IFZA's Jochen Knecht on how the free zone supports startups
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IFZA CEO Jochen Knecht on how the free zone supports startups, SMEs

IFZA CEO Jochen Knecht on how the free zone supports startups, SMEs

Jochen Knecht, CEO at IFZA, shares how the free zone is committed to empowering startups with the tools, resources, and support they need to succeed in a rapidly evolving business landscape

Neesha Salian
Jochen Knecht - CEO at IFZA on how the free zone is supporting startups and smes

The IFZA is known for its streamlined processes in issuing licences and helping startups. Could you share some insights into the key measures that have been put in place to make this happen?

IFZA, a leading free zone community with world-class infrastructure and state-of-the-art facilities, exists to attract international investors to Dubai, to contribute to its economic prosperity, to optimise the benefits of its business-friendly environment and to serve the wider community of the UAE.

From the onset, IFZA has set itself apart by providing a comprehensive network of support services that extend beyond company formation. In the course of our relationship with our partners, we have closely examined the pain points of startups and developed an ecosystem that comprehensively addresses their challenges. Within the IFZA ecosystem, businesses find solutions to common challenges. For example, opening a bank account is one of the most pressing challenges startups in Dubai face.

IFZA addresses these pain points head-on, offering assistance with banking, property services, insurance, office space, tax and bookkeeping and regulatory compliance. We aim to guide businesses easily and seamlessly through every stage of their lifecycle, empowering them for sustained success and growth.

During the period of travel restrictions, we became acutely aware of the importance of digitalisation and remote processes. We were one of the first organisations to establish remote processing, allowing business owners to register without the need for physical presence in the country. This initiative was launched to further streamline our services and ensure continuous support for our clients.

The UAE has seen significant economic shifts in recent years. How does IFZA perceive the current economic landscape, especially concerning opportunities for startups?

Dubai has proven itself to be one of the most robust, dynamic and fastest-growing economies in the world. The emirate’s strategic vision D33 for economic diversification has created fertile ground for innovation and entrepreneurship and Dubai is brimming with opportunities for startups.

With the recent introduction of the UAE’s corporate tax, how does IFZA perceive this change impacting its strategy to attract businesses, and what measures is the company taking to navigate this new tax landscape for its clients?

The recent introduction of corporate tax in the UAE presents a pivotal opportunity for businesses. This move aligns the country with international standards, fostering informed decision-making and growth. We provide strategic guidance to navigate this new tax landscape. Our advisory services ensure that our partners and clients remain proactive and compliant with UAE laws and regulations.

The UAE’s adoption of corporate tax in line with international norms motivates us to further support businesses in their financial endeavours.

Moreover, the recent decision by the FATF to remove the UAE from its ‘grey list’ will enhance the country’s global standing, thereby stimulating trade and investment.

Additionally, our extensive network of partners includes business consultants who specialise in aiding SMEs and can help startups navigate the tax landscape. We also have banking and consulting support services in-house at IFZA. We regularly host knowledge-sharing sessions and workshops on the intricacies of corporate tax for businesses.

Some of the sessions focus on how the UAE corporate tax applies to people from different countries looking to expand into the country.

From your perspective, what are some of the most promising sectors for new businesses entering the UAE market?

Several sectors in the UAE continue to attract investments, both locally and globally. Key areas of promise for new ventures include e-commerce, technology, travel and tourism, renewable energy, healthcare, hospitality, fintech and mobility.

By tapping into these growing sectors, startups can capitalise on emerging opportunities and contribute to the UAE’s economic diversification.

How do you adapt to the evolving needs of businesses, especially startups in the region?

All key decision-makers at IFZA are entrepreneurs. This is why we are keenly aware of the challenges expats face when setting up a business here in Dubai. Our experience also gives us the luxury of unique insights to hone our processes and develop enhanced services.

We are committed to staying ahead of the curve by offering tailored support programmes for startups, designed to address specific needs. From mentorship programmes to our comprehensive ecosystem of services, we ensure startups have the correct guidance to help them in their journey. We conduct ongoing market research to stay abreast of industry trends and emerging opportunities which enables us to provide startups with valuable insights on market entry strategies.

Through the IFZA Academy for Training, we offer a range of training, workshops, and seminars tailored to the needs of startups and businesses. These initiatives equip entrepreneurs with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the key advantages that businesses gain from operating within free zones in the UAE and how do they compare to traditional business setups/mainland businesses?

Free zones are, in essence, designed to cater to specific industries. Each free zone specialises in a certain industry. IFZA is designed to support SMEs, and we are more agile in helping our target markets adapt to the UAE business landscape, as compared to the mainland.

Also, free zones can act as incubators, supporting SMEs and startups in their pre-incubation, incubation and post-incubation phases. This provides an opportunity for business ideas to be tested as there are fewer restrictions and a more liberal regulatory environment for smaller businesses to test their ideas before entering the mainstream environment.

Operating within UAE free zones enables businesses to enjoy 100 per cent foreign ownership, access to state-of-the-art infrastructure, streamlined processes, simplified visa procedures and networking opportunities.

These benefits, coupled with our support ecosystem ensure that an ideal environment is created for businesses to thrive.

Partnerships often play a crucial role in supporting businesses. Could you discuss some of the partnerships IFZA has formed?

Our strength lies in our extensive network of more than 1,500 professional partners globally. We also partner with international organisations to draw in investment. Most recently, we have partnered with Bundesverband Mittelständische Wirtschaft (BVMW), the German Federal Association of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, as their official representative in Dubai.

This partnership aligns perfectly with our aim to bring international businesses to Dubai and create opportunities for SMEs between Germany and the UAE.

IFZA has been expanding its reach through branch offices in various strategic locations. Could you share insights into the rationale behind this strategy?

A core part of our internalisation strategy is to expand through branch offices in key locations around the world. This is to further enhance business opportunities and drive investments into the UAE. By providing a local presence in key markets, we aim to facilitate a smoother entry into the UAE for global entrepreneurs.

In addition to our offices in Spain, Switzerland, China, and Seychelles, we recently opened an office in Germany, to create opportunities for those looking to expand their business from Germany to Dubai and beyond.

We have already seen great success with both Pfeiderer and EMAG, both leading German mid-size companies, opening an office in Dubai with IFZA to expand their international reach. We are also planning to open offices in Austria, the UK, India, Africa, and Latin America in the coming year.

What is IFZA’s vision for the next few years, particularly in terms of supporting startups?

Looking ahead, we aim to continue to attract FDI and nurture a vibrant SME sector. We also aim for a rapid expansion of our ecosystem and to create a global network of partners at all the key destinations all around the world.

Our focus will be on empowering startups to scale and thrive in a competitive global landscape, with a particular emphasis on leveraging emerging technologies and fostering sustainable business practices.

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