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The large young population makes the startup ecosystem in the region most vibrant with one of the highest levels of digital connectivity. In addition, a number of initiatives have emerged in recent years to promote business and social entrepreneurship in the region.

For Etisalat, small businesses are an integral component of the overall business, therefore constant innovation is key with a range of products and services designed to make their lives easier.

Esam Mahmoud, Senior Vice President, SMB, Etisalat shares his insights on the growing startup ecosystem and the various initiatives for this segment.

Growing startup landscape

The UAE comes out top of the list driven by advanced infrastructure, high funding levels and extended government support for businesses. The country has been looking to diversify its economy beyond the oil and gas trade for a number of years now, which has facilitated the advancement of the business ecosystem. 

The economic diversification drive undertaken by regional governments in the past has given rise to a plethora of startups across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The regional startup ecosystem has grown from strength to strength; the UAE remained the most active startup ecosystem with 26% of all deals, as per the report from Magnitt.

The country also accounted for 60% of total funding across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). During the COVID-19 outbreak last year, MENA start-ups attracted $1 billion with UAE attracting investments locally and from global markets. This signals high investor confidence despite global pandemic.

Importance of startups to business

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) today make up for about 94% of businesses in the UAE representing over 60% of the country’s GDP, therefore an important segment in Etisalat business. This is an integral component to our overall business and is driven by a commitment to the future of UAE. It is essential to support the noble vision of the leadership in creating a hub for startups and SMBs encouraging them to come and set up their businesses in the country.

Etisalat has continuously worked to enable these young businesses with all the important elements, first is to be an active participant in enabling UAE leadership’s vision, secondly with SMBs generating 60% of the GDP and 86% of the population working in these companies, it’s definitely a business we can contribute to with our enhanced services and solutions. Etisalat over the years has taken care of every business and digital requirement which is a major step in this direction.

Today we are also able to play a greater role in the digital lives of these enterprises with the backbone of a robust and one of the most advanced, fastest and widest network in the region.

Etisalat initiatives for startups

Customers today are looking at focusing on achieving their long-term business objectives with minimal hassle on the operational front. They look for a one-stop shop solution where they deal with one single player reducing the hassle of dealing with multiple partners.

Etisalat has been focused on delivering innovative solutions to support business needs for many years now, that are delivered majorly from the cloud, removing the need for on premise deployments and installations, customisable as per the business needs and size and ultimately include bundled offerings that deliver much more value to the business than buying these products from the market.

Etisalat’s main emphasis was always on the aspects that are required for day-to-day business requirements mainly the six pillars which are smart connectivity, unified communications, office productivity, security and analytics, business devices and digital marketing.

Etisalat’s priority has been enabling customers with digital transformation by offering them innovative solutions. Business Edge is an example that focuses on helping SMBs run their business with no upfront capital investments providing the infrastructure and business tools to compete and deliver better services to their clients. This is a comprehensive platform for SMBs built on innovation, customisation and value to meet their varying business needs during a business lifecycle

Etisalat ‘Hello Business Hub’ empowering SMBs

The opening of the ‘Hello Business Hub’ added value through innovation enabling them with the right tools and services to drive into this digital future. At Etisalat, we are committed to providing startups and SMBs with tailored advanced solutions to increase their profitability and productivity.

The specialised business hub located at One JLT, Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai offers the latest telecommunications solutions tailored for SMBs and an extended platform offered by its strategic business partners that include the host Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) as well as Virtuzone, National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK), Amer for Government services, in addition to Etisalat solutions and Digital Marketing services for SMBs.

This hub serves as one-stop placedesigned to help businesses get started by offering unique propositions: company setup, registration, insurance, banking, office equipment, combined with Etisalat’s latest telecom and ICT products and services.

This was a major milestone of Etisalat’s global innovation strategy and commitment to meet the needs of the country’s developing small and medium business sector.

Success of Hello Business Pitch

SMBs are playing a key role in the UAE economy in driving innovation, job creation and disruptive business models. Given the importance of this segment, Etisalat has been working closely with businesses across all sectors to cater to their requirements, ensure a successful a digital journey and facilitate business continuity during these unprecedented times.

Etisalat’s ‘Hello Business Pitch’ is one of Etisalat’s strategic initiatives that aimed at supporting entrepreneurs and startup businesses by providing them with an opportunity to pitch their business ideas in front of an expert panel of judges who assessed their business model through the strength of their pitch for a chance to win grand prizes that help in growing their business.

This platform, in its second year, has received an overwhelming response and is gaining popularity among aspiring entrepreneurs.  Hundreds of passionate startup businesses applied since its launch in December 2019. After an intensive and comprehensive assessment of the applications based on the creativity of the business models, demonstrative scalability, and the ability to effectively portray their potential business growth in a clear and concise way, Etisalat shortlisted 52 candidates who progressed to the latter stages of the competition.

The shortlisted businesses were then invited to pitch their business model online. Twenty-five businesses were selected, who then got into a dedicated training session by Dr Petar Stojanov, Partner, Innovation and Future Strategy at Black, on how to perfect their pitch. Two more pitching sessions were conducted and the jury selected the top three winners, who were announced by Etisalat at a live awards ceremony viewed by the business industry around the globe.

This year’s ‘Hello Business Pitch’ has indeed succeeded in attracting high-potential startups and harnessing the potential of aspiring entrepreneurs who are bringing innovative ideas to the market. Etisalat witnessed first-hand the thoroughness and the quality of the content of these pitches, and was a great opportunity for us as well to hear about their entrepreneurial journey.

YallaGive won first place for a brilliant pitch and received AED150,000. The second place winner Key2enable Assistive Technology was awarded AED120,000, while  App4Legal placed third in the competition and walked away with AED80,000 for their respective creative pitches.

This competition showed the strength of the UAE’s future business leaders and their passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. Our initiative is in line with Etisalat’s continuous efforts to support SMBs and start-ups in the UAE and position Etisalat as the preferred business partner of choice for SMBs.

Impact of the pandemic

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation globally with a shift in investment priorities and changes in online behavior. Businesses and people globally today think differently about how they work and live their lives. The percentage of customer interactions that are digital has been accelerated by several years.

With communication and connectivity gaining more significance and demand more than ever during the pandemic, telcos play a critical role in closing this gap of digital readiness by becoming the engines of resilience and innovation. Moving ahead, network modernisation and digital transformation play a key role in bringing this change to society.

Remote working infrastructure, new online services, technology skills and cyber security are now priorities for governments, corporates and SMEs. This is accelerating the digital transformation of society with telecom and 5G playing a major role. Research states that 85% of respondents said their businesses have somewhat or greatly accelerated the implementation of technologies that digitally enable employee interaction and collaboration.

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