Dubai Internet City has enjoyed phenomenal growth and success under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Ammar Al Malik, who is the executive director of the technology hub located in the heart of Dubai.
Dubai Internet City has played a critical role in attracting major multinational technology conglomerates to base their operations in the UAE. Its unwavering commitment in supporting startups and SMEs has also been another fundamental factor at the core of its exceptional success.
Telecom Review managed to secure an exclusive interview with Al Malik who eloquently outlined the journey Dubai Internet City has embarked upon since its inception in 2001. In a compelling, engaging and insightful discussion, the executive director highlighted the impact the new Innovation Hub will have on Dubai Internet City, his desire to continue to attract global technologies companies to set up camp in Dubai, and his predictions on emerging technologies such as AI.
Can you outline to us what exactly your primary roles and responsibilities are as the Executive Director of Dubai Internet City?
My role as Executive Director of Dubai Internet City starts with the community. Our main objective is to develop a community that is technology focused - and is basically the region's technology hub. We've been very successful in executing our goal, and we've witnessed a lot of major companies establish themselves here - and a lot of the successful smaller companies too. However, it doesn't stop there. We need to explore how to continue to make Dubai the real technology hub of the region, support startups, and attract more companies to relocate here. So that's one part of what we do, the other part is how do we connect these global companies together with startups. The third part would be how to create policies and regulations - and offer support to them in terms of starting up for example, so we need to remove the red-tape.
When we started Dubai Internet City seventeen years ago we removed a lot of red-tape through our innovative concepts. At the time, our approach was seen as being unique and innovative, in the way in which we developed this ecosystem which was a one-stop shop. The concept was companies that come here to operate, could operate through one entity. So the question is, how do you develop this today, and the answer is we develop it by removing the red-tape for startups. So when they come in they can avail of subsidies, licensing support and direct contact with potential investors.
The fundamental aspect we focus on is that we have to make sure that we are part of the bigger picture. We consider ourselves to be part of the UAE's economy and transformation into the digital innovation knowledge economy. Dubai Internet City is a community. I look at it like a family actually - and this is where the technology companies are, and this is where we support them. It is my responsibility to do whatever it takes to make this community more successful.
The Innovation Hub has recently been launched in Dubai Internet City. What impact do you envisage the innovation hub will have on enterprises within Dubai Internet City?
I think the Innovation Hub is going to play a major role in talent. Dubai Internet City is much more than the community and the development when it comes to developing talent. Being part of the UAE economy means that you have to provide and look at yourself as a technology talent hub. So you have the bigger companies and the smaller companies and then you have your other projects like the Innovation Hub coming up.
The Innovation Hub for us is a continuation of our development in the ecosystem. Once it is completed, we will have approximately 40,000 people in the community. 15,000 of this talent will be available only in the Innovation Hub. We have approximately 25,000 today in this current community, you add another 15,000 in the Innovation Hub, and then you've got a total of 40,000 people focused only on technology in this small geographical area. What happens then is that you have that access in terms of larger companies and smaller companies, which ultimately means you'll have a bigger success rate in startups and bigger companies can innovate more. The Innovation Hub is one of our biggest projects and we are confident it will be delivered in the next 3-4 months.
In your expert opinion, what is driving the phenomenal growth of Dubai's innovation ecosystem, and what role is Dubai Internet City playing in that growth?
It's a mix of what we do as Dubai Internet City and the vision and direction of Dubai. So I think it's very important to balance the two. If Dubai didn't have a Smart Dubai government and an innovation-driven vision then it wouldn't work as well. The fact that there is a very strong emphasis from the Dubai government and the UAE government in terms of innovation with projects like the Mission to Mars, the Dubai Future Foundation and the Hyperloop, indicates clearly its innovation-focused vision and strategy. This also allows our companies here to collaborate with this vision and this is a big part of our success.
The second part is that the rules and regulations of the UAE are very competitive in the region, which attracts a lot of investment and a lot of technology companies to be based here. The most recent example of this would be the 100% ownership law which supports talent and startups, and I believe this new law will add a lot of talent which technology companies can avail of.
Dubai Internet City plays its role in developing the community and supporting it and this creates an ecosystem which is unique in the region. So what many companies do is develop themselves from headquarters to actually then going on to developing their own innovation centers in Dubai Internet City.
There are about 11 or 12 innovation centers here in Dubai Internet City. We have a lot of different innovation centers focused on different fields which allows this place to have a good mix of ideas. This is where most of the success comes from in Dubai and the UAE, most of the successful technology companies come from this area.
Emerging technologies such as Blockchain, Cloud Computing, AI and Big Data are all being developed at a rapid pace, which technology do you believe will make the biggest impact in the UAE?
I think it's obviously very hard to say. However, my personal opinion is that AI will be involved in most of these industries that we've already spoken about. Artificial intelligence will have an effect on cloud data, data collection, mining, Internet of Things and cybersecurity.
So, I think artificial intelligence itself will go across all industries, and we're going to see the effects of this from the financial industry to warehousing, retail, stock counting - it's going to be everywhere. I also think it will have a significant effect sooner than we think. I think AI will be widespread across all industries in the next ten years. The UAE has appointed a Minister for AI, and that's because the government here recognizes that there is huge change that AI has potential for, and it wants to maximize that potential. The UAE's direction is very clear - it wants to go to advanced sciences and advanced technologies and so on, and I think AI will have an effect on everything.
There has been exponential growth in the amount of SMEs in Dubai Internet City space. However, what have been the main contributory factors in this growth, and how is it that 60% of all businesses in DIC are SMEs?
We place a lot of emphasis as I mentioned earlier on supporting companies to be established here - like startups and otherwise. We try to provide a variety of products for startups and technology companies to choose from. All of these products in terms of office spaces are available and that is one part of the options that are available. Licensing and other regulations are also available when it comes to processes and removing the red-tape. The options to start a company in Dubai Internet City are very diverse and this allows flexibility for companies to select, which we believe contributes significantly to our success.
The other aspect is I think the mix that we have. In Dubai Internet City we have large multinationals that can work with smaller companies, and we have several community events and initiatives, all of which contributed to being part of this community. Companies that are part of Dubai Internet City are proud to be part of this community, and the facilities and infrastructure available to them helps to support that. I think Dubai Internet City's commitment to this industry is fundamental to everything.
Can you outline to us what your primary objective and goals are in your position as Executive Director of Dubai Internet City for the remainder of 2018?
I think for the remainder of 2018, we're looking forward to the opening of the Innovation Hub and we will also be announcing the establishment of a couple of huge developments for our companies here. I think what we want to do with this community is make it stronger. Our emphasis for 2018, and looking ahead to 2019, will be getting the collaboration between companies to work better and we'll work to try and improve it overall.
To conclude, we're really excited about the Innovation Hub inauguration and the community development and we'll always continue to attempt to attract all of these technology companies from across the world to be located here. These are generally our main objectives for the rest of 2018.