Dubai aiming to be global innovation hub
Dubai - Will Dubai be able to replicate California’s Silicon Valley and provide a launch pad for another Uber, Apple or Microsoft? This is the vision that is driving policymakers in the emirate.
It’s been a decade-and-a-half since Dubai started building the first of its many specialised free zones with Dubai Internet City in 2000 and Dubai Media City in 2001. The zones have attracted thousands of companies, including multinational giants in technology and media as well as a host of start-ups and freelance professionals. An important feature these zones share is a cluster environment where businesses share a work campus dedicated to their industry, allowing for effective interaction and collaboration.
In the mid-1990s, Dubai incorporated in its strategic plan the theories of Harvard Professor Michael E. Porter, a leading advocate of clusters as a path for high growth, new business formation and employment. Dubai’s ten world-class Cluster Zones serve a consumer market of 2 billion people across the Middle East, North and East Africa and South Asia.
In a bid to making the emirate a global innovation hub, Dubai in June set up the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA), replacing the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority, under which the zones function.
“Our clusters have successfully laid the foundation for a knowledge-based economy,” said Ali BuRuhaima, deputy director general of DCCA.
“Over the past ten years, we have seen a 150% growth in the number of businesses in the Dubai Creative Clusters, from 1,700 businesses in 2004 to 4,242 in 2014, providing employment to 64,027 workers. More than 300 of the businesses are by sole proprietors or freelancers,” BuRuhaima said.
“In the future, we envisage that the Dubai Creative Clusters will be the first choice of creative, innovative individuals and businesses. We want to assist them in achieving their full creative potential so that, when the world comes to Dubai for Expo 2020, we want everyone to see Dubai as the most innovative city on the globe,” he added.
DCCA’s mandate is to foster the growth of creative industries to support the Dubai Innovation Strategy. “It is well established that creative industries are critical drivers for innovation. In addition to catalysing innovation in other industries, creative industries also generate high-value and highly skilled employment and enhance the general quality of life and well-being in cities,” BuRuhaima said.
“We are committed to forging Dubai’s global reputation as a leader in creativity and a hub for innovation.”
One of DCCA’s priorities is to design policies and programmes to support the development of a flexible pool of creative talent.
Changes envisaged in job regulations, visa policies and permits “will play a significant role in attracting the best creative talents from across the globe”, BuRuhaima noted.
Key areas for the DCCA will be to develop business-friendly regulations and ease the process of doing business, increase the size and skills of the creative talent pool and foster entrepreneurship, small and medium-sized enterprises and innovation, among others.
Many initiatives have been set in motion. Tecom Investments, the master developer and operator of the clusters, announced an investment of $1.22 billion in the Dubai Design District (d3) creative community and the Innovation Hub in Dubai Internet City over the next decade. “The Innovation Hub in Dubai Internet City will focus on technology, new media, smart education and sciences. The first phase will be delivered in the first quarter of 2017,” said BuRuhaima.
The d3 creative community will be an incubator for local designers and artists and will also have art galleries and studios, the first phase of which will be delivered in 2016.
Dubai Creative Clusters Authority is investing $11 million a year in the industry councils and committees that it has set up to champion key creative industries. These are the Dubai International Film Festival, the Dubai Film and TV Commission and the Dubai Design and Fashion Council.
In an interview with The Arab Weekly, Ayoub Kazim, managing director of the Education Cluster, applauded the creation of the DCCA, which, he said, he expected to have” a significant impact on Dubai’s education sector.”
“We envisage the DCCA will support Dubai International Academic City and Dubai Knowledge Village in developing the size and skills of the UAE’s creative talent pool in education and provide a platform for research, intelligence and advocacy. Achieving these goals is perfectly aligned with Dubai’s ambition of transitioning into an innovation-led economy,” Kazim said.
About the growth of Dubai’s Education Cluster and the direction in which it is headed, Kazim noted: “We are proud of the fact that the UAE is currently ranked sixth in the world for higher education and training according to the 2014/15 World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index, an impressive feat that highlights the significant progress the country’s education sector is making.”
The UAE’s growing number of international branch campuses, together with the ongoing development of human capital, has played a major part in this success, he said.
Iona Stanley said she started off on a freelance journalist visa at Dubai Media City, within two months of its opening. In 2005, she upgraded to a company license and has been running a specialist firm, Stanley Communications, since.
“For the last decade and a half, Dubai Media City has truly embodied its tagline, ‘The freedom to create’. The growth and success we have experienced is owed much to the environment around us. It is not just a stylish business address but also a safe and solid one,” Stanley said.