The future is blockchain: How DMCC Crypto Centre strives to help Web3, crypto startups
In a conversation with YourStory Gulf Edition, Belal Jassoma, Head of Business Development, DMCC Crypto Centre, speaks about how the centre is helping Web3 and blockchain companies in the MENA region.
The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) was founded as a startup in 2003 with 28 member companies. Today, it’s one of the world’s leading free zones with over 21,000 member companies from 180 countries, employing more than 65,000 people.
Headed by Ahmed Bin Sulayem, the Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of DMCC, in 2022 alone, the company registered over 3,000 companies with it.
Recently, the DMCC partnered with SafeGold and Comtech Gold to tokenize gold bars based in UAE facilities.
Further, its crypto arm—the—is home to over 500 crypto companies, representing the largest concentration of crypto and blockchain companies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The crypto centre has partnered with Brinc, a Hong Kong-based global venture capital firm, to provide access to its $150 million accelerator to support Web3 and blockchain technologies companies.
The DMCC Crypto Centre offers a unique environment that a crypto business needs to succeed:
- Access to capital through global investors
- Local and global talent
- A full suite of crypto licences that increase the ease of doing business
- A network of like-minded companies and entrepreneurs
In a recent conversation, YourStory Gulf Edition spoke to Belal Jassoma, Head of Business Development, DMCC Crypto Centre, who discussed how the firm helps Web3 and blockchain companies in the MENA region.
Belal, a graduate of business administration from the American University of Sharjah, started his career in the real estate sector in 2006 and joined DMCC In 2011.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory Gulf Edition [YS Gulf]: From real estate to DMCC, how has the segment evolved and grown?
Belal Jassoma [BJ]: From the time I joined DMCC, we have grown from strength to strength. The average number of new businesses we used to attract would be 1,000 to 1,500. In 2021, we registered 2,500 companies; it was a record. This year, we broke that record with over 3,049 companies. It is unprecedented.
The reason we are growing is because of our diversity and our focus on growing ecosystems, creating sector-specific ecosystems.
Anyone can issue a licence or registration, but those who create a sustained competitive advantage for startups and companies to appreciate and stick to it helps with the growth.
YS Gulf: How are you maintaining this consistent growth?
BJ: It is always about looking at what’s next. It is about being early to recognise a sector's potential and quickly organise what the sector needs—the environment startups need and what will help them flourish and grow.
YS Gulf: What are the sectors you have seen grow since 2011?
BJ: The main purpose of DMCC was to develop trade, especially the commodities trade. The majority of companies were in the commodities segment. But we saw a lot of potential and opportunity in the technology sector.
To build a diverse ecosystem, we added a focus on tech, as we cannot have commodity companies working in silos. We need all of them to have a comprehensive, self-sustained community and ecosystem, and one of those things is scaling up opportunities.
We partnered with AstroLabs in 2013 to launch and scale startups and companies registered with DMCC. Starting with one programme every couple of months to a dedicated space that AstroLabs took from us, today, we have one of the most successful and attractive tech hubs in the region.
YS Gulf: Dubai is now becoming synonymous with Web3, blockchain, crypto, and Metaverse. How is DMCC working towards that?
BJ: We have many projects that we are championing. But our main role is to bridge mainstream companies and traders. More than 50% of our companies are in the trading business.
We were early to recognise the potential of blockchain and crypto in 2016. It has the potential to grow trade and take it to the next level, which is our mandate.
The idea is to connect blockchain companies with trading companies to see more adoption and build more projects in the segment.
YS Gulf: Please tell us about the DMCC Crypto Centre. How has it grown and developed?
BJ: In the UAE, we were the first to create a home for crypto and blockchain companies. We created a framework and licences for crypto trading and DLT services, and nobody else was offering them in the region. We have now expanded that into the NFT marketplace.
Today, there is more blockchain and Web3 rather than crypto and mining. We have seen the demand grow. In 2020, we wanted to build a dedicated centre for companies in that space, and we opened the DMCC Crypto Centre in 2021.
YS Gulf: The sector is in its nascent stage, and there are cases like the FTX crash. How does this impact startups in the sector and the centre, specifically?
