Abdalla Al Banna of DWTC shares the free zone's key focus
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Interview: DWTC’s Abdalla Al Banna shares how the free zone is supporting Dubai’s D33 agenda

Interview: DWTC’s Abdalla Al Banna shares how the free zone is supporting Dubai’s D33 agenda

The VP of Free Zone Regulatory Operations, DWTC talks about how the authority is focused on supporting SMEs and sustainability, and is attracting global businesses to the emirate

Neesha Salian
Abdalla Al Banna, VP of Regulatory Operations at DWTC

Dubai World Trade Centre Authority (DWTCA) Free Zone recently reported a robust performance in H1 2023, reflecting its alignment with Dubai’s Economic Agenda (D33) goal of attracting foreign investment through the provision of a conducive business environment. It reported that licence renewals recorded a 32 per cent year-on-year growth against H1 2022.

Here, Abdalla Al Banna, VP of Free Zone Regulatory Operations at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), tells Gulf Business more about how the authority is supporting the growth of SMEs and bolstering the emirate’s economy and sustainability targets.

How is Dubai World Trade Centre Authority (DWTCA) Free Zone aligned with Dubai’s D33 agenda?

The DWTCA Free Zone is an emblem of Dubai’s future economy, fostering a pro-business climate with ultra-modern infrastructure. As a well-regulated ecosystem, it has rapidly become a leading driver of global competitiveness and pioneering business ecosystems, with a particular emphasis on the digital economy.

Our tenants span more than 40 diverse sectors, including Fortune 500 companies, SMEs, digital transformation startups, research and development firms, and tech innovators, reinforcing the D33 Agenda’s strategic priorities.

The free zone is aligned with the agenda‘s goals of attracting foreign investment and positioning Dubai as a hub for innovative economic ventures is evident.

One Central, currently at 75 per cent occupancy, also bears testament to our contributions to Dubai’s economic agenda.

By capitalising on the momentum of the D33 agenda, the UAE Industrial Strategy and other relevant strategies, we are continuously exploring growth avenues and innovative ideas.

How was H1 2023 for the free zone?

DWTCA Free Zone experienced a striking 250 per cent increase in license renewals during H1 2023, from 254 to 892 renewals. We also welcomed 322 new companies, enhancing our international community of more than 2,000 companies.

This includes diverse enterprises such as BlueCrest Capital Management, Merz Middle East, MMBI Food Trading, Korean Tourism Organisation, and others.

The surge in license applications reflects the growing interest in virtual assets and family offices, and DWTCA Free Zone’s reputation, fortified by the DWTC’s four-decade-long business facilitation expertise, makes it a preferred destination for these sectors.

How has the authority supported the growth of SMEs in the emirate?

Our in-depth understanding of SMEs’ needs, drawn from extensive experience and relationships, allows us to offer straightforward, simple, and streamlined procedures for rapid establishment. Our comprehensive support services, from licensing, company registration, visa processing to administrative tasks, ensure a smooth process for SMEs.

We offer appealing financial incentives including discounted license fees, reduced rental rates, flexible payment schemes, and rent-free services during the application phase, contingent on the scope and validity of their business proposal. We also provide cost-effective and adaptable office spaces, networking events, workshops, seminars, business advisory services, mentorship programs, and dedicated platforms for the exchange of industry-specific insights and knowledge.

The Intelak Incubators initiative, launched in H1 2023, exemplifies our proactive approach, offering tailored accelerator and incubation programmes to foster start-ups and early-stage ventures within our dynamic Free Zone ecosystem.

Tell us about some of the success stories that underscore the authority’s commitment to building Dubai’s business ecosystem.

DWTCA Free Zone serves as a business success enabler and an attractive hub for entrepreneurs and emerging industry champions, fostering a culture of innovation and growth.

Noteworthy examples include Kitopi, which expanded its physical footprint from 5,000 to 21,000 square feet in 2022, and BlueCrest Capital Management, which expanded its office space from just under 4,500 to 6,900 square feet. These instances underscore how DWTCA Free Zone’s environment fuels the growth of diverse enterprises.

How is the free zone supporting the emirate’s focus on advanced technologies?

The free zone, designed to catalyse Dubai’s future economy, offers a pro-business environment and cutting-edge infrastructure.

Our well-regulated ecosystem is a magnet for digital transformation pioneers, R&D companies, and tech innovators. Capitalising on Dubai’s prominence in next-gen technologies such as the metaverse, artificial intelligence, Web3 and blockchain, we are strategically nurturing the virtual assets ecosystem and consolidating the emirate’s reputation as a leading accelerator for the future economy.

How is the free zone conforming to the emirate’s sustainability agenda?

We are committed to a net-zero sustainable future and we place sustainability at the heart of our strategic decision-making. This has been institutionalised through our core values, green building initiatives, waste management, resource optimisation, renewable energy integration, and proactive stakeholder engagement. This commitment to sustainability has not only improved our brand reputation and operational efficiency in the short term but also made us resilient and poised for long-term growth.

Our efforts align with Dubai’s agenda, reinforcing our contribution to the city’s broader sustainability goals. Moreover, our focus on sustainability has cultivated a culture of responsibility and foresight within DWTCA Free Zone, influencing all aspects of our decision-making process.

An evident example of this is our LEED Gold-certified One Central development which adheres to the highest sustainability standards under the International Management Regime from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

We collaborate with environmental organisations on environmental campaigns and initiatives and prioritise waste management using the “reduce, reuse, recycle” principle. We also recognise the crucial role of sustainability in our planet’s future and are steadfastly committed to making a difference.

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