising is one of many opportunities within the Expo 2020 Dubai ecosystem, and we will have many more opportunities in the coming months. Ultimately, we hope that start-ups and SMEs will provide us with the niche, bespoke goods and services that will help bring the mega-event to vivid life.

Are there any initiatives to help start-ups and SMEs to tender for specific Expo 2020 Dubai opportunities?

We pride ourselves on having a procurement process that is equal, open and accessible. We strongly encourage start-ups to explore the myriad commercial prospects around Expo 2020 Dubai on our dedicated e-sourcing procurement portal. More than 8,000 local and international companies have already registered since its launch in April 2015, and the total value of all contracts and purchase orders to date is over AED 1.95 billion.

In addition, we have tailored our procurement process to better accommodate start-ups and SMEs, most notably through establishing more favourable payment terms for smaller businesses. SMEs make up almost half of businesses registered on the Expo 2020 Dubai procurement portal, at over 4,600 strong. So far, 320 orders have been awarded to local and international SMEs, with much more to come.

Our commitment to involve SMEs and start-ups was underscored in August 2016, when we announced that 20 percent of Expo 2020 Dubai’s total direct and indirect spend – more than AED 5 billion – will be allocated to SMEs. The decision builds on our longstanding efforts to enhance SME integration into Expo 2020 Dubai, particularly in the supply chain.

Start-ups and SMEs will form a significant part in making Expo 2020 Dubai a success. We are committed to ensuring that our process is transparent and accessible.

How will start-ups be integrated into Expo 2020 Dubai’s legacy plans?

Legacy is at the very core of what Expo 2020 Dubai stands for. What happens after the Expo is just as important – if not more– than what happens during the mega-event itself.

A meaningful legacy requires both tangible and intangible components – the former includes the physical site, material economics, and the commercial opportunities that flow from it; the latter includes ideas, knowledge creation, global political perceptions and attitudes. These are all part of our plan for Expo 2020 Dubai, and we have already started planting the seeds to ensure that start-ups are well integrated into our plans to leave a lasting economic, social, reputational, and physical impact in the UAE and the wider MENA region.

After Expo comes to a close, the site will be transformed into a vibrant, attractive destination to work, play, live and learn. It will become a cradle for emerging technologies and a collaborative ecosystem for SMEs and entrepreneurs. With large multinationals working in close proximity with start-ups and SMEs, we hope to encourage and enable the cross-pollination of ideas across sectors, industries, and disciplines. We very much want start-ups to set up and thrive in this innovative environment.

The MENA region is home to an entrepreneurship movement that is paving the way for diverse, knowledge-based economic development. By empowering young people to be immersed in innovative thinking and social partnerships, Expo 2020 Dubai hopes to propel the entrepreneurial movement into the future, long after the Expo.