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UAE-based telecom company Etisalat launched a unique first-in-the-region hub for small and medium businesses (SMBs) in Dubai on 12 February. Etisalat's 'Hello Business Hub' is set up as a one-stop-shop for aspiring business owners to obtain everything they need to establish a company in the UAE. Etisalat partnered with relevant firms to make the process seamless for customers.

SMBs are important to the UAE's economy. Industry reports estimate more than 100,000 new businesses to set up shop in the UAE over the next three years. Initiatives such as World Expo 2020 in Dubai will further drive substantial development of the country's SMB segment. Etisalat aims to capture the majority of new start-ups in the UAE, and forge long-term relationships with new customers coming on board through its new SMB hub.

"Small and medium businesses are important contributors to the UAE's economy today and with the digital revolution are set for further growth in the country," said Etisalat Acting Senior Vice President for SMB, Esam Mahmoud, at the hub's media launch. "At Etisalat, we work closely with SMBs and startups by enabling them with the right tools and services to drive this digital future."

Located at One JLT, in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Etisalat's new SMB hub is set up to provide the latest telecommunications solutions tailored for SMBs and an extended platform offered by its strategic business partners that cater to the specific needs of SMBs, whether it's insurance, tax assistance, banking, digital marketing or office supplies. The partners are established in zones throughout the hub where customers can meet with representatives.

Etisalat partnered with Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) for free-zone requirements and Virtuzone for mainland requirements. For banking needs, Etisalat partnered with the National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK) and for insurance needs Etisalat partnered with Oman Insurance. A representative from RAKBANK said it takes about 2-5 days to set up a bank account with them in the UAE.

Also included in the hub is Skylines Tax Consultancy who assist with value added tax (VAT) which was introduced in the UAE at the beginning of 2018. This is useful for SMBs that don't have an accountant. For immigration and government services, Etisalat partnered with Amer, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs agency of the Dubai Government that regulates the residency of foreign nationals.

To help SMBs get a head start, Etisalat partnered with The Ambassador, a B2B platform offering best price guarantees on business products from the world's leading brands such as, and not limited to, AXA insurance for staff health insurance, Aramex for courier services and Nespresso. The platform aims to directly benefit Etisalat premium business customers with a competitive market edge by providing access to business deals that can reduce operational expenditure (OPEX) company-wide.

The SMB hub also hosts representatives from CBRE, one of the largest commercial real estate services and investment firms in the world to help SMBs find an office space, and also Advanced Business Concept (ABC), a firm that provides office furniture and fit-outs. For office supplies, Etisalat partnered with Sharaf DG which offers customers zero upfront for products and provides security services such as CCTV. For trade marking, customers can visit Leader Consulting.

Since the hub is hosted by Etisalat, customers can visit an Etisalat retail store for general consumer mobile requirements. There is also a zone dedicated to Etisalat Digital Marketing which aids SMBs in creating a website for their business, generating a business listing, search engine optimization, and also social media and online campaigns.

Each partner offers a special proposition to the SMB customers to fit their requirements, which could be a discount, for example. The process of setting up a business usually takes up to six months in the UAE, but with one-stop services at the Etisalat SMB hub, the process is significantly shortened.

"The SMB segment is very important to the UAE - a key driver of growth of the economy," Mahmoud told Telecom Review. "We have around 300,000 business customers from this segment which contribute to around 80% of the workforce in the private sector. SMBs contribute almost 60% of the UAE's GDP. The government has recognized the importance of SMBs which ties into establishing a consulate which focuses solely on the segment."

Agility is the most important part of business, Mahmoud added, and this is amplified for aspiring SMBs at the Hello Business Hub because they don't have to waste time traveling to various departments across the city to get their company set-up. Everything they need to get established is available at the hub through the partners at their respective zones.

Mahmoud explained that before a customer begins his journey at the hub, he will be assisted by business consultants who greet new customers and provide a brief about the services on offer, and also explain what documents are required to start a new business.

The Hello Business Hub is proudly "paperless" - everything is digital, including reusable registration cards customers are given when they register at the beginning of the journey through the hub that are uploaded with the customer's information. When a customer approaches a zone in the hub, their information will automatically be directed to the zone's representative.

Going paperless is a top priority for the Dubai government and Etisalat's effort to make the new SMB hub paperless falls in line with this strategy. In early February, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, launched the 'Dubai Paperless Strategy' during a visit to the Smart Dubai Office headquarters.

The cost of using the SMB hub "varies" Mahmoud said, based on the requirements of each customer. The cost also depends on the type of license the customer is looking for. "Each zone has different packages and different prices, because it all depends on your requirements," he said. However, customers are likely to get discounts as part of their overall package.

The launch of Etisalat's Hello Business Hub comes after the company recently unveiled its 'Open Innovation Center' in Dubai on 20 December, 2017, featuring digital showcases dedicated to areas of Etisalat Digital's portfolio. The two centers fall in line with the UAE Vision 2021, where the national innovation strategy has identified digital technology as one of the top seven primary national sectors.

However, Mahmoud stressed that the two centers serve very different purposes. Whereas the innovation center showcases Etisalat's digital products with a focus on enterprise customers, the new SMB hub is "about how we can support you to start a new business, and it's not only focused on Etisalat - we are just one partner among twelve," he explained.

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