Abu Dhabi is a magnet for organizations that share its qualities
Interview with Ahmad Alwan, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development at Hub71
- Based on your previous experience at Abu Dhabi Catalyst Partners, what have you brought to your role as Head of Strategy & Corporate Development at Hub71?
There are many experiences I could draw upon but above all, understanding what it takes to build a business from the ground up has been key. I joined Abu Dhabi Catalyst Partners in its early stages as part of the team that set up the initiative from scratch. This involved building a strategy that served as a guide for our plans and initiatives going forward. I especially loved working on the impact piece, learning how to combine business objectives with impact objectives for the benefit of Abu Dhabi and the UAE.These experiences prepared me for my role at Hub71; we are on a journey to create real positive impact for Abu Dhabi’s economic transformation, which will benefit the UAE more widely.
- The UAE is home to numerous tech hubs that offer ecosystems for tech entrepreneurs and startups, what makes Hub71 stand out above the rest?
The dynamic community we’re building sets us apart. It’s at the forefront of what we do. Hub71 is driven by the founders, for the founders. We take this to heart and listen closely to their needs which guides the development of our offerings and programs.This is an ecosystem that prioritizes collaboration for the maximum benefit of startups, VCs, corporates and other tech players in Abu Dhabi’s ecosystem. Any challenges that arise, we ensure to quickly identify and translate them into actions to proactively assess the best ways to support our community moving forward.
Our partnerships are critical and offer us huge support in helping us drive our initiative. This is reflected by the backing from the Ghadan 21 as the flagship initiative, and our long-standing partnerships with Mubadala and Abu Dhabi Global Market, which have been phenomenal partners throughout our journey since we launched in March 2019. Adding to that our strategic partners ADIO, Softbank, Microsoft, and the list goes on.
Ultimately, we think of everyone in our community, of almost 60 startups and more than 30 partners, as companions in our journey. It’s clear that we have built a network that acts as a support system that can really guide startups in building their businesses and expanding into the MENA region.
And finally, being in Abu Dhabi give us an edge. It’s one of the best cities in the world, with high growth potential for its economy and a clear vision from its leadership to drive the capital’s continued development as a world-class business hub through its various initiatives. In this environment, you realise how important these elements contribute to Abu Dhabi being at the forefront of the region, and the world. Our job is to bring that effort and strong-will together to fuel our efforts.
- Raising funding is key for growth-stage startups, what advice would you give to startups setting up at Hub71 to increase their chances of equity funding?
Networking and ensuring startups are entrenched in the VC ecosystem is important. Startups must be willing to have regular dialogue with funds and investors and not be too demanding. The VCs I interact with are friendly and happy to engage with you, even if they are not ready to deploy capital. Planting the seeds early on and building relationships with VCs is important because they want to monitor the growth and progress of startups until they’re ready to invest.At Hub71, startups will always get the opportunity to discuss their businesses with their peers throughout our collaborative community. But I really respect the founders who “hustle”. Those who are committed to proactively taking the steps to network with as many people as possible to raise awareness about their businesses and aren’t afraid to hear ‘no’. It’s the resilience and a positive attitude you must have in order to make your business succeed.
- How would you charatectize the funds market at Hub71 and in the region more generally?
Part of my remit is managing the important relationships we have with our funds. We see significant engagement from all of them, both regionally and internationally with the likes of DCVC, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and Global Ventures – all funds that have investments throughout our community of startups. All them have been active, and for the startups and companies that have successfully received funding, they have been great ambassadors, promoting Hub71.
Ultimately, we want to see a lot more funding into the VC ecosystem in the MENA region. Having more funds offers more capital and that, in turn, attracts a stronger pipeline of tech startups. Success stories give rise to more capital being deployed but at the same time, more funds being raised will motivate more entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas.
We want to make sure that it’s as easy and affordable as possible for funds to set up, as well as startups. Investors should take great comfort in knowing we are based at ADGM, an amazing regulator that has one of the best VC regulatory regimes in the world.
- Over the past year, what characterized the startups that have been most successful in securing funding from VCs?
The first reference we hear about a successful startup is how great the founder is. How focused they are, how they empower their teams and manage them, and how they drive the strategy with a clear vision. The founder needs to be visionary in order to be memorable and attractive to VCs.Sometimes for startups, the business idea could be great, but the model does not work. But when you have the right team and founders in place who can adapt to sudden market changes with the ability to pivot their strategies, this puts them on the right path toward sustaining their businesses.
Disruptive technologies have also been a defining factor, but not necessarily in developing something never before seen. Commonly, startups have managed to create solutions to existing challenges. Building on this, startups that have also taken a localized approach before setting their sights internationally have been the ones that have stood out among local VCs.
It’s with this approach that startups have got on the radar of VCs in the region.
- Do you have any plans in the pipeline to increase funding opportunities for startups at Hub71?
Absolutely. Building a robust capital ecosystem is critical to building a tech hub and this is something we are focused on. We want Hub71 to become a capital hub and we are continuing to work toward growing our network even more to increase the range of funding opportunities available for our startup community.
- Hub71 continues to engage with local and international partners, what’s Hub71’s mission with these partnerships?
As a global tech ecosystem, Hub71 and international partnerships drive our business and is at the heart of what we do. These relationships are vital for us to connect with startups and other organizations around the world to promote the opportunities available in Abu Dhabi. Strategic partnerships support our mission to showcase Abu Dhabi, the UAE and MENA region, highlighting ways for businesses to explore the lucrative opportunities available here.As we strike these partnerships, they become our partners, colleagues, and ambassadors and vice versa. This is the ethos we adopt.
- What is it about your job at Hub71 that you most love?
It is very rewarding to be part of a community-driven initiative that can have a significant impact on people and address real-world problems. It’s that human element that keeps me motivated. And of course, working closely with people and witnessing the real impact we have on their business growth. Immediately, I feel that impact as soon as I set foot in the WeWork x Hub71 office space. Our space is full of incredibly friendly, talented and ambitious people who are collaborative and believe in their businesses. I am humbled to play a part in their journey through Hub71.