The United Arab Emirates University's Science and Innovation Park (UAEU-SIP) was launched in 2016 with the aim to become a global hub for innovation and entrepreneurship and ensure the UAE's smooth transition into a knowledge economy.
Today, the UAEU-SIP has continued its growth, becoming an ecosystem for innovation that offers programs using a design thinking approach that leads to translating academic knowledge and scientific research into commercially viable applications.
Prof. Nihel Chabrak, former CEO of UAEU's Science & Innovation Park, and Executive Director, UAEU Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, discusses how their organisation continues to support students on their journey to becoming entrepreneurs, as well as the available opportunities in Abu Dhabi.
How accessible to students is the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UAE today? Are you seeing a lot of students becoming entrepreneurs directly out of university?
The UAE’s governance and farsighted strategic planning have created a significant shift in the ecosystem. Students are curious by nature and career-driven, and with the recent boom in innovation and entrepreneurship around the world and the MENA region, students now have more access than ever to the ecosystem. There are numerous business incubators, fab labs, designed programs, and exhibitions tailored specially to the students to engage them and encourage the entrepreneurial mindset.
At UAE University, students are eager to grow their own businesses in a creative and impactful way. Since 2016, UAEU-SIP has been a home to 57 startups from the UAEU community.
How are you contributing to growing the entrepreneurship culture among your student body? What gaps you are trying to fill in terms of knowledge or skills to prepare them for entrepreneurship?
The UAEU-SIP is going at every length and breadth to support the young generation of the country in harnessing the energy, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit with innovative initiatives. All of our programs are designed to support the student body to start their entrepreneurial journey by providing them with skills and services that enable them to transform their ideas into well-established businesses and provide access to a supportive ecosystem of coaches, business experts, legal advice, and much more, allowing them to work efficiently.
To list a few, the UAEU SIP has launched 27 programs and initiatives since 2020, of which 22 were new, and 5 were extended. For instance, the UAEU-SIP, in collaboration with the DO School, launched the 'Digital Venture Incubation Program’, a virtual program among the first in the whole region to support UAE-based ventures and innovative entrepreneurs. Also, UAEU SIP launched its ‘Industry Liaison Program’, a tech transfer program that brings together innovation champions from the quadruple helix model players (business, community, government, and academia) and uses design thinking, research, storytelling, and accelerator bootcamps to help them develop high impact innovations addressing real needs submitted by ‘challenge holders’. Additionally, we have partnered with the Hasso Plattner Institute Academy (HPIA), a global education and training company, to establish an HPI approved, full-sized School of Design Thinking (D-School) at UAEU-SIP, one that follows the model of the D-Schools in Stanford and The Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) in Potsdam, Germany.
To further prepare our students for entrepreneurship, UAEU-SIP has launched the 'Pathfinders Program 1.0', a pre-pilot of the' University of the Future’- a model of higher education that is currently incubated in the Park. It is a transdisciplinary curriculum for lifelong learning that rewires the attitude of young generations towards their future and fosters job creators than creates job seekers.
The entire focus is continuous learning, upskilling, and upscaling, eventually creating a pipeline of talent, and growing and attracting new knowledge-intensive businesses, which in turn will support creating new jobs and learning opportunities for students, and new R&D projects for faculty and researchers.
What opportunities should students/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?
With the proper guidance, students should be encouraged to pay attention to the upcoming events that directly pour into the 2021-2030 roadmap vision that the Abu Dhabi government has put into place to further advance the welfare and push forward the entrepreneurial ecosystem, in addition to seeking opportunities that support economic development to diversify the resources of the economy. The UAEU-SIP, through its new strategic plan, has identified the focus areas in alignment with the national priorities and the global challenges, as well as the university's innovation and research strengths. The four prime focus areas are extending life, expanding life, enhancing life, and sustaining life.
Extending life basically means healthcare and how we might make it more affordable, personalized, and effective. The second focus area is encouraging students to explore opportunities in space exploration to advance sustainable development as a global society. Thirdly, to enhance life, we encourage the youth to bring ideas that enhance life by providing quality education, jobs & inclusiveness: how might we create opportunities for inclusive economic growth and sustainable job creation in an era of AI and automation, or how the emerging technologies help eliminate extreme poverty.
And lastly, sustaining life focuses on the environment, reducing our societies' carbon footprint to accelerate the shift towards sustainable living and ways to access healthy, nutritious food and clean water.