An Introduction To Food, Agriculture and Water Ecosystem in The Middle East and North Africa
Part V – United Arab Emirates
As Kök Projekt, we are an agri-food start-up accelerator and an innovation partner for the food, agriculture, and water sector companies. We conduct researches, prepare reports, and create databases to understand the world of food and agriculture. We work locally and globally. This year we started mapping the MENA Region Ecosystem. The region has one of the youngest populations in the world. According to a McKinsey report, an average of 88% of the MENA region population is online daily, and 94% of the population owns a smartphone(1).
In the MENA Region, our first map was about Bahrain’s ecosystem; the second map was about Qatar’s food, agriculture, water ecosystem. The third one was on KSA. Finally, we published the Kuwait map. We dived into UAE’s food, agriculture, and water ecosystem for our fifth map in the region and tried to offer a visual representation.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems aim to support economic development by promoting entrepreneurship and helping the growth of small-medium enterprises. Innovation, research and development concepts are at the heart of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Despite their benefits, ecosystems are complex networks. With so many stakeholders, they can be confusing. When we are working, we know that the way we work, our direction, and methodology matters the most. Do you remember Alice in Wonderland’s quote about the direction? Let’s cite it; One day, Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a cat. Then asked, “ Which road should I take?” The cat answered, “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” said Alice. Then said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”As mentioned in the story, if we don’t know where to go, it doesn’t matter your direction. In our ecosystem works, we know where we want to arrive. And we believe that “understanding who are the actors” is the road we should take.
With this map, we aim to draw a clear picture of the UAE’s ecosystem and gain greater visibility. There are many governmental organizations, incubators, accelerators, companies, start-ups, and other ecosystem players that work for a better food and agriculture system in the United Arab Emirates. We searched and put them on our map.
UAE Entrepreneurship Ecosystem:
Building The Map
Governmental Organizations: Strengthening the Ecosystem
The United Arab Emirates is a country in western Asia, located at the Arabian Peninsula’s eastern end. UAE is a federal elective constitutional monarchy formed from a federation of seven emirates, Abu Dhabi serves as the capital. The other six emirates are Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain (2). The UAE has 36th place out of 129 countries in Global Innovation Index (GII Index). Researchers ranked the Emirates as the top in the Gulf region for 2019. The index has 80 different indicators such as patents, investment patterns, and new technologies (3). Furthermore, UAE is the Middle East leader for ease of doing business according to World Bank ranking in 2020 (4).” The income per capita (PPP) of USD 68,092 makes the UAE one of the wealthiest countries in the world (5)
Abu Dhabi has the world’s sixth-largest proven oil reserves and is working to achieve self-sufficiency in natural gas. The capital has been successfully pursuing diversification in the economy. Manufacturing, banking, and ICT technologies are leading the way in this diversification (6). Abu Dhabi supports the collaboration between the public and private sectors. There are many governmental and public organization that supports entrepreneurship ecosystem in Abu Dhabi. One of them is ADIO, Abu Dhabi Investment Office, the central authority responsible for implementing public-private partnerships in Abu Dhabi. Another governmental organization is the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED), which regulates the business sector in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and leads economic initiatives to create a knowledge-based, diversified and sustainable economy. ADDED has an initiative called MAAK that aims to enhance investors’ confidence by providing financial, commercial, and legal consultation, highlighting the procedures and requirements of investment, etc.
When we turn our heads from the capital city to Dubai, we see that Dubai has a well-diversified economic base and continues to underpin growth in the emirate (7). One of the key players to support the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Dubai is the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit public organization with a mission of representing, supporting, and protecting the business community’s interests in Dubai. The Chamber has the Dubai Startup Hub, which aims to empower entrepreneurs through programs, workshops, training, marketing, promotion, and advocacy efforts. Another governmental body is Dubai Economy(Department of Economic Development-Government of Dubai) which sets and drives the economic agenda of the emirate of Dubai, UAE. Dubai Economy supports the structural transformation of Dubai into a diversified, innovative service-based economy. It aims to improve the business environment and accelerate productivity growth. You will find more stakeholders from governmental and public organizations on our map.
Start-up: COVID-19 and the rise of ag-tech
As Kök Projekt, we are a food start-up accelerator. We follow start-ups from all over the world carefully. To create our map, we used our database and searched on the internet for developments in UAE’s food and agriculture start-up world. UAE has a promising agri-food start-up ecosystem. The country seeks to improve its global food security ranking, and investments in agriculture technology accelerated over the past year as COVID-19 shed light on food security concerns worldwide.
Agtech is particularly vital to UAE for locally grown food, given the region’s arid climate(8). In the UAE, Agtech start-ups continue to receive funding. One of them is Pure Harvest; Pure Harvest raised USD 60m in growth funding in March 2021. “We have conquered this extreme climate,” said Pure Harvest’s founder and chief executive, Sky Kurtz. “We developed a solution in one of the harshest laboratories in the world, the Middle East, particularly the UAE with its extreme heat and humid”(9). Not only smart farming but also delivery, cloud kitchen, restaurant management, and many more startups are growing in the country.
You will find a very detailed list of agri-food start-ups on our map.
As Kök Projekt, we are an innovation partner for the food, agriculture, and water sector companies. We follow them carefully. Today, many corporate firms are diving into the start-up ecosystem and getting involved with entrepreneurs, start-up companies. They also support incubator and accelerator programs to reap the benefits of innovation. In the UAE ecosystem, an example is a BP-supported Catalyst. The Catalyst is the region’s first clean technology start-up accelerator based in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, supported by Masdar and energy giant BP. In our fifth map for the MENA Region, you will find many companies from various sectors such as retail, finance, food production, and ICT sectors.
Incubators & Accelerators & Support Organizations
Entrepreneurship is a long way with unexpected detours and roadblocks. During the journey, entrepreneurs need support. Incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, and support platforms are the main helpers for the entrepreneurship journey. UAE is home to some of the best options. There are many national and international incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship support organizations in the UAE Ecosystem.
Creating a start-up can be an exhaustive, expensive, and arduous process. Investors could help entrepreneurs by providing capital to start their business. They assist in a business plan. They also ensure that the capital is invested correctly to realize their profit-oriented vision. In the investment ecosystem of UAE, we see a high commitment of government and also privately held VCs to support the ecosystem. Khalifa Fund an independent, non-profit (SMEs) socio-economic development agency of the Government of Abu Dhabi. Khalifa Fund started with a total capital of AED 300 million, which was gradually increased to AED 2 billion and covering all the UAE (10). You will find Shuaa Capital PSC, Peak Bridge Partners, Nuwa Capital, and many more privately held or government-backed investment funds and investors on our map.
This is not a full-scale map of the Kuwait Agri-Food Ecosystem.
You can reach our 2021 UAE Agri-Food Ecosystem Map here.
Given the rapid development of ecosystems, it has become necessary to stay informed of the most recent developments in the field. We hope to draw a clear picture of the UAE Agri-Food Ecosystem and make it easy to understand.