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Business opportunities in Dubai

Business opportunities in Dubai – The 5 most well-funded industries

Mahmoud YossifMahmoud Yossif
April 4, 2023

Dubai, known as the “City of Gold”, is a hub of business opportunities that attracts entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses worldwide. The emirate has a stable economy, a favorable business environment, and excellent infrastructure, making it an ideal place to set up a business.

Dubai has everything from the thriving wholesale and retail sector to the dynamic technology industry and the growing renewable energy sector. In this article, we will delve into the five key industries that are the most promising for investment in Dubai and contribute significantly to the Emirate’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  So let’s take a closer look at these industries and explore the opportunities and challenges of investing in each.

Retail and Trading Industry in Dubai

1. Retail and trading industry: The highest GDP contribution in Dubai

The wholesale and retail trading industry is the most significant contributor to Dubai’s GDP, accounting for 22.7% of the total GDP in Q1 2021, according to Statista. This sector includes various activities such as sales and distribution, warehousing, logistics, and eCommerce.

Advantages of operating a retail business in Dubai

Businesses in this industry benefit from the emirate’s robust infrastructure, which provides access to over 150 countries through several airports and seaports. Additionally, businesses can take advantage of cost-effective labour costs, a favourable taxation system, world-class shopping destinations (such as Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall) and attractive consumer spending.

In addition, the process of acquiring a commercial licence is relatively straightforward for businesses in Dubai. You can apply online with the relevant documents to the Dubai government’s online service portal and get approved within minutes.

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The booming ecommerce sector fuels the retail and wholesale industry

Covid-19 was a catalyst for the eCommerce industry in Dubai, with online sales rising by an impressive 43.7% in 2020. The sector is expected to proliferate, and businesses operating in this space can take advantage of various government initiatives.

The United Arab Emirates strives to stimulate its national economy by launching Operation 300bn and embracing e-commerce platforms. Thanks to the increase in smartphone and internet penetration, vendors worldwide are investing in this market, and startups such as Nutshell have emerged.

This has seen a surge in online shopping among buyers, thus fueling the retail and wholesale industries of Dubai and the UAE. As more firms transition to digital platforms, it is clear that eCommerce will continue to play an ever-increasing role in driving economic growth across the country.

The booming eCommerce sector in Dubai is not only creating growth opportunities for businesses operating in the online marketplace but also for industries that support them. One such industry is digital marketing and SEO.

As more businesses transition to digital platforms to reach customers and compete in the online marketplace, the demand for digital marketing services is increasing. Companies are seeking to improve their online visibility, increase website traffic, and drive sales through effective digital marketing strategies. This presents a significant opportunity for professionals in fields like PPC, copywriting, email marketing, etc.  It is expected that there will be a growing need for skilled individuals in digital marketing and SEO to support the growth of eCommerce in Dubai and the UAE.

Emerging players in Dubai’s ecommerce industry

The fast-growing e-commerce market in Dubai is attracting startups, market leaders, and social media platforms who are eager to capitalise on it, including those who are moving from primarily selling on Amazon. As a result, both the retail and wholesale industry in the city are flourishing. A few examples include:

  • In August 2021, TikTok introduced in-app shopping features that will enable UAE users to purchase products directly from vendors.
  • ByteDance Ltd invested in the Dubai-based iMile Delivery company. iMile aims to revolutionise supply chain and logistics through technological innovations.
  • A startup called F5 Global, based in Dubai, launched its online activewear website with organic, sustainable, and vegan streetwear apparel.
  • YallaMarket also announced plans for expansion into the UAE and other nearby countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar for grocery shopping purposes.
  • Finally, Majid Al Futtaim launched a checkout-free convenience store in Dubai that carries over 1,300 items such as beverages, snacks, ready meals and more.

All of these players are helping to drive the e-commerce industry in the region.

Challenges for Dubai businesses in the retail and trading industry

Dubai has long been regarded as a tax haven where businesses can operate without paying income or corporate taxes. However, due to recent changes in the UAE’s taxation system, businesses may have to pay a 9% corporate tax based on their annual net profit exceeding AED 375,000 in Dubai and the UAE. 

