Video: Supporting the growth of the UAE’s startup ecosystem

Steve Mayne, managing partner at business setup advisory firm Creative Zone, reveals why entrepreneurship is set to boom in the UAE



As a business setup advisory firm, can you elaborate on all the services you provide?

Creative Zone is Dubai’s largest business setup advisory firm. Since we launched in 2010, we have helped thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs and SMEs set up and grow their businesses in the UAE by providing them with the right solution for company formation and licensing services. We established Creative Zone with a simple model for the UAE marketplace – to serve as a one-stop shop with flexible payment plans for easy company incorporation and business setup.

Over the years, the company has evolved to provide business support services that entrepreneurs and SMEs need to sustain and grow.

This includes concierge services, office sourcing and design, meeting event and co-working spaces, tax and accounting, and payment gateways and currency exchange. For SMEs and entrepreneurs, this help reduces overheads like rent and design services and the time spent arranging these activities. It allows them to focus on their business success, rather than the legalities and formalities.

Creative Zone has expanded significantly since its launch. As a startup yourself, was it easy to scale?

We started the company with just five staff members, dealing solely with company setups in Fujairah Creative City Free Zone and only being able to accommodate clients looking to start a consulting or service-related company. Anticipating that the industry was growing exponentially, we strengthened our team, taking larger offices, and forming strategic alliances with business support services providers.

Most importantly, we expanded our range of company setup solutions in order to provide all types of companies with setup solutions across the UAE, offering freezone company setup options and also local Dubai DED formations for those looking to take permanent offices in Dubai and trade actively onshore.

In the nine years since inception, we have moved to Dubai’s premier business district and grown to a team of some 140 professionals spread across sales, marketing, PRO, operations and finance. From a relatively small player in the business setup marketplace, we have now successfully incorporated more than 12,000 new companies.

What are the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs starting up in the UAE face?

Starting up a business in the UAE can be a challenging process, regardless of how enthusiastic, and knowledgeable an entrepreneur may be. There are many unique aspects of company formation in the UAE including legal requirements, resident visas and licence registrations that must be addressed before you begin to implement business operations like customer acquisition and product creation.

How has the UAE’s startup space changed in the last decade?

Over the years, the UAE government has taken significant measures to establish solid foundations of a startup ecosystem with new regulatory frameworks, increased government support, more venture-capital investment and banking partnerships. This has resulted in an influx of young entrepreneurs across many sectors looking to set up here in the UAE. As an example, we have supported many of these success stories over the past decade with their business setup advisory including The Entertainer, eKar, Glambox and Mompreneur.

Another significant change has been the drive to support entrepreneurs with funding. The UAE government has announced several startup funds as well as support programmes to nurture innovators in various fields. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund, as an example, is a $544m fund which supports resident individuals and companies who offer unique and innovative technological solutions, products or services.

Other examples include the Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme, the DIFC’s women-only accelerator programme – AccelerateHer and the launch of $142m Hub71 tech hub by the Abu Dhabi government.

The UAE has announced several reforms to ease company setup in recent years. How have they impacted the market?

Company setup reforms continue to ease entry into the market, and it was exciting to see the UAE Cabinet approve a new long-term visa earlier this year for international investors and talented professionals in the medical, scientific, research and technical fields.

More recently, the UAE Cabinet also approved a total of 122 economic activities across 13 sectors eligible for up to 100 per cent foreign ownership in the UAE. This is big news for business setup opportunities in the UAE. One of the main concerns business owners have while setting up an onshore business in the UAE has always been ownership rights. Once this legislation comes into effect, it will do away with the previous rule, which required foreign companies setting up business on the UAE mainland to partner with a UAE national, who would own 51 per cent of the shares of the company.

These moves by the UAE government should prove to be economically beneficial with an anticipated increase in foreign direct investment. The new legislation will significantly help boost interest from investors, innovators and businessmen from around the world who are looking to set up business in the UAE.

For more information, visit Creative Zone’s website at www.creativezone.ae