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GCC Startup Ecosystem on the Rise: Qatar and UAE Lead the Way

GCC Startup Ecosystem on the Rise: Qatar and UAE Lead the Way. StartupBlink, the leading global startup ecosystem map and research center, has launched its Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024. This comprehensive index provides the latest research on the global startup economy, ranking 100 countries and 1000 cities based on an objective algorithm using quantifiable data. The GCC region, particularly Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), showed remarkable progress in this year’s rankings.

Qatar’s Impressive Climb

Qatar made a significant leap in the 2024 Index, climbing 11 spots to rank 79th globally, marking the largest jump among the top 100 countries. After two years of negative trends, Qatar gained positive momentum, securing its place in the global top 80. Within the Middle East, Qatar maintained its 7th position for the fourth consecutive year.

Doha, Qatar’s only ranked city, experienced a remarkable rise, climbing 94 places to rank 442nd globally. In the Middle East, Doha advanced two spots to the 15th rank, surpassing Saudi Arabia’s Dammam.

Qatar has made significant strides in the global startup ecosystem, as evidenced by its notable rise in StartupBlink’s Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024. Climbing 11 spots to rank 79th globally, Qatar achieved the largest jump among the top 100 countries, reversing two years of negative trends. This progress reflects the country’s dedicated efforts to enhance its entrepreneurial environment and support innovation. Within the Middle East, Qatar has steadfastly maintained its 7th position for the fourth consecutive year, showcasing its stability and growth in the regional startup landscape.

Doha, Qatar’s only ranked city, experienced an impressive ascent, climbing 94 places to rank 442nd globally. In the Middle East, Doha advanced two spots to the 15th rank, surpassing Saudi Arabia’s Dammam. This remarkable progress can be attributed to the country’s strategic investments in technology, infrastructure, and education, aimed at fostering a robust startup ecosystem. Initiatives such as the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) and the Digital Incubation Center (DIC) provide vital support to startups, offering resources, mentorship, and funding opportunities.

Additionally, Qatar’s commitment to hosting international events like the World Cup 2022 has spurred infrastructural and technological advancements, further enhancing its appeal as a startup hub. The government’s proactive approach in creating a business-friendly environment, coupled with a strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, positions Qatar as an increasingly attractive destination for startups and investors looking to capitalize on the region’s dynamic growth potential. As Qatar continues to build on this momentum, it is well on its way to becoming a key player in the global startup ecosystem.

UAE’s Remarkable Growth

The UAE jumped five spots to 23rd place worldwide, marking one of the more significant advances in the global top 35. From 2020 to 2024, the UAE demonstrated impressive growth, ascending from 43rd to 23rd, achieving its best score ever in the Index. Leading the Arab League, the UAE boasts a total score over six times greater than the next-ranked country, Saudi Arabia.

Dubai is at the forefront of the UAE’s startup ecosystem, with a score over five times greater than Abu Dhabi, highlighting a centralized and highly developed entrepreneurial landscape. From 2020 to 2024, Dubai surged 89 spots, joining the global top 50 cities for startups. The city’s strategic initiatives, such as the Dubai Future Accelerators and Dubai Silicon Oasis, provide a fertile ground for innovation and growth, attracting startups from around the world. Additionally, events like GITEX Technology Week further reinforce Dubai’s status as a global tech hub.

Abu Dhabi, the capital city, also plays a crucial role in the UAE’s startup ecosystem. The city has been making significant strides in fostering entrepreneurship through initiatives such as Hub71, a global tech ecosystem that offers startups access to capital, market opportunities, and a supportive community. Abu Dhabi’s focus on sectors like fintech, healthcare, and sustainability is attracting a diverse range of startups, contributing to the overall vibrancy of the UAE’s startup scene.

Sharjah, another key city in the UAE, is emerging as a notable player in the startup ecosystem. With initiatives like the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa), which supports startups through mentorship, funding, and networking opportunities, Sharjah is creating an inclusive environment for innovation and business growth. The city’s emphasis on education and research, through institutions like the American University of Sharjah, further strengthens its position as a nurturing ground for entrepreneurial talent.

The UAE’s commitment to fostering a robust startup ecosystem is evident through its strategic investments, regulatory reforms, and comprehensive support systems. As the country continues to enhance its entrepreneurial landscape, it remains an attractive destination for startups and investors seeking to tap into the region’s dynamic growth potential. The collective efforts of cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah are driving the UAE’s success, positioning it as a key player in the global startup ecosystem.

