With over 40 freezones in the UAE, business owners are indeed spoilt for choice when it comes to company establishment. Certain freezones may be favored over others due to some ‘unfair’ advantages in terms of location, access to airport, access to skilled labour in the emirate etc. This should not prevent the other freezone authorities to tailor sharp and efficient strategies to help their clients (startups, businesses) achieve their goals. Creating a ‘win-win’ strategy does not mean slashing company setup costs – we are already seeing that at play and it does not seem to be helping the startups any better than the freezone authorities. As a startup founder in the UAE, here is my take on the 3 ways freezone authorities can create the value proposition for their clients and stand out from competition.
1. Listen to startups and not ‘Consultants’
This sounds like a no brainer that listening to your clients is the key to growth and in this case, the client is an entrepreneur looking to set up shop. But there are many freezones/establishments that hire consultants to build “strategies” to attract clients versus speaking directly to clients (startup founders, entrepreneurs). Discussions and dialogues with stakeholders on challenges and opportunities around starting up in the UAE, can lead to efficient and targeted strategies along with limiting wasteful expenditure of time and resources.
2. Establish clear communication channels
Having a dedicated slack channel for registered companies helps create a community and support for those new to entrepreneurship/ new to the region. For instance, suggestions or recommendations for tax consultants, lawyers or feasibility studies can be sought within the group. In most instances, this will create lead generation for firms registered within the establishment. This opportunity creation can be a definite differentiator for the freezone as it is something not available/not advertised to the startup founders looking to set up shop in the UAE.
3. Organise Trade Missions for B2B matchmaking sessions, market opportunity
In order to succeed, a startup looks at catering to a large addressable market for faster growth and/or survival. The UAE has a population of ~10 million and GDP of ~USD 0.5 trillion, implying that most startups will have to look outwards for broadening total addressable market size. This provides an opportunity for the freezone establishments to act as facilitators of cross border trade missions and exhibitions and thus become the favored place for establishment for startups. At the sovereign level, we have seen the governments of Abu Dhabi & Dubai organizing trade missions that invite participants from the startup community. If freezones take up a similar initiative to develop cross border dialogues and matchmaking sessions, it could translate into revenue generation for all stakeholders.