In addition, many products sold in the UAE are also subject to excise duties and 5% Value-Added Tax (VAT). Therefore, businesses should ensure they know the applicable taxes and duties before selling any products in Dubai.

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Technology in Dubai

2. The technology industry in Dubai

Dubai is positioning itself as a hub for technology and innovation, with a strong focus on industries such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, and 5G. The government of Dubai has launched several initiatives to attract technology-driven Dubai businesses, including the Dubai Future Foundation and the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority.

Advantages of setting up a technology business in Dubai

Dubai offers a favourable business environment for technology companies, including a pro-business government, a highly educated workforce, and a thriving innovation ecosystem. In addition, Dubai has a large pool of investment capital, funding tech startups and scale-ups to bring their ideas to market.

  • Dubai Future Foundation: Dubai Future Foundation is a government agency based in Dubai to support the tech startups and tech ecosystem in Dubai through five coordinated activities, as follows:
    • Providing better anticipation of emerging technological trends
    • Content and knowledge development to support tech businesses
    • Capacity building for the communities and youth
    • Facilitating partnerships between communities, public and private sectors
    • Developing Dubai’s iconic Museum of the Future as a global tourism destination

Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority: The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority is a government-owned free zone that provides a range of benefits for technology companies operating in Dubai. These include 100% foreign ownership, tax exemptions, and a streamlined process for setting up a business. The UAE government has also promised to support free zone businesses with a 0% corporate tax.

Expanding the 5G network to boost the technology industry

Dubai is actively investing in 5G technology, which is set to revolutionise the way people live and work. The government of Dubai is working with leading technology companies to expand the 5G network across the emirate, making it one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world.

Wide 5G connectivity will provide technology businesses in Dubai with a strong platform to develop and test new technologies and applications. The UAE has the highest average 5G download speed among countries in the Arabian Gulf region. Its smartphone users have experienced an impressive speed of 316.8 Mbps, as reported by British firm Opensignal.

Innovation hubs driving the technology industry in Dubai

Dubai is home to several innovation hubs, including the Dubai Future Accelerators, the Dubai Design District, and the Dubai Internet City. These hubs provide a supportive environment for technology companies to collaborate, network, and bring their ideas to market.

In addition, the government of Dubai is actively encouraging the growth of the technology sector through initiatives such as the Dubai 10X initiative, which aims to position Dubai as a global leader in technology and innovation.

Challenges for technology companies in Dubai

While Dubai offers a favorable business environment for technology companies, there are some challenges that businesses need to consider. These include the cost of living, higher than in many other countries, and the lack of a mature technology ecosystem. Additionally, some businesses may face challenges in recruiting highly skilled technology professionals, as competition for talent is high in Dubai.

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Financial Services Industry in Dubai

3. The financial services industry

Dubai has established itself as a central hub for financial services in the Middle East, offering a wide range of services, including investment banking, insurance, asset management, and private banking. The city has a thriving financial district known as the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), which offers a supportive environment for financial services companies and Dubai businesses.

DIFC to support financial businesses in Dubai

The Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) is a financial hub in the Middle East. Established in 2004, DIFC offers investors and businesses advantages, including 100% ownership, secure contracts and an advantageous tax regime.

DIFC has become one of the world’s most prominent financial centers, providing a safe platform for companies to access emerging markets across Africa and Asia. With over 2,000 registered organizations, DIFC remains a leader in international finance.

Financial innovation hubs driving growth

Dubai is actively investing in digital financial services, focusing on areas such as fintech, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. The government of Dubai has launched several initiatives through DIFC to promote the growth of digital banking initiatives, including the DIFC Innovation Hub, which provides a supportive environment for fintech companies.

The DIFC Innovation Hub wants to support FinTech businesses and startups in several ways, such as:

  • Licensing: DIFC Innovation Hub has supported over 500 FinTech and financial innovation businesses through subsidised licensing and highly affordable coworking spaces.
  • Education: DIFC has launched various training programs related to financial regulations and business education to support businesses, professionals, and entrepreneurs.
  • Funding: The Dubai Future District Fund is an investment vehicle that seeks to facilitate economic growth, job creation and diversified GDP expansion in the city of Dubai.

