Sandooq Al Watan is a community initiative launched by a group of prominent Emirati businessmen that seeks to promote a sense of social cohesion in Emirati society. The initiative is in line with the UAE leadership’s vision of a sustainable future for the country and its citizens. It also reflects the private sector’s commitment to social responsibility and the positive role that Emirati businessmen and women play in supporting social development projects and plans.
The projects and initiatives of the Fund focus on vital sectors that directly impact the nation and its citizens. As such, the Fund supports four key areas: sponsoring talented individuals, providing professional guidance to develop young local talents, encouraging start-up commercial projects that have a social impact, and supporting applied research and innovations.
Sandooq Al Watan’s mission is to attract investments and community contributions in order to utilise them for the benefit of the Emirati society via diverse projects that serve strategic economic and social sectors.
Hind Baker, Director General of Sandooq Al Watan, speaks with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub, highlighting the role their organization plays in Abu Dhabi, as well as the opportunities available for entrepreneurs in the emirate.
Where does the AD Startup/SME ecosystem stand today? In your opinion, what are the benefits and challenges for startups and SMEs doing business in Abu Dhabi?
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has transformed itself into a haven for entrepreneurs as well as an incubator for their ideas and ventures. It has launched several programmes and initiatives that support startups from inception to completion and beyond.
Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi’s flagship accelerator programme, aims to drive the Emirate’s development by investing in business, innovation, and people. Launched in 2019 by H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, Ghadan 21 is a AED50 billion three-year programme.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Office’s ‘Ventures Fund’ is a notable initiative of the Ghadan 21 programme. The AED535 million Fund expanded its scope in 2020 to offer more support to innovation-focused companies and back later-stage businesses that are in expansion mode and ready to scale.
We can also mention the Hub71 programme, which forms part of the government’s efforts to diversify the economy and catalyse Abu Dhabi’s digital transformation. Hub71 provides startup founders with access to top investors, world-class customers, expert mentorship, and lucrative market opportunities.
With these initiatives and many others in place, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has established a robust infrastructure that supports entrepreneurs while creating an environment where they can experiment with their ideas, implement them, and see them achieve success.
How are you contributing to the local startup/SME ecosystem growth? How do you see this evolving over the next year?
Sandooq Al Watan has launched its share of initiatives and programmes to support entrepreneurship in the Emirate.
A notable example is the Khalifa Innovation Center, launched in partnership with Khalifa Fund, Tawazun, Mubadala, and Khalifa University where the centre is located.
The 1,200 square-meter space incubates promising, homegrown Emirati tech startups. The programme provides financing, training, and office space, among many other forms of support.
Furthermore, Sandooq Al Watan supported the Khalifa Fund in launching the ‘Pitch@Palace’ annual event where innovative local entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to access mentors, advisers, distribution systems, supply chains, connections, and investment opportunities.
‘The Emirati Innovator’ programme, which extends support for tech entrepreneurs in partnership with multiple entities, has already supported 14 promising tech startups to date.
Sandooq Al Watan’s ultimate goal is to support the UAE’s vision of a diversified, post-oil knowledge-based economy driven by successful Emirati companies.
We expect to continue making progress towards that goal in the year ahead and for the foreseeable future.
This vision drives our commitment to building strong partnerships with both government and private entities. Large corporations are perfectly poised to support new ventures, and government entities have the power to create the necessary infrastructure for a startup economy.
It is imperative that the two sectors work together to support entrepreneurship in the UAE and take Emirati companies to the next level.
What opportunities should entrepreneurs pay attention to in Abu Dhabi? What kind of business growth opportunities are you encouraging or expect will be developing in the coming years?
As Abu Dhabi increasingly looks towards diversifying its economy and sources of income, the spotlight is on technology and tech startups; and following the COVID-19 pandemic, innovation and technology are brought to the fore even further.
As mentioned earlier, Sandooq Al Watan has launched various initiatives and programmes to support entrepreneurship and startups, particularly in the technology sector, which we consider to be our best bet to build a resilient post-oil economy.
In addition to supporting tech ventures, we have also introduced programmes to develop skills among talented Emiratis in sectors we consider to be essential for our country’s future economy.
Research is one of those sectors. Therefore, we launched ‘Researcher.ae’ – the first national platform that empowers researchers in the country by providing them with funding and networking opportunities.
The platform aims to support over 50 student-led research projects and 10 major co-funded applied research programmes in priority sectors.
On a similar note, our ‘UAE Coder Programme’ teaches Emirati children aged 7 to 14 the basics of coding. The programme aims to teach 10,000 children by 2030 – with 3,000 of them enrolling in advanced coding programmes.
The UAE economy stands to benefit from these programmes as they create the foundations for the UAE to become a hub for technology and sought-after talent.
This will be of great value for the local tech scene, as it will provide nascent startups, as well as more established companies, with gifted coders, researchers, and other tech experts. These professionals will allow companies to meet the tech-related requirements they need to continue growing, until they reach the coveted global top 10 positions we aspire to.