FROM THE BOTTOM UP

Abu Dhabi 2017 | IT & MEDIA | FOCUS: STARTUP ECOSYSTEM

Curriculum reforms have introduced new subjects such as technology, innovative design, health sciences, career guidance, and business management, which are designed to bring about a new generation of critical thinkers and innovators.

When students in the UAE returned to their classrooms for the academic year 2016-2017, they were faced with a newly reformed curricula approved by the Ministry of Education that involved a compulsory course on innovation and entrepreneurship. A staple in the National Innovation Strategy and the nation's 2021 Plan, the implementation of a creativity-based curricula at earlier stages in the education system is one of the newest initiatives from the UAEs leadership to foster entrepreneurship among its youth.

It is no surprise that turning the UAE into a haven of innovation and entrepreneurship is one of the national targets for the road ahead. The country ranks 19th on the Global and Entrepreneurship and Development Index, 17th on the Global Competitiveness Report, and leads the way in easiness to set up businesses in the GCC. Moreover, the UAE has built a solid basis of institutions backing up the ideals of a growing number of young entrepreneurs through financing, mentorship, and capacity building. For example, the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, Dubai SME, the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, or Impact Hub are just a handful of names pumping blood into start-ups throughout the Emirates. The country's large investments in technology and e-commerce, as well the leadership's goal to turn their institutions into full e-government bodies, have created one of the most innovation-friendly places in the world today. But most importantly, the equation for a successful ecosystem is now receiving impetus at the early stages through the promotion of entrepreneurial activities from the school years. By the time the National Innovation Strategy and the nation's 2021 Plan was launched entities such as Stanford University and Google had been dragged into the UAE's innovative approach toward cultivating young talent.

Students from grades 10 onward will now receive an education in subjects related to business, technology, and entrepreneurship as part of the recently approved reforms. At the higher education level, universities across the UAE have also embarked on promoting innovation and fostering entrepreneurial mind-sets among their students. Examples include NYU Abu Dhabi, which included a pre-professional area in leadership and social entrepreneurship with at least seven different options of courses for students to choose before enrolling in a full-time program; Abu Dhabi University through the inclusion of a local Cisco Entrepreneur Institute in its campus; Khalifa University through its own Khalifa Innovation Centre investing in entrepreneurial projects designed by their own students; and Zayed University through its Entrepreneurship Carnival and demonstrated commitment shown by the local educational sector to promote entrepreneurship among their students.
There are also challenges to overcome before the UAE start-up ecosystem can play at its full potential. The ever-present ghost of financial shortage and the prevailing stigma over self-employed professionals remain two of the main problems to tackle in the years to come. A realistic approach to start-up success rate is also part of the doubtful nature that deters not only financial institutions from funding start-ups, but also entrepreneurs from venturing in and pitching their ideas to funders, mentors, or accelerators. As HE Abdullah Saeed Al Darmaki, CEO of Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, points out, “Entrepreneurs need to fail, maybe repeatedly, before they can rise to the top. The cultural challenge is to acknowledge that failure is always a good indication of how hungry or determined an individual can be to succeed the second time.” In the end, it is an inherent part of the entrepreneur to find a way to go around those challenges and excel in their fields.
Innovation is the roadmap the UAE has embraced for its future development. The core values stated in UAE 2021 Plan and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 stipulate that entrepreneurship is key to bring the younger spheres of the population on board to the economic future of the nation. With the start-up ecosystem continuously flourishing, it is a safe to state this will become a reality.