Anchored by the DIFC and DFF, the fund has a total commitment of AED 1 billion to support local venture capital funds and startups directly or through its affiliated programs. By investing in innovative businesses, it hopes to unlock potential for future generations while providing investors with a strong return on their investments.

  • Events and Accelerator Programs: The DIFC Innovation Hub is also actively involved in planning and supporting events such as the FinTech Forum, which provides an opportunity for industry experts to come together and discuss key topics and trends related to FinTech and financial services.

In addition, Dubai is working to become a global leader in blockchain technology, with the Dubai Blockchain Strategy aiming to make all government transactions paperless. The strategy also aims to create a blockchain-based platform for businesses, which will help to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve transparency.

Challenges in the financial industry in Dubai

Challenges in the financial industry in Dubai

The UAE banking sector presents a unique set of challenges for financial services companies, especially startups. Opening a business bank account can take a long time and is potentially open to being denied if you do not present as a good candidate. Additionally, obtaining credit is difficult for entrepreneurs who don’t have an established company track record of three years or more.

For those that do open accounts, the paperwork process can be slow, and some credit card statements are only accessible by founders themselves, potentially making it difficult for other members of the team to pay off business expenses.

With a Payoneer account, though, entrepreneurs can get an AED receiving account, enabling them to receive and make payments from the UAE as if they had a local bank account.

Renewable Energy Industry in Dubai

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4. The renewable energy industry

The renewable energy sector is one of the sectors with the most promising UAE business opportunities. This industry has been growing rapidly, thanks to the government’s commitment to reduce emissions and promote sustainability in the emirate.

In 2015, Dubai launched its “Clean Energy Strategy 2050” which set an ambitious target of 75% clean energy by mid-century. Dubai has launched several initiatives to support the growth of its renewable energy industry, including the Shams Dubai initiative.

The Dubai government has planned to invest AED 50 billion to construct the largest single-location solar energy generator globally in the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park to reach a production capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030.

The UAE also has world-leading research centers such as Masdar Institute or Khalifa University dedicated to developing innovative solutions for sustainable energy production. These institutions are excellent sources of knowledge and expertise for entrepreneurs looking to invest in the renewable energy sector.

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Support for the clean energy investors

The Emirate of Dubai is taking significant steps to support clean energy investors. This includes a four-pillar approach focusing on legislation, funding, infrastructure and human resources capabilities.

To finance the investments needed for this transition, the government has made the Dubai Green Fund – worth AED 100 billion – providing easy loans with reduced interest rates.

Additionally, the Dubai government is also launching training programmes in partnership with international organizations like International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and private companies to build up expertise within this sector. Together, these initiatives will facilitate investments into clean energy while driving Dubai’s green goals.

Real Estate Industry in Dubai

5. The real estate industry

The real estate sector is another attractive investment opportunity for those looking to do business in Dubai. The emirate has a strong economy, and its real estate market continues to grow steadily.

Reuters reported that Dubai’s real estate market experienced a 60% growth in the number of units sold in 2022, where the price level increased by 11% on average.

The government also supports investors by providing tax incentives such as registration fees or VAT exemption on building materials used for construction projects. Additionally, foreign investors can obtain permanent residency by investing in the real estate sector.

Government support in the real estate industry

Government support in the real estate industry

The government of Dubai has recently put in place a new law to promote the growth of real estate investment funds in the emirate. The law grants certain privileges to real estate investment funds and incentivizes them to invest in various projects across the city.

This is part of an effort to make Dubai an attractive destination for international investors and encourage more money to flow into the emirate’s economy. With these measures in place, it is expected to help propel further development activities within Dubai’s real estate sector.

Wrap-up: Dubai and UAE business opportunities

Dubai is a hub of diverse industries, each thriving in its own way. From the bustling technology industry, powered by innovative initiatives and cutting-edge technology, to the financial services industry, offering ample opportunities for growth and development, and the real estate Industry, providing a solid foundation for businesses and individuals alike.

Whether you’re a tech entrepreneur looking to set up the best business in the UAE, a financial expert, or a real estate magnate, Dubai has something for everyone. And let’s not forget the shining star of the desert, the Renewable Energy Industry, leading the way in sustainable energy solutions.

So, whether you’re looking to invest, start a business, or just live in a city that never stops, Dubai is the place to be.

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