Entrepreneurship in the Middle East has seen no bounds, especially in the year 2022. While Middle-Eastern countries are fighting for the top spot when it comes to being a global hub, some countries have surely hit it big when compared to the rest. The facilities provided, cutting-edge technology, diversity, and government support have made the MENA region a Mecca for entrepreneurs! There are so many options, and countries are competing for more opportunities, so you could be in a pickle. Worry not, for we have the top cities in the Middle East where you could jumpstart your vision!
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
According to the Sortlist report, Riyadh bags the first place for being the best place for startups in the Middle East! The UK-based communication platform Sortlist took the factors of internet speed, average office rental prices, happiness, and literacy into consideration before arriving at this conclusion. With Saudi Vision 2030, the Saudi government prioritizes entrepreneurship and small and midsized enterprises (SME), creating new opportunities for innovative ideas.
Saudi Arabia's heart isn't in oil anymore! There are 2,241 startups in Saudi Arabia alone, and the government has set aside new funds to be allocated to SMEs through Monsha'at, the Saudi Venture Capital Company, the Social Development Bank, and others. The entrepreneurial license initiated by the Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia (MISA) also allows local and international startups to expand in the kingdom. Boosting SME financing, incubators, accelerators, and workspaces are all in the cards for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
Every Middle Eastern country is taking note of Dubai's thriving culture, and for good reason too! This entrepreneurial oasis is best known for its ability to bring people together and make dreams come true. Dubai is yet another city that shifted its focus to non-oil revenue long ago and has swept entrepreneurs off their feet with opportunities like giving 100% ownership to SMEs and having low business costs. The Dubai government is constantly on the lookout for cost-effective measures, and with the open trade system they have, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to take their business worldwide! The UAE has over 10,000 small and medium-sized startups. Not to mention, the Golden Visa is also a huge highlight of making it big in Dubai!
Dubai is home to some of the highest net-worth individuals in the world, making it a place for networking to happen. This is also the reason why many startup summits happen in the land of sand dunes and skyscrapers! GITEX 2022 was one such event that took the startup world by storm by both allowing networking opportunities and inculcating innovative ideas for new ventures to start in Dubai.
With a vibrant history of merchant trading, the hidden gem of Kuwait is also one of the top places for your business to lay down its roots! Although starting a business in Kuwait was considered a nightmare, the landscape has changed a lot, what with Kuwait’s Vision 2035. Kuwait Vision 2035 aims to transform Kuwait into a financial and trade hub, which would result in a large influx of entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Since oil revenue has become quite unstable lately, Kuwait has transformed itself into an investor hub as a result of its intense focus on SME development. Young Kuwaitis can start their own businesses with the support of the National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprise Development (NFSMED) and Industrial Bank of Kuwait, which will also finance up to 80% of the capital for viable proposals presented by Kuwaiti citizens. As a result, co-working spaces have become increasingly popular in Kuwait. The local population of Kuwait is consumer-friendly, and its banking market is one of the most stable in the region. Kuwait is paving its way back to its roots of commercial trading!
Starting a successful business in Qatar is similar to striking oil in the Middle East! If your million-dollar idea is related to tech, Qatar might just be the place to be. In terms of global SME financing, the country was ranked fourth in 2022. 90% of Qatari businesses are SMEs, and the country's trading sector predominantly targets Asian nations like Japan, South Korea, and India. There's no doubt Qatar isn't new to this!
Quite a few incubators have established themselves in Qatar, including the Social Development Center (SDC), Qatar Development Bank (QDB), QBIC, and Silatech. They intend to work with SMEs in their early stages, provide financial facilities such as free office space and subsidies, and increase the rate of youth employment. Also gaining popularity is Qatar's Vision 2030, which proposes strategies for assisting businesspeople who use real estate, hospitality, and technology. It isn’t Silicon Valley, but it’s just around the corner!
The pyramids may not be the only wonder in Cairo. The startup scene is out of this world as well! Besides tourism, Cairo's Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) lets businesses take advantage of the US-Israel free trade deal. Although holding the majority of the ownership is out of the question in Cairo, the startup track record is pretty high here! According to the startup analysis platform Disrupt Africa, Egypt recorded a 139% growth in the number of funded ventures in 2017. Several fintech firms are flourishing in Cairo, and the city is attracting an increasing number of investors. Cairo's economic significance in the Middle East knows no bounds as well, thus making it a key player for hosting businesses.
There are 962 tech startups alone in Cairo, according to Traxn. The Investment Ministry of Egypt has dabbled quite well in the startup scene, establishing startup incubators as well. Bedaya, TIEC (Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center), and Fekretak Sherketak are the top incubators founded by the government. The number of venture capital firms and accelerators has also been on the rise since the Egyptian government is looking to expand its ICT sector. The bar’s high up there!
You'll find the idea of entrepreneurship very much alive in Jordan, home of the Dead Sea! With so many multinational corporations expanding into Jordan, you can bet that an entrepreneur boom is on the way. Although there’s an increasing amount of instability in Syria, Jordan seems to be relatively unaffected, and Amman seems to be its placeholder for businesses as well. Technology and Internet-based companies seem to be doing well, thanks to Jordan's strong support for SME establishments.
Jordan's government launched its Jordan Digital Transformation Strategy in 2020 to keep up with the digital transformation happening around the world. Jordan Vision 2025 is yet another key player in helping Jordan's entrepreneurs. The government also vows to enhance professional skills among the youth and bring in a technological curriculum for the schools to ensure the pool of talent is spectacular.
Middle East: The New Startup hotspot
Among the desert now lies a sea of opportunities, since the Middle East has really stepped up its game. The future is in tech, and the Middle East is now taking over the reins to transform itself into a Silicon Valley. Unstable oil revenue fluctuations have led leaders to lure in entrepreneurs for stable economic growth, and it seems to be working! In fact, startups in the UAE and Saudi Arabia seem to be way ahead of their colleagues by raising $31.8 million and $31.7 million, respectively, in December 2022. Soon, the oil may not be the only venture that the Middle East will be known for!