UAE capital is now looking for places to go: Omar Khan of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Dubai Chamber has set up an office in Mumbai to discover the vibrant Indian startup ecosystem. The organisation aims to help Indian companies set up shop in Dubai, and interested businesses to partner or invest in India.

The Dubai Chamber in 2016 launched Dubai Startup Hub as an online platform to connect startups, entrepreneurs, developers, venture capitalists, and students. The semi-government initiative aims to “provide clarity and direction in the journey of startup entrepreneurs” and to help them learn about new opportunities in the UAE.

Dubai is now setting its sights on India. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec), an initiative of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), a government-owned incentivisation free trade zone in Dubai, recently conducted roadshows in Delhi and Bengaluru to explore Indian startups that can be a part of Dubai’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The roadshow included a pitch competition, under which 10 startups from across India were shortlisted from more than 200 startup applications. They ultimately picked two winners: Delhi-based B2B ecommerce platform ShipsKart and Bengaluru-based banking operating system Loktra. Both these startups will get hot desk space at Dtec and company setup assistance such as work space, resources, networking, investor’s connect, etc for one year to expand operations into Dubai.  The Dubai Startup Hub roadshow to India was supported by Startup India and NASSCOM 10000 Startups, in addition to Dtec, STEP Group, and Startup Bootcamp. 

Omar Khan, Director of International Offices at Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry

YourStory caught up with Omar Khan, Director of International Offices at Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for a chat where he told us that the startup ecosystems of India and Dubai can meet market needs and support Dubai’s smart city vision.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

YourStory: Tell us about what brings you to India, and what are you looking for from the startup ecosystem here?

Omar Khan: We want to attract strong interest and participation from startups in India, and pave the way for new partnerships that foster innovation, create mutual benefits, and drive economic growth in Dubai and India. Lots of medium and small companies in the UAE are trying to break into markets like India but they have no idea how. They find it difficult to explore India. So, this is a perfect time for us to be here. 

We feel that in addition to traditional trade opportunities, India is very vibrant and young; the youth here is providing solutions. Dubai has faced a lot of challenges over the past few years, including economic and geopolitical ones. We feel India can help us cope with various challenges as the country’s young entrepreneurs are problem solvers.

YS: What kind of startups interest you in India?

OK: About 85 percent of our food is imported. So agro is an important sector for us. Besides this, manufacturing, healthcare, education, research and development, IT and tech, full tech turnkey solutions, artificial intelligence, analytics, etc. Logistics comprises 30 percent of our GDP, and it is becoming challenging as people are going directly to the source and cutting out the middle man. The middle man is only needed if they are adding more value than cost. If the cost is more than the value, people will cut you out. So we see this trend. This is why logistics as a sector is key to us.

Oman Khan believes that the startup ecosystems of India and Dubai can meet market needs and support Dubai’s smart city vision.

YS: Do you have any metrics in mind in terms of how many startups you want to invest or take to Dubai?

OK: I don't have any matrix as of now. However, since the inception of Dubai Startup Hub, we have 3,000 startups with 200 nationalities. Indians form 30 percent of our startup community. There is a piece of the pie in Dubai for everybody.

YS: What are the ways Indian startups can explore opportunities in Dubai?

OK: We have 3.3 million Indians in Dubai; we feel like we are connected to India. But we realised that these people from India are more used to Dubai, than India. So, we are not in touch with the actual India. We decided to fill this gap about two years ago and opened an office in Mumbai last year. Startups can reach out to our office

Our Smartpreneur competition offers a cash prize of AED 150,000. The competition gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to become part of the Dubai government’s strategy to elevate the city into a global platform for innovation-focused businesses in the fields of blockchain, AI, and digital transformation. This competition is open to all entrepreneurs based in or planning to move to the UAE.

YS: Tell us more about how your India office functions.

OK: We (India and Dubai) have been trade and cultural partners in many different ways for over 100 years. India has been evolving, decade by decade. I have been visiting India since the 1950s with my family. In the 80s, India was not known for productivity or manufacturing. In fact, for a very long time, we (Dubai) had a perception of bureaucracy in India. A few decades later, things are changing, but people still assume that they are the same as a decade ago.

And that's the problem with people today: we always assume. Our office in India aims to discover the vibrant startup market here.

The office is not a branch where you sit and wait. People who work for us are mobile. They are organising events throughout the year, attending exhibitions, having networking receptions, round table discussions etc. They do study missions, which is basically breaking down India region-wise to study what is the speciality of each region. In the last one year, we have had partnerships with CIIE, Gujarat, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, etc. So, right now the office is helping us understand what's out there in India, where to focus, and what to target. We are trying to understand what we want.

Our people are trying to match some of our investors to startups here. We are not only helping Indian startups to set up in Dubai, but also helping interested businesses to partner or invest in startups in IndiaA small part of India makes a huge impact on a small company. At the end of the day, capital in the UAE is now looking for places to go.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)