Abu Dhabi’s goal to be a hub for global tech companies just got real
In April 2020, top US data residency hosting platform, InCountry, announced that it had selected Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 – the tech ecosystem powered by Mubadala, to be the home of its Middle East and Africa headquarters.
To better understand the importance of cloud players like InCountry to global businesses based in the UAE and why it chose Abu Dhabi and Hub71 for its Middle East and Africa headquarters, we spoke to Khaled Lababidi, Vice President of MENA at InCountry.
Khaled also shared why he entered the tech space and went from being the investor to being the entrepreneur and became part of InCountry’s growing company in the MENA region.
What is InCountry known for?
InCountry is the first and only data residency-as-a-services platform – where it helps multi-national companies to become compliant within the countries that they operate in.
We address challenges for many multinational companies who wish to expand globally or adapt SaaS applications, but find there are many new data regulations laws being passed all over the world. And so, expanding into new markets has become increasingly difficult. For example, we all know about the ‘great firewall of China’ and the European Union’s Global Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) laws; but it is no longer just those places that have data residency rules in place. Countries like India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are changing their laws and there are many global companies that are not able to remain compliant in every jurisdiction in which they operate. That’s where InCountry comes in.
Last year, here in the UAE, federal law 2 was passed that required health data should be localized – meaning all UAE’s resident and citizen health data needs to be stored in the UAE. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, there are laws that increasingly require data with respect to either Saudi citizens or residents to be stored in Saudi.
How does this benefit the wider Abu Dhabi business landscape?
The UAE wants to protect their citizens and residents data, and so the UAE has enacted laws which require specific data regulations. These laws also protect UAE businesses from insidious data breaches and the information losses that may occur outside of the UAE’s jurisdiction, which in turn, protects the country as a whole.
Why did InCountry choose to base itself at WeWork x Hub71?
Firstly, it was the ease of doing business in Abu Dhabi – opening an office here has never been more convenient and simpler. In only a matter of weeks, we were registered at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and we were ready to go within the WeWork x Hub71 co-working space.
Secondly, Mubadala’s ventures arm, a strategic partner of Hub71, is an investor of InCountry and they have opened doors for us and helped us to understand UAE regulations better in order to better communicate with the wider business community.
Being at Hub71 gives us access to capital. We are always looking for the next capital raise and have already kicked off some great conversations with other entities here in the Middle East.
Lastly, as we grow, we could make use of the wonderful tech talent that we have here in the region.
Would you say Abu Dhabi is an attractive for tech talent? And does it have the talent you need to build your business?
Yes, talent is one of those things that takes time to build up, but this city and its surrounding region has it in spades – there is Microsoft Azure, Equinix, Amazon Web Services (AWS), among many others, that have great engineers which is a great asset to us.
When we look at what has happened over the past few months, and how we have been accelerating the entire digitization process, you’ll find that many companies have spent a lot of money in upskilling and retraining existing staff – whether that is in coding, cybersecurity or digital skills. All that goes into building UAE’s knowledge capital for the UAE and Abu Dhabi. That is exactly what we hope to take advantage of, in time to come.
What markets do you hope to enter in the next 12 months?
InCountry is currently operational in over 80 countries, which spreads across 5 continents. Depending on our client’s requirements, we are likely to add a few more countries in the near future.
Currently, our vision and strategy is to help customers adopt and use the best SaaS applications out there, like Salesforce, without running into any regulatory or data residency issues.
What are the biggest areas of opportunity for Abu Dhabi’s burgeoning tech sector?
These days, it’s all about how we use and commercialize data. You’ll find some great companies that are investing and re-purposing the data they own, like Honeywell and Siemens; so the data is there, you just need to talk about how you’ll – as a startup – analyze that data and your ability to create something out of it.
I have also spent a lot of time investing in fintech companies and I see many opportunities for Abu Dhabi’s tech startup ecosystem there. For example, in the UAE, there are more than 50 banks – which creates a boon for fintech startups. There are a couple of great things going for this country – it is young, with a huge online presence, and everybody has access to mobile and internet; those are the trifectas of things that you require for any fintech company.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur yourself?
I used to be an oil and gas banker. Being in the banking sector for more than 13 years was a great experience for me. I travelled the world and got exposed to many great opportunities. But trying to push the boundaries in a large corporation is not the easiest thing to do.
In 2018, I got into a conversation with a startup and was asked to help them raise funds, which was a great learning experience for me, especially at a time when raising funds was challenging. I also spent time working at Arbor Ventures (Singapore) as an investor in great startups, of which, one of them is InCountry.
But overall, the main reason I crossed over from the corporate world to the startup one – was being able to actually create something, and having the ability to make a difference; of which, many people in their mid-careers, including myself – are always looking to do.