Ecosystem News

SMEs express confidence in UAE as startup destination


A majority of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have revealed that they feel that the UAE is a “great place” to start a business, new research by Zbooni, a conversational commerce platform in UAE, has determined.

In a poll of more than 200 SMEs, nine out of 10 SMEs agreed that the UAE is a good location to start up a business. Half of the businesses that Zbooni surveyed currently have retail or commercial space while the other half were online-only businesses. In addition, 89.3 per cent agreed that the UAE is a great place for establishing a company, while 91 per cent of SMEs said that they expect to grow in 2021. There is also significant optimism for the future, with 83.7 per cent declaring they are ‘optimistic’ or ‘very optimistic’ about the future. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, 89.5 per cent of the businesses surveyed suggested that they had grown their business in the past 12 months.

Zbooni CEO and co-founder, Ramy Assaf, said that the research helped to understand how SMEs are faring after a turbulent year. “Whilst we have seen strong growth on our digital platform, it is encouraging to see that the SME community has also accelerated over the past 12 months, despite the difficulties of Covid-19. Entrepreneurs are the backbone of the economy, so to see such confidence and optimism in light of the circumstances is tremendously positive for the UAE and its future.”

The research also highlighted the opportunity of digital channels for customer acquisition, sales growth and enhanced retention. Instagram was highlighted as the most popular channel for growing online sales, with eight out of 10 people describing it as an important driver. WhatsApp ranked second with 44.2 per cent of businesses saying it was essential for online sales; while a brand’s website was third with 38.2 per cent of SMEs assessing it as a crucial sales touchpoint. Lastly, facebook was important for 36.9 per cent of the merchants surveyed. Interestingly, just 18 per cent of SME businesses rated online marketplaces as a driver for their online sales.

When it comes to how businesses are prioritizing their improvement strategies, the results were fairly evenly distributed: just over 29 per cent of SMEs identified online advertising as the biggest priority for improvement. This was followed by creating and perfecting better social media channels, which ranked second with 27.9 per cent; and improving and optimising the website experience coming in third at 27.5 per cent.

Deyan Dimitrov, CEO of Laundryheap, said that small, big, new or old, the Covid-19 pandemic impacted every business in some shape or form. “As business activity plummeted in the first few weeks of global lockdowns, many predicted that the venture-backed start-up ecosystem would come to a standstill for years to come. Despite the magnitude of the crisis, for many it acted as a catalyst for the inevitable – accelerating digital adoption within business, as well as in people’s everyday lives. Many of the start-ups which managed to switch their workforce online, digitise supply chains, develop robust digital strategies to adapt to changing consumer attitudes, and delve into e-commerce were not only able to weather the storm but also gain customers and secure more funding.”

He also pointed out that the Dubai Economic Department reported a four per cent increase in issuing new business licenses in 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the many challenges posed by the pandemic. “The UAE has evolved into the perfect growth engine for entrepreneurs with fresh ideas looking to kick start their businesses. In many respects, the pandemic – which was expected to bring the startup the ecosystem to its knees – actually taught entrepreneurs in every industry invaluable lessons and became a catalyst for a new wave of innovation. We can now see that venture capitalists are more eager than ever to invest in starts-ups that will leverage these learnings to lay the foundations of new possibilities in the future.”