DIFC signs deals with banks and venture builders for start-up Launchpad initiative

Financial centre signs corporate partnership agreements with Mashreq, Commercial Bank of Dubai and global payments company Mastercard

DIFC Governor Essa Kazim and Mashreq chief executive Ahmed Abdelaal at the Launchpad event in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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The Dubai International Financial Centre has formally launched its global venture studio initiative and entered into pacts with banks and venture companies that will help to attract more than Dh2 billion ($544.5 million) in venture capital.

The DIFC, one of the fastest-growing financial centres in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region, on Tuesday signed corporate partnership agreements for its DIFC Launchpad with Mashreq, Commercial Bank of Dubai and global payments company Mastercard.

Venture studios build start-ups, taking them from the concept stage to launch, while also providing capital and guidance through the incubation period.

They also help start-ups to grow using internal capabilities and external support.

The DIFC has also tied up with Antler, BIM Ventures, Future labs and R/GA as studio partners that will provide venture-building expertise.

The financial centre, which first announced the venture in April 2022, expects more than 20 studios to set up in the DIFC, launch more than 200 ventures and create more than 8,000 innovation-focused jobs in Dubai.

These companies will include more than 100 scale-ups — a company with 10 or more employees that has had an average annual growth of 20 per cent over the past three years — and 10 that will be valued at more than $1 billion, it said at the time.

“We want to continue building the most comprehensive, the most supportive and the most enabling framework to help our firms succeed,” DIFC governor Essa Kazim told the launch event on Tuesday.

“By providing all the necessary support to develop, test and launch new start-ups, scale-ups and corporate ventures, the Launchpad will help change the way corporate and venture studios operate and scale up.”

Dubai aims to become a global centre for start-ups and scale-ups, and has introduced regulatory changes such as golden, green, freelancer and entrepreneur visas to support the ecosystem.

The emirate, which is home to 39 per cent of the Mena region’s scale-ups, accounted for about 57 per cent of scale-up funding in the region last year, according to a report by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, Mind the Bridge and Crunchbase.

Mena scale-ups raised $9.1 billion, or 0.12 per cent of the region’s total economy, the report said.

The Launchpad initiative is in line with the DIFC’s 2030 strategy and the centre remains focused on developing the financial technology sector and innovation-focused companies.

Mohammad Al Blooshi, head of the DIFC Innovation Hub & FinTech Hive, at the Launchpad event. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I am happy to share that these firms [in FinTech and innovation] have raised over $600 million in 2022 alone [in Dubai],” Mr Kazim said.

“The sector is also the fastest growing in DIFC, with 291 new FinTech and innovation firms joining us last year, representing a 36 per cent increase year on year, taking the total to 686.”

The DIFC has already broken ground on a 13,935-square-metre building that will house the Launchpad team who will work alongside corporate sponsors, investors and the ventures they help to create.

Part of the Launchpad offering will be a research living lab that will support thought leadership and research to seek new opportunities and produce data and insights for future business models, laws and regulations, it said in April last year.

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of Mashreq, speaks at the DIFC Launchpad event on Tuesday. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Through DIFC Launchpad, we have the ability to catalyse the digital transformation of the financial sector in our country and around the world,” said Mashreq chairman Aziz Al Ghurair.

“We can help scale up and accelerate the creation of unicorns to create the spirit of entrepreneurship that is essential for this country’s sustainable economic development.”

Unicorns are start-ups with a valuation of $1 billion or more.

The DIFC, which is further expanding its Innovation Hub, is also streamlining a “robust and agile regulatory environment for growth”, a move that is key to the centre’s “journey to success”, Mr Kazim said on Tuesday.

The centre recently announced its legislative framework for venture building.

The new rules will support the ease of doing business within the venture studio model, with “operational measures to enable the incubation of new business ideas, sponsorship for entrepreneurs and reduced costs for the scaling [up] of new businesses”, he said.

“The new regulations will also provide certainty for how venture studios, entrepreneurs and spin-off entities engage with each other and the wider market.”

Updated: March 21, 2023, 11:42 AM