UAE visa rules stifle start-ups: Arabnet founder

Christidis says most Dubai start-ups are created by mid-career professionals with money

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UAE visa rules stifle start-ups: Arabnet founder Omar Christidis, ArabNet founder and CEO says that most successful start-ups in Dubai are created by mid-career professionals who have the financial backing and contacts to quit their jobs and focus on making their business successful.
By  Georgina Enzer Published  February 13, 2012

There has been a huge growth in the number of people interested in entrepreneurship and technology in the Middle East, but Dubai is not the ideal place for these start-ups to set up shop, according to Omar Christidis, founder and CEO of entrepreneurship hub ArabNet.

One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs in Dubai face, is that expatriates cannot live in the UAE without a visa and cannot get a visa without having a job.

This means that a large percentage of entrepreneurs in Dubai are in mid-career and already have the finances and contacts to quit their jobs and focus on their start-up full time. According to Christidis, young entrepreneurs, who do not have the financial backing and have to work often struggle to launch their businesses.

"Doing an entrepreneurial thing on the side while working is quite challenging and if you want to get a visa through the company that you are starting, you need to get office space and that is pretty expensive," said Christidis.

The expenses of starting up a business in Dubai are also hobbling the young entrepreneurial sector, the costs of living, hiring staff and opening or renting an office are very high, meaning that without a substantial initial capital, start-ups cannot get off the ground.

Many entrepreneurs in Dubai are mid-career professionals, that are able to leave their jobs and focus on making their start-up a success and it is these start-up companies that have also proven to be the most successful.

"We did a workshop here in Dubai Internet City and the interesting thing about the entrepreneurs in Dubai is that they were the oldest set of entrepreneurs that we saw across the region. The average age of the entrepreneurs was 31 and I think that there are a lot of people who are mid-career professionals who are deciding to become entrepreneurs and these are some of the most successful entrepreneurs if you look at the global statistics," said Christidis.

Christidis said that start-ups who do make it and manage to open do have access to most regional and international companies that they may want to pursue as clients.

A couple of start-ups that have done well, according to Christidis are Dubizzle and DuPlays, both of which began as start ups a few years ago and are now well-known, fully fledged companies.

There is also a broadening interest in the technology industry in the Middle East, according to Christidis.

"I think that we are seeing the advertising sector really getting interested in what is happening in technology. Telecoms are getting interested in this sector, their voice revenues are shrinking and they have to come up with new ways to monetise, which are really going to be content, applications and services. These guys also have a renewed interest in start-ups, helping them monetise and amplify content to their subscribers and providing billing services," he said.

ArabNet is designed to be a hub for Arab digital professionals and entrepreneurs to connect and to learn and runs yearly workshops across the Middle East region to connect entrepreneurs with businesses and provide training.

ArabNet does not just focus on Dubai and runs its entrepreneurship meetings and events in many of the countries in the Middle East region.

The company will hold a five-day conference in Beirut, Lebanon from 27th to 31st March called ArabNet 2012.

The conference will feature two days focusing on developers, which will have training sessions and meetings with global industry experts from companies such as Facebook, BlackBerry and Google.

An industry day will target the big four industries, healthcare, education, finance and travel and tourism, industries that are being radically transformed by technologies. This will be followed by a forum.

"The forum, which is the highlight of our event, aims to be a global platform for this industry. We are bringing top-notch global people who will be speaking in the region for the first time. We also have three competitions, the Start-up Demo, the Ideathon and the Case Study Challenge, which is for the best advertising and marketing campaign leveraging new media and technology," said Christidis. "We are also doing an overnight developer competition which is running from Developer day one to day two from 8pm to 8am - 12 hours of coding, all overnight, which I think will be really exciting for the geeks, there is a lot of excitement about it on social media. The idea is to build a hack in 12 hours and see who the best is."

The last day of the event will be open to the public and will feature sessions on a variety of subjects, such as social media and entrepreneurship.

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