Dubai, United Arab Emirates: The startup city guide

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The skyline of Dubai, with dozens of high-rise buildings. It's sunset. Overlaid on the image is a square outline and the text 'startup cities series'.

From unicorns and smart city infrastructure to incubators and funding, learn all about Dubai’s tech startup scene in this comprehensive city guide.

An emblem of modernity and innovation situated at the nexus of East and West, Dubai has steadily emerged as a hub for tech founders and investors around the globe.

The city’s long-standing international outlook, liberal business policies, strong governance and readiness to address the needs of the world of business have catapulted it onto the global stage.

This has led to a range of businesses from FTSE 100s to innovative startups attempting to capitalise on Dubai’s strategic positioning as a gateway to the economies of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

A modern cityscape boasting dozens of high-rise buildings, viewed from a high vantage point. In the foreground is a smaller multi-storey building in the shape of an arch. This arch-style building is surrounded by even lower multi-storey, glass-fronted buildings. This is Dubai.

Image of the Dubai cityscape: Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism

The startup scene in the region, while new, is growing at an accelerated pace, presenting a significant opportunity for both founders and investors.

As the number one emerging destination for startups in terms of entrepreneurship policies and culture (according to the Global Innovation Index), and as a regional innovation leader, Dubai is perfectly positioned at the crossroads of existing and emerging trade routes.

Successful startups and unicorns


Dubai is already home to some of the region’s top unicorns, and it continues to attract others. Among the city’s existing unicorn cohort are:

  • Careem, an app-based car booking service, was founded in 2012 by former McKinsey & Co consultants Magnus Olsson and Mudassir Sheikha, and Abdullah Elyas. Within its first five years, Careem was the Middle East’s first unicorn.
  • Founded in 2004 by Thomas Flohr, Vista Global is the highest valued Dubai-founded unicorn. An aerospace business, Vista Global – valued at US$2.5 billion as far back as 2017 – provides corporate aircraft services worldwide.
  • Kitopi is a cloud kitchen startup enabling delivery-only restaurant brands. Founded in 2018 by Andres Arenas, Bader Ataya, Mohamad Ballout and Saman Darkan, Kitopi reached a US$1.55 billion valuation in July 2021 after raising US$502 million over four funding rounds.
  • Dubizzle Group – aka EMPG (Emerging Markets Property Group) – operates in luxury property development across emerging markets, and was valued at US$1 billion as of April 2020. Started in 2015 by Imran Ali Khan and Zeeshan Ali Khan, the company has raised US$279 million to date.
  • Swvl, valued at more than US$1.5 billion, was founded in Egypt, but moved its main office to Dubai in late 2019. It ranked second on Forbes Middle East’s The Middle East’s 50 Most-Funded Startups list in 2020, with US$92 million in funding.


There are also a number of Dubai ‘soonicorns’ (startups that are on the verge of achieving a billion-dollar valuation) making significant strides in their respective industries.

Property Finder is an online listing platform for residential and commercial properties, and has secured US$140 million in disclosed funding since its inception in 2005.

On the fintech front, cryptocurrency trading platform Rain has disclosed funding of US$110 million.

Healthcare soonicorns including Vezeeta and AlTibbi are also part of the innovative ecosystem in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Dubai-headquartered Vezeeta is an online platform for doctor appointment booking and consultations, while AlTibbi, which has one of its five bases in Dubai, is a telemedicine platform and online community for doctors.

Funding opportunities

Venture capital landscape

Dubai is home to a growing number of active venture capital firms, such as prominent MENA-focused VC Wamda Capital. Wamda Capital has invested in Dubai startups including mother-focused ecommerce platform Mumzworld and fashion manufacturing startup FabricAID.

Beco Capital, which has more than US$300 million in assets, has invested in several ecommerce and logistics startups in Dubai, including Dukkantek and Supy.

VentureSouq – backed by MEVP – provides seed funding to startups across all sectors, with a strong focus on fintech in the MENA region. Investments include Baraka and Mamo Pay.

A person sits at a low table on a balcony. They are looking at a smartphone that they're holding in their left hand, and touching the trackpad of a laptop with their right hand. Visible beyond the balcony is the skyline of Dubai, including most prominently a structure that appears to be made of metal, with Arabic calligraphy inlaid in it in glass. This is Dubai's Museum of the Future.

Image of person working on balcony overlooking Dubai’s Museum of the Future: Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism

Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism’ investments include lending platform Beehive and Swvl, while Global Ventures – one of the UAE’s first VC firms – invests in MENA startups across all stages of growth. Its Dubai investments include JustClean, a home services marketplace.

A recent report released by MAGNiTT reported a 32 percent quarter-on-quarter increase in MENA venture capital funding in Q3 2023, with US$250 million raised across 78 deals. The UAE reported the most activity, with a third of all deals closed in the region in the first nine months of 2023.

Government funding

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund offers help to startups through two main avenues: a placement in its accelerator programme with mentorship by Emirates Development Bank, and access to financial support through flexible government-backed loan guarantees.

The city is also home to the Dubai Future District Fund, an evergreen venture fund anchored by the Dubai International Finance Centre and the Dubai Future Foundation. Most recently, the city launched a US$136 million venture capital fund designed to finance technology startups.

Most recently, the city launched a US$136 million venture capital fund designed to finance technology startups: Oraseya Capital, the venture capital arm of DIEZ, will play a pivotal role in supporting startups from pre-seed stage to Series B.

