This post was written by the Rainmaking Expand team.
Renad Jabaji is the Partnership Lead for the United Arab Emirates at Rainmaking Expand, and holds an extensive background in the United Arab Emirates market.
In this article, Renad shares some of her insights and advice on how companies can focus on the important elements for market entry into the UAE and how they can navigate around some of the common hurdles. As Partnership Lead, Renad works closely with companies looking to enter the UAE market via the Rainmaking Expand: United Arab Emirates programme
Hello, my name is Renad and I am the Partnership Lead for the UAE at Rainmaking Expand. I have first-hand experience with the entrepreneurial journey, having set up my own company, gone through fundraising rounds, and driven high growth that led to a successful exit. After nearly a decade of working in startups, I moved to venture development, where I help the most ambitious founders work with the world’s leading companies to solve big problems and drive corporate innovation through pilot engagements, partnerships, and strategic investments.
The UAE market is a fascinating and diverse place, with a blend of cultures and a strong focus on rapidly developing innovation and cutting-edge technology. As the UAE continues to grow as a business and innovation hub, numerous opportunities are emerging in the region. With a diversified and open economy, many companies are seeking new ways to evolve, innovate, and explore new possibilities. As a result, various initiatives and policies have been implemented to attract and support startups, including their $100m VC fund, the Hatta Traders Council for mentorship, and various other programmes. Additionally, multiple VCs and other investment opportunities have set their sights on the UAE, creating numerous opportunities and pouring billions into the startup ecosystem.
Given the rich and dynamic nature of the market, companies seeking to enter the space should keep a few areas in mind to ensure they successfully navigate the local business culture.
Highly competitive landscape
The UAE is an extremely competitive landscape, and it is crucial for companies to differentiate themselves and quickly find product-market fit when exploring the market. However, this competitiveness also indicates that there are opportunities for growth, as well as strong support for the ecosystem.
Relationship-oriented business culture
The UAE places a strong emphasis on personal relationships and high-value partnerships. As such, companies can leverage the relationships that Rainmaking Expand has built to fast-track some of these connections. However, it is important to maintain these relationships over time. Doing so can provide access to local knowledge and help establish a positive reputation and build trust with customers and partners.
Patience (and persistence) is a virtue
Market entry into the UAE requires patience and persistence due to several factors, including the time required for building relationships, the complexity of the regulatory environment, cultural differences, competition, and slow decision-making processes. However, startups that are willing to invest the time and effort needed to overcome these challenges, can ultimately succeed in the market.
Navigating these initial steps in the UAE can be intimidating, but as the Partnerships Lead at Rainmaking Expand, my role is to help companies on our programme. Together, we can collaborate to meet current contacts and expand your relationships within the UAE to suit your business and in-market needs.
There are currently multiple projects in the region focused on driving development and growth in various sectors. This allows the UAE to diversify its business portfolio and promote growth. Through our partners and network, we have identified a few key industries that are currently trending:
Sustainability & Decarbonisation
Sustainability and decarbonization have been at the forefront of development in the UAE in recent years. The country is working towards diversifying its economy away from oil and gas, and has set a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2025. This will require significant efforts in decarbonization and sustainability, which have opened up multiple opportunities in this sector.
Hospitality & Travel Tech
The Hospitality and Travel Tech sectors are crucial elements of the UAE’s economy and have been rapidly evolving in recent times. The region is adopting new technologies to stay at the forefront of innovation and enhance the guest experience, while also improving operational efficiency. Companies in this space are particularly attractive as the country boasts world-class airports, hotels, and other popular tourist destinations that are constantly seeking to innovate and improve the guest experience.
The UAE is currently undergoing a digital transformation, with the government encouraging the adoption of digital technology across all sectors and FinTech funding leading investments in the region. FinTech is a crucial part of this transformation, creating opportunities to connect multiple sectors with the thriving financial services industry in the UAE, which is currently recognised as the FinTech hub of MENA. Through our conversations with local corporates, areas such as FinTech in retail, Point of Sales solutions and digital banking solutions are some of the highlighted areas interest.
The UAE is currently working to move away from its reliance on oil and gas for its energy supply. As a result, the country has set a target of generating 50% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. This has led to growth in the renewable energy industry, including solar and wind power, as well as opportunities in energy efficiency and sustainable transport.
The UAE is known for hosting major sporting events and is investing in their Sports Tech sector to ensure the success and safety of their events. Recently, they have been exploring new technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and data analytics to enhance sports performance and improve the fan experience.
The UAE is an advanced and dynamic market, with a rapidly growing tech ecosystem. The country’s eagerness for international collaboration makes it an attractive target for companies looking to expand beyond their own borders and leverage the strengths of the MENA ecosystem, as well as the funding available in various spaces.
If you’re looking to enter the UAE market, it’s important to be prepared and ready to localize your solutions to find success in the local market.
Based on my experience, these three steps should be the foundation of your expansion:
Do your research
It is important to conduct market research in the UAE and gain a foundational understanding of the market and your potential for success. I advise companies to investigate what is currently available in their industry in the UAE and compare their services against them.
For companies with solutions in regulated sectors, it is important to review the regulatory requirements for the UAE and understand the time needed to complete any necessary processes for your company.
Lastly, it is important to identify potential partners, clients, or users in the UAE market and determine how to properly meet their needs.
Leverage relationships and partnerships
As mentioned earlier, the UAE heavily relies on relationships. Companies looking to expand into this market should be prepared to invest in building relationships with local companies and connectors. A well-maintained relationship often accelerates business conversations and opens doors to other partnerships.
One advantage of companies entering our UAE program is that they can connect with the network of potential partners and companies that I have been curating and growing. To establish success in this market, it is important to work on maintaining these relationships, even if no business opportunities are immediately generated. These relationships may introduce you to someone else who would be interested in working with you.
Be adaptable but realistic
The UAE is a dynamic and ever-evolving market. In such a fast-paced market, it is crucial for companies to remain open-minded and adaptable. It is common for potential partners to ask if you can tailor your services to their specific needs. While it is important to explore how you could adapt your services, it is essential to maintain a realistic perspective. When discussing your company with a potential partner, be transparent about what you can achieve and what would be difficult to accomplish. It is easy to overpromise and underdeliver, so it is important to set realistic expectations. By doing so, you can set yourself up for success and ensure that you deliver on your promises.
By preparing yourself in these three foundational areas, companies should be able to take their first successful steps within the market and position themselves for success. If you’re currently exploring the UAE market for your next expansion, I’d be happy to offer my support and guidance to those who enter the Rainmaking Expand: United Arab Emirates programme. Applications are open year-round, so lock in your success by submitting your application now.
Interested in scaling your business to new markets?
Rainmaking Expand is for growth stage startups & SMEs looking to accelerate market entry into multiple locations, focusing on business development and leveraging genuine commercial opportunities. Our Rainmaking Expand framework aims to accelerate companies’ speed to market while de-risking market expansion.
Our programmes are accepting applications on a rolling basis. Explore our current markets available and apply now: