Inside Dubai Internet City: the innovation hub building technology ecosystem for startups, MNCs

By Sindhu Kashyaap
January 25, 2023, Updated on : Wed Jan 25 2023 06:49:26 GMT+0000
Inside Dubai Internet City: the innovation hub building technology ecosystem for startups, MNCs
In a conversation with YourStory Gulf Edition, Ammar Al Malik, the Executive Vice President of Commercial Leasing at TECOM Group, talks about how Dubai Internet City has evolved and grown.
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Today, Dubai Internet City is home to 12 innovation centres run by business partners, including, Oracle and 3M, solidifying Dubai’s position as an exporter of cutting-edge technology and solutions.


Most recently, Visa and Meta (formerly Facebook) expanded their regional headquarters in Dubai, creating a thriving community of Fortune 500 companies, innovative entrepreneurs, and new-age startups. 


Behind this growth is Ammar Al Malik, the Executive Vice President, Commercial Leasing at TECOM Group. Serving as the Managing Director of Dubai Internet City and Dubai Outsource City, Ammar is also responsible for the growth and development of nine business communities.


An MBA graduate from Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan, Ammar started as a strategic planning officer at the Dubai E-government Department before joining TECOM Group in 2005.


Throughout his 18 years at TECOM Group, he held various leadership positions, including director of operations and director of business development.


In a conversation with YourStory Gulf Edition, Ammar discusses how Dubai Internet City has evolved and grown over the years and the way forward.


Edited excerpts from the interview: 

YourStory Gulf Edition [YS Gulf]: How has Dubai Internet City grown over time?

Ammar Al Malik [AM]: In 2000, Dubai Internet City had four buildings, and today, we have a whole ecosystem built around it. It was an area built solely dedicated to technology. The government believed that technology will play a significant role in the economy. 


After 23 years, I can say that Dubai Internet City plays a pivotal role in supporting UAE’s economic strategies. The companies and startups located here have played an important role in taking UAE’s digitalisation journey forward.


We started by creating a new cluster dedicated to technology and removed all red tape and barriers. We made it easier for companies and gave them benefits to set up shop here, especially in the technology field.


While it started with a mix of smaller companies, soon, bigger names like Microsoft and Cisco came into Dubai Internet City. This was important for us because to create an ecosystem, you have to have large companies, smaller companies, and even universities. 


Dubai Internet City was designed over 20 years ago to include the pillars of innovation and technology, necessary for the future. Most deals like the Yahoo-Maktoob deal, Careem, and Souq—all happened within this ecosystem.


And for the next 10-15 years, the hub wants to focus on sustainable innovation and the ecosystem.

Dubai Internet City

Dubai Internet City

YS Gulf: Tell us the work you do with startups

AM: We established in5—TECOM Group's startup incubator—close to eight years ago. We realised that while Dubai Internet City was doing great, we needed a team and an area to support startups. in5 looks after selected startups and subsidises the ecosystem for them. Today, the incubator is known for its successful startups and has one of the highest numbers of investments within its cohort. 


The reason: companies who are part of in5 and this ecosystem are selected by the community. It has a regulatory support system, community, and strategy in place. 


We have collaborations with TiE Global and NASSCOM. We have a close relationship with India, and several Indian entrepreneurs are associated with the ecosystem. It is about building an environment so that companies from all over the world use Dubai as a base to leverage the opportunities this region provides.

YS Gulf: How do you continue building this momentum with a global economic crisis? 

AM: Crises will always exist; it’s a natural part of life. However, it is important to have a clear vision. To create a technology ecosystem, you need to continue to work towards that.


Difficulties happen when you don't have a vision of where you want to be. As soon as things go a little outside of your plan, you get lost. Since we had this vision to focus on the technology ecosystem, we are continuously developing it over the last 20 years.


Dubai has stood strong during the COVID pandemic. The way the UAE government handled it is a testament to making it one of the best places to live. It just isn’t about one thing; it is all about the economy, health, and lifestyle—resulting in an uptick of people wanting to establish their businesses here. 

YS Gulf: There are different free zones and incubators in the city. How does Dubai Internet City help?

AM: The more other parties are getting into technology, the more successful our ecosystem will be. You need to see startups growing and raising funds across the whole region. I believe with Dubai Internet City, we ignited the technology ecosystem of the region. 


We are proud that more tech ecosystems are built in this region. More startups will come up, as well as a lot more funding. The benefit of being a part of this ecosystem: you are next to global companies and startups, and there are events and investors. 

YS Gulf: What are the challenges of building an ecosystem like this? 

AM: Change is inevitable, especially in technology. Therefore, you have to be fast. Around 10 years ago, there was no such thing as ‘crypto’. But today, you have metaverse.


So the question arises: How do you update the regulations? How do you work with the government? The UAE government is extremely fragile in these things. You always have to be ready. 


Dubai has attracted a lot of good companies, and its geographic location makes it perfect to open a business. For someone from India, for example, will have access to the whole of the Middle East and Africa. We have companies from over 100 countries in Dubai, making it a global city. 


This is what we have been doing since the 60s and 70s. 

YS Gulf: What are your plans for 2023?

AM: We will continue to build a technology ecosystem. We want to focus a lot on acquiring talent. Whether it is the new buildings or developments, it is always about the people.


The first thing we try to develop and work on is talent and find ways to attract them to companies based in Dubai. For this, we are developing an innovation hub, which will have 40,000-45,000 tech talent, across three to five years. And the first phase is completed. 


All our strategies and developments are based on how to create an ecosystem that attracts and retains technology talent.

YS Gulf: What advice would you give entrepreneurs? 

AM: It has never been easier to start a company out of Dubai. Therefore, start exploring.


I would advise startups to utilise the opportunities this region has to offer. Many people have significant talent in this region. Dubai is developing quickly, and it understands technology significantly. Thus, utilise the opportunities that lie here.


Edited by Suman Singh

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