Steady Progress in Kuwait

Kuwait continued its positive trajectory, moving up three spots to place 91st globally. For four consecutive years, Kuwait remained stable at the 8th spot in the Middle East. Despite last year’s significant jump of 175 spots, Kuwait City dropped 73 places, falling from the top 600.

Kuwait has demonstrated steady progress in its startup ecosystem, reflected by its advancement in StartupBlink’s Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024. The country moved up three spots to 91st place globally, maintaining its position as a notable player in the Middle East for the fourth consecutive year, holding the 8th spot in the region. Despite the previous year’s dramatic leap of 175 places, Kuwait City experienced a drop of 73 places, now falling outside the top 600 cities. However, this fluctuation does not overshadow Kuwait’s overall positive trajectory in the startup landscape.

The Kuwaiti government has been actively supporting the startup ecosystem through various initiatives aimed at fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. The Kuwait National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprise Development is one such initiative, providing financial support and resources to budding entrepreneurs. Moreover, the country’s strategic location and well-established financial sector contribute to its potential as a regional startup hub. As Kuwait continues to invest in its entrepreneurial infrastructure and support mechanisms, it is poised to further strengthen its position in the global startup ecosystem, attracting both local and international talent to its shores.

Saudi Arabia Performance

Saudi Arabia remains one of the Middle East’s best countries for startups, with three cities in the top 1000. The country’s startup scene saw a slight improvement in 2024, jumping one spot from the previous year and surpassing Egypt.

Saudi Arabia has solidified its position as one of the Middle East’s premier destinations for establishing startups, boasting three cities—Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam—in the top 1000 of StartupBlink’s Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024. This achievement highlights the country’s robust and growing entrepreneurial landscape, supported by significant investments and a conducive environment for innovation.

Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam are the three cities in Saudi Arabia that feature in the top 1000 of the Index, showcasing the diverse and widespread nature of the country’s startup ecosystem. Riyadh, the capital and economic hub, has been a focal point for entrepreneurial activities, with numerous initiatives aimed at nurturing startups. The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha’at) provide vital support through funding, mentorship, and business development services. Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) also plays a crucial role in advancing technological innovation and research.

Jeddah, known for its vibrant commercial scene, is another key player in Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem. The city’s strategic location as a major port and gateway to the Red Sea has fostered a dynamic business environment. Initiatives like the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) support startups by offering resources, networking opportunities, and access to markets.

Dammam, part of the Eastern Province, is renowned for its industrial and technological advancements. The city benefits from its proximity to the energy sector and major industrial hubs, providing startups with unique opportunities in sectors such as energy, logistics, and manufacturing. The Dhahran Techno Valley and various innovation centers in the region are instrumental in supporting tech startups and fostering research and development.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative has been a driving force behind the country’s efforts to diversify its economy and reduce its dependency on oil. This ambitious plan includes a strong focus on developing the startup ecosystem by promoting entrepreneurship, attracting foreign investment, and enhancing the business environment. The establishment of the Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC) and the launch of various accelerator and incubator programs are part of the government’s strategy to support and scale startups.

Furthermore, the kingdom’s regulatory reforms have made it easier for entrepreneurs to start and operate businesses. Initiatives such as the Entrepreneurship License and the Entrepreneurial Visa aim to attract international talent and facilitate the growth of startups.

Bahrain’s Performance

Bahrain, with one city in the top 1000, also ranks among the best in the Middle East for startups. However, Bahrain slipped seven spots in the Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024, now positioned 67th worldwide.

Bahrain is gaining recognition as a burgeoning hub for startups in the Middle East, underscoring its commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. In StartupBlink’s Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024, Bahrain is positioned 67th globally, reflecting its robust efforts to support and nurture new businesses. Despite a slight decline of seven spots from the previous year, the country continues to be one of the leading startup ecosystems in the region.

Manama, the capital city, stands out as the central hub for Bahrain’s startup activities. The city’s strategic location, coupled with its well-established financial sector, creates a conducive environment for startups, particularly in fintech. Bahrain’s regulatory framework is among the most progressive in the region, with initiatives such as the Bahrain FinTech Bay, which serves as a leading fintech hub providing startups with resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities. This facility supports fintech innovation and has positioned Bahrain as a regional leader in the sector.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) of Bahrain plays a pivotal role in driving the country’s startup ecosystem. The EDB actively promotes Bahrain as a startup destination by offering various incentives, such as simplified business registration processes, reduced licensing fees, and access to funding. Additionally, the Bahrain Development Bank (BDB) provides financial support through loans, equity investments, and grants, aimed at empowering startups to scale and succeed.

