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UAE Ranked MENA’s Most Valuable ‘Nation Brand’: What Role Does the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Play?

Despite a difficult year, UAE has moved up two places in Brand Finance's global index, while the entrepreneurial landscape is in ascendancy. Coincidence?

The UