PREDICTED IMF GROWTH OF 2.9%

Dubai 2019 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ayman Al Awadhi, Group Managing Director of The Corporate Group, on Expo 2020, artificial intelligence, and joint ventures.

How would you assess business prosperity in 2018?

The IMF's predicted GDP growth rate for the UAE at the start of 2018 was 2.3% and toward the end of 2018, it was revised to 2.9%, showing that the market is picking up, albeit slowly. There are more prospects on the way, and Expo 2020 should add another boost to 2019. The Expo's infrastructure will attract several industries and SMEs to participate building country pavilions and museum projects in the region. 2019 will be a year of engagement in these projects, specifically supply chain projects. The oil price has been picking up, which is another positive sign. There is still, however, some fear of another drop with the recent OPEC meetings and other speculations. Nonetheless, we will see confidence returning to the market with the recent price stabilization. We are attached to the global market, and there is little to nothing that we can do to control it. We can only understand what is going on and adapt to certain trends and policies to boost our economic state and potential, but we mainly remain positive.

Which sectors are currently exhibiting the most growth and potential?

Looking at the nature of the FDI that we have brought in 2018, there have been many inquiries and initial set ups regarding IoT and AI. I am just returning from South Korea, where there was numerous discussions among startups in the area of AI solutions, IoT, and smart cities. Most of the companies see the need for such discussions. They keep a close eye on the GCC and more specifically the UAE, looking for the right moment to penetrate the market and establish their footprints. We are helping them to bridge the gap to bring those solutions for key players and startups seeking to expand in the global market. The UAE, like Tokyo, is a testing ground for simulations of AI and other intelligent robotic solutions.

How is increasing AI and digitalization effecting business operations in Dubai?

Such developments will be subject to the development of regulations. Many current business activities need to further unpack these technologies and the possible approval processes. We will be more engaged in the future as we bring more of these businesses and new technologies to the region; more governance is definitely required. The country is new to this, so I can see the culture and life cycle. With my recent visit to South Korea, I witnessed the lifestyle and engagement with AI, IoT, and smart things. This is because of their adaptation, which has undergone certain regulatory conditions over the years. Similarly, regulations need to be introduced in the UAE so that these new digital practices can become a part of everyday life, be it personal or in business engagement. Recently, I made another similar trip to Slush in Helsinki, organized by the Ministry of Economy of the UAE where 40 delegate members, including inventors, startups, and other groups from the public and private sectors gathered to discuss future technologies. One highlight from that trip was Finland, which is highly advanced in terms of technology and the startup ecosystem. We even visited Marina 01, an inspiring project that converted a 200-year-old hospital into a total ecosystem to provide assistance and support to startups. Globally, The Corporate Group is linking with the most advanced countries to build classrooms for startups as part of an entire ecosystem. We want to attract such parties to come to the UAE to see how we can incubate them, allowing for commercial growth in the UAE.

What are The Corporate Group's main objectives for 2019?

We are going to invest in our resources, infrastructure, and capabilities to deliver a real ecosystem and platform to further support startups. We recently did a JV with a UK-based company, Evolution CBS. The objective of the JV is to conduct business valuation, mentoring, coaching, and exit services. This gives us an end-to-end platform from businesses incubating all the way to an exit strategy and selling their company. We are now in full control of the equation and journey of a startup or commercial entity with a key approach on adding value. In the future, the company needs to pursue more JVs with commercial entities that will add value to our platform. One of our goals is to develop a one-stop shop environment to serve both commercial entities and the growing startup community that we are attracting. We will continue to team up with startup mentors and coaches who possess the know-how of how to further run and develop startups.