Bahrain’s strategic initiatives also include the establishment of the Bahrain Business Incubator Centre (BBIC) and the Bahrain Innovation Centre (BIC), both of which offer incubation services, coworking spaces, and business support to startups across different sectors. These centers are designed to nurture early-stage ventures by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to thrive.

Educational institutions in Bahrain are increasingly integrating entrepreneurship into their curricula, fostering a culture of innovation among students. The University of Bahrain and the Bahrain Polytechnic are leading examples, with dedicated programs and centers for entrepreneurship that encourage students to develop their business ideas and launch startups. Partnerships between academia, industry, and government further strengthen the support network for young entrepreneurs.

Moreover, Bahrain’s efforts to enhance its digital infrastructure are paying off, with a high level of internet penetration and widespread adoption of digital technologies. This digital readiness is crucial for the growth of tech startups and has facilitated the rise of sectors such as e-commerce, health tech, and digital media.

The Bahraini government has also introduced several visa reforms to attract foreign entrepreneurs and talent. The Startup Bahrain Visa is specifically designed to enable foreign entrepreneurs to establish their businesses in Bahrain with ease, contributing to the country’s diverse and dynamic startup ecosystem.

Bahrain’s commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive environment for startups is evident through its comprehensive policies and strategic initiatives. As the country continues to invest in its entrepreneurial infrastructure and foster innovation, it is well-positioned to attract both local and international startups. Bahrain’s progressive regulatory framework, strong financial sector, and focus on technology and education make it a promising destination for entrepreneurs looking to tap into the Middle East’s vibrant startup scene.

Oman’s Emerging Startup Scene

While Oman is not yet ranked in the GSEI 2024, its young startup scene is gaining traction with notable startups like KitchenomiKs paving the way for innovation.

Oman is an emerging player in the Middle East’s startup ecosystem, making strides despite not yet being ranked in StartupBlink’s Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2024. The country is gradually building a foundation for a robust entrepreneurial environment, with a focus on fostering innovation and supporting new businesses. This burgeoning ecosystem is marked by a growing number of startups, incubators, and support initiatives that are laying the groundwork for future success.

One of the notable startups leading the way in Oman’s innovation landscape is KitchenomiKs, which exemplifies the potential and creativity within the country’s startup scene. The government’s proactive approach to economic diversification, as part of its Vision 2040 strategy, places significant emphasis on entrepreneurship as a key driver of economic growth. This vision aims to reduce Oman’s dependence on oil revenues and create a more diversified and sustainable economy.

Oman’s Innovation and Technology Transfer Center (ITTC) plays a pivotal role in promoting research, development, and innovation across various sectors. By providing resources, funding, and mentorship to startups, the ITTC is helping to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship and technological advancement. Additionally, the Oman Technology Fund (OTF) is a crucial initiative that supports startups through venture capital investments, accelerators, and incubators, offering vital financial and strategic support.

The country’s strategic location on the Arabian Peninsula, with access to key markets in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, provides startups with unique opportunities for regional and international expansion. Oman’s well-developed infrastructure, including modern ports and logistics networks, further enhances its attractiveness as a hub for startups, particularly those in logistics, trade, and technology sectors.

Educational institutions in Oman, such as Sultan Qaboos University and the German University of Technology in Oman, are increasingly focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation. These universities are establishing partnerships with industry players and creating programs that encourage students to develop entrepreneurial skills and launch their own ventures. The establishment of innovation and entrepreneurship centers within these universities is fostering a new generation of entrepreneurs equipped with the knowledge and tools to succeed.

Moreover, the Omani government has implemented several initiatives to create a supportive regulatory environment for startups. The introduction of the Entrepreneurship Residence Card facilitates the establishment of new businesses by providing foreign entrepreneurs with residency status. Additionally, reforms aimed at simplifying business registration processes and reducing bureaucratic hurdles are making it easier for startups to launch and operate in Oman.

Oman’s young and tech-savvy population is another driving force behind the growth of its startup ecosystem. With a high level of internet penetration and increasing adoption of digital technologies, there is a fertile ground for startups in sectors such as fintech, e-commerce, and digital services.

As Oman continues to invest in its entrepreneurial ecosystem and create an enabling environment for startups, it is poised to become a significant player in the regional and global startup landscape. The country’s commitment to innovation, coupled with strategic initiatives and supportive policies, positions Oman as a promising destination for entrepreneurs and investors seeking to tap into its dynamic and evolving market.

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