Ecosystems and hubs

Hubs, incubators and accelerators

Dubai hosts a plethora of innovation hubs, incubators and accelerators that provide a nurturing environment in which startups and entrepreneurs can thrive.

Dubai Internet City is home to global companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, as well as to a fast-growing community of startups, incubators and co-working spaces. Also located within Dubai Internet City is in5 Tech, which has supported more than 500 startups across four verticals to date.

Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) is the Middle East, Africa and South Asia’s largest financial centre, and attracted more than US$615 million in 2022. The centre’s DIFC Innovation Hub houses the recently announced Metaverse Accelerator, as well as the Dubai AI & Web3 Campus – an ecosystem designed to attract more than US$300 million in collective funds, gather 500-plus global AI and Web3 startups, and create 3,000-plus jobs by 2028.

Two people walk towards the lens. One person is holding a phone in their right hand, and is showing its screen to the second person, who is walking on their right. The second person is holding a laptop under their right arm. Both people are smiling. Behind them, wooden tiered seating is visible. DIFC FinTech Hive is written on the wall behind them.

Image of two people looking at a smartphone in the DIFC FinTech Hive office: Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism

Dubai Silicon Oasis is a free zone authority – an integrated technology park that has attracted US$1.2 billion to date.

Within the Silicon Oasis is Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (DTEC), a purpose-built technology hub designed to support technology entrepreneurs and SMEs through the provision of one-stop company setup, flexible co-working options, and a nurturing ecosystem for young ventures.

Elsewhere, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) is home to AstroLabs – part of the Google for Startups partner network – as well as bespoke ecosystems, including the DMCC Crypto Centre and DMCC Gaming Centre.

Co-working spaces

Dubai also offers an array of co-working and maker spaces that cater to the varied needs of entrepreneurs and digital nomads. Some of them include:

  • The Bureau, located in Dubai’s Gold & Diamond Park, is a woman-focused co-working space offering a lounge, private offices, meeting rooms, a podcast studio, and a pumping room for new mothers.
  • The Place has six locations across Dubai, each offering private offices, co-working space, meeting rooms, event spaces, and virtual office space.
  • Spaces CommerCity is conveniently located just minutes’ drive from Dubai International Airport. Membership includes free access to more than 3,000 co-working spaces worldwide.
  • The members-only Nasab by KOA boasts three floors of open-air, loft-style architecture with an in-house restaurant offering award-winning food.

Future forward

Dubai Centre for Artificial Intelligence

The newly launched Dubai Centre for Artificial Intelligence is an initiative by government-backed framework Digital Dubai.

“The centre will create task forces comprising national talent from different government entities in Dubai. These are talents who possess the best AI skills and tools, and who will use their expertise to enhance the performance of various entities by developing various applications based on AI,” said Saeed Al Falasi, director of the Centre.

A person holds a smartphone to their ear. They stand next to a wall of windows, which overlook a modern cityscape boasting dozens of high-rise buildings. In the foreground of the cityscape is a smaller multi-storey building in the shape of an arch. This arch-style building is surrounded by even lower multi-storey, glass-fronted buildings. There are several palm trees in the centre of a roundabout in front of the arch-style building. This is Dubai.

Image of person taking a call by a window that overlooks Dubai’s skyline: Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism

“These teams will study ideas and projects that government entities will develop in cooperation with the centre. They will also explore flexible and appropriate regulatory frameworks and policies for the uses of AI in the government sector in line with current and future needs,” added Saeed.

Dubai Future Foundation

Dubai Future Foundation is home to a number of initiatives and platforms:

  • Dubai Future Accelerators has overseen US$76 million invested into startups and innovation, US$250 million of global funding raised by companies that are part of its ecosystem, 77 programmes completed, 145 challenges explored, and more than 180 memorandums of understanding signed.
  • Dubai Future Labs is an applied R&D lab specialising in applied research, prototyping, business modelling and deploying technological solutions in the UAE and the wider region.
  • The One Million Arab Coders initiative aims to increase the level of Arab expertise in advanced sciences. To date, 87,000-plus graduates have completed more than five million training hours through the group.
  • Area 2071 is a co-creation space offering labs, meeting spaces and infrastructure. Since its launch in 2018, it has developed a government and private sector ecosystem that includes Pfizer, IBM, P&G, EY, Emirates, Microsoft and Techstars.
  • The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution UAE is a collaboration between the Dubai Future Foundation and the World Economic Forum. It serves as a public-private entity focused on emerging technologies including blockchain, AI and precision medicine.
  • 3D Printing Strategic Alliance is a network of government entities, academia and 3D-printing companies in the UAE and across the globe.
Four people work purposefully towards the lens. Each is carrying a laptop bag or briefcase. One of the people is carrying a closed laptop in their left hand, balancing it on their hip. They are in a spacious glass atrium, which appears to be the lobby of an office building.

Image of four businesspeople walking purposefully through a spacious atrium: Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism

Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority

Dubai is home to what it claims is the “world’s first independent regulator of virtual assets”. The Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority targets net-zero, high-value-add, technology-driven firms that are migrating to Dubai.

Dubai Metaverse Strategy

Dubai Metaverse Strategy aims to turn Dubai into one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies, and a global hub for the metaverse community. The strategy also promotes Dubai’s ambitions to support more than 40,000 virtual jobs by 2030.

Learn more about the startup scene in Dubai from the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism.

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