When Etisalat opened the doors to its Hello Business Hub in February, life got that extra bit easier for start-ups in the United Arab Emirates.
The facility located at One JLT in Dubai seeks to serve as a one-stop-shop for small and medium sized businesses looking to kick-start their journey, whether it be registering their company, setting up a bank account, getting insurance, telecommunication services or another aspect of operational set-up.
The initiative has united 13 partners to make this possible, each offer integrated propositions unique to SMBs visiting the hub, helping to make the business centre not just convenient but financially savvy, too.
Speaking with Gulf Business at Etisalat’s Dubai headquarters, the senior vice president of small and medium business, Esam Mahmoud, reveals why the hub was launched and what it aims to achieve.
“We had done a survey across the UAE – mainly with new companies – as we needed to understand the obstacles: what are the issues they’re facing when they come to open a new business in the UAE,” he explains.
“The results showed different elements; one of which is the process, or the struggles of getting the registration, deciding whether they need a freezone or mainland license, what documents they need. It’s not straightforward, and they would have to go to different entities to find out the answers.
“Secondly, to open a business there are a lot of requirements. They need a bank account; they need to have insurance – so many different elements. And again they need to go to different entities to apply for them. It can take around six to seven months in total – the whole process is very lengthy.
“So we came up with an idea that is unique: the Hello Business Hub. A one-stop-shop that can serve all the SMBs – mainly the start-ups – in one location.”
The SVP goes on to describe what users can expect from the hub; amounting to a checklist of set-up essentials. These include registration, a bank account, insurance, office leasing, furniture, telecoms services, and tax services, among others.
To date, the list of partners includes Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), Virtuzone, Oman Insurance, National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK), Sharaf DG, Amer for Government services, Skylines Tax Consultancy, CBRE, Advanced Business Concept (ABC), The Ambassador, Leader Consulting, Etisalat, and Etisalat Digital Marketing Solutions for SMBs.
“There are 13 entities which previously would have been in different locations and they’ve all been unified, all put together in one single shop,” says Mahmoud.
“That’s the whole idea – to make the whole process very simple, very straightforward to start business in the UAE.”
As a result, the time it takes to launch a business has reduced dramatically. And while Mahmoud admits that the length will depend on what type of license you need, he states that the entire process has been cut by almost two thirds.
“Each entity has its own process, so in terms of time frames I cannot commit and say it will take only a month, but at least we have been able to minimise it by more than 60 per cent.”
Etisalat’s bold plan to boost SMBs in the UAE comes on the back of the government’s focus on the segment, which has long been recognised as key to the country’s growth – especially in the era of post-oil diversification.
And it is the UAE’s overarching drive to encourage SMB success that helped to shape Etisalat’s ambitions for the new hub.
“One of the reasons we came up with the Hello Business Hub is the UAE vision itself,” says Mahmoud.
“We all know SMBs are vital to the country. We have around 350,000 SMB customers within the country, and as per statistics they are contributing more than 80 per cent of the workforce, and almost 60 per cent of GDP.
“From the federal side, the government launched the SMB Councils, and each local department has created its own initiatives. And from our side – Etisalat’s side – in alignment with the UAE vision of how we can focus on the SMBs, we want to make sure the UAE is the hub for start-ups, the hub for business customers. This is one of the reasons we came up with the Hello Business Hub.”
In ensuring the UAE’s status as a business hub, Etisalat has placed importance on collaboration and community. Not just by bringing entities together in one place, but having them work together for the start-ups’ benefit.
“When we tied with the partners, it wasn’t just about having them under one roof,” Mahmoud explains.
“Each partner will give special value or special services to the start-ups or businesses that will be there at the hub.
“Partners will offer unique propositions that aren’t available outside the hub. For example, the insurance partner gives a special discount – a bundle discount that covers building insurance, car insurance, employee insurance, and so on. That bundle can only be available if you go to the hub itself.
“Then there are some solutions that are bundles between partners. So you can have insurance alongside registration, for example. For new companies, partnerships like this are very important. We will meet with the partners every month to review and see how we can support the new start-ups.”
With capacity to welcome between 100 and 150 users per day, the hub hopes to capture a sizeable chunk – between 60 and 70 per cent – of the 100,000 new businesses expected to launch in the UAE in the next three years.
And to do this, expansion is already on the cards.
“Based on the success, after one year, it is definitely our plan to have two main hubs – one in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi,” says Mahmoud.
“So the next step is to open in Abu Dhabi. After that we are also hoping to have something called ‘Mini Hub’ or ‘Mini Zones’ in different areas of Dubai and the Northern Emirates. The plan has already been set, but we will not action that until we see how well the Dubai hub performs.”
These future plans highlight how ingrained in the start-up ecosystem Etisalat hopes to be, and it is all with growth in mind.
“For us the question is how we can tally with the UAE vision and government goal of increasing the GDP of SMEs from 60 per cent to 70 per cent by 2021,” adds Mahmoud.
“Because in the end, what’s good for the SMBs is good for the UAE, and what’s good for the UAE is good for Etisalat.”