BJ: Considering a large portion of our companies are in the trading segment, we are closely monitoring the [FTX] story and the impact it can cause.
However, from day one, the DMCC Crypto Centre’s focus has been on member companies building projects on Web3 and blockchain technologies.
A lot of exciting projects are in the pipeline, including Metaverse games, education technology on the metaverse, and music streaming on the blockchain. We are also focusing on blockchain technology for sustainability and healthcare.
This is business as usual for us, despite what's happening in the market.
YS Gulf: How do you mitigate or work around failures?
BJ: If you look at the statistics, about 70-80% of startups don't make it through after their fourth year. So, there's no harm in trying. I mean, it's a new space. Unless you try, you aren’t going to see success.
Several projects start on a small scale. A good example is tokenization. We have companies looking to tokenize real estate. Further, a lot of companies have tokenized gold and assets and physical assets for actualising those assets. We can get more ownership opportunities for those.
We also have an in-house team—a dedicated team of crypto experts—who support these companies and see the business cases that come to us and what can work.
YS Gulf: How can companies from different parts of the world find a space at DMCC’s Crypto Centre?
BJ: Close to 17% of the 500 companies we have at the crypto centre are from India. It is the highest nationality we have in the centre.
We are also expanding our international presence through representative offices, which will have local staff. We want to explore and understand the market opportunities; the benefits of setting up an office and having someone who speaks the local language and working in that timezone and support them locally.
More importantly, our process is 100% digital and paperless, which is easier for companies, especially startups, to set up businesses in Dubai.
Also, the transaction speed is important. Companies can set up their business in their country without even having to come here, and they can come to Dubai when they're already up and running and ready to do business.
YS Gulf: What are the benefits?
BJ: First of all, access to funding. We have accelerator and incubator programmes running all the time. Moreover, we also have a $150 million fund set up by Brinc.
For Metaverse, we have access to local and global talent—both for crypto gaming and tech.
We also run regular networking and knowledge-sharing events and programmes, not limited to the crypto and blockchain sector, but for DMCC’s 22,000 member companies.
We also play a role in matching peers and creating opportunities for collaboration. Last but not least, we have many sector-specific ecosystems that offer dedicated co-working spaces.
Crypto and Web3 are one of them. We have a gaming centre for gaming and e-sports companies and a sports and wellness centre. We also have a dedicated space for AstroLabs. Soon, we are going to launch a dedicated space for ecommerce startups.
YS Gulf: How have you seen the market evolve for startups?
BJ: With all the highs and lows, there will always be new businesses setting up. When large companies lay off good talent, these skilled professionals continue delivering and doing business and setting up companies. They join us as new startups and start new businesses.
Across the board, we've seen all sectors grow. For example, the renewable energy sector gets more interest when energy prices rise. We have seen more family offices set up shop here.
Moreover, because of the regulatory environment, the benefits Dubai offers, and banking on the security and stability of their office, we have seen more holding companies using Dubai as their base.
YS Gulf: How do you see the Web3 and Metaverse ecosystem grow and evolve?
BJ: In our view, the future of technology is blockchain. We are seeing more blockchain innovations come to Dubai and witnessing a rise in more innovative technologies.
What's important is to be on top of that and gauge what these companies need—the regulatory environment and financial incentives they need to flourish.
YS Gulf: What does 2023 hold for DMCC and DMCC Crypto Centre?
BJ: Several initiatives and projects are coming up for DMCC’s crypto and gaming centres. We have expansion plans as the demand is growing. We will also focus on more incubation, acceleration, and funding for startups.
In fact, we are strongly focusing on education and member engagement, especially in the blockchain and Web3 space. We aim to strengthen and enhance our platforms and ecosystems to make it better and easier for our members to scale up their operations. More importantly, we want to encourage the adoption of blockchain in the mainstream.
YS Gulf: What advice would you give startup founders?
BJ: The first thing that comes to my mind is to do proper research. Always think about exit strategies. It doesn't have to be an exit from the business, but your scaling-up opportunity and exit plans in case things don't work out. Be prepared for that.
Edited by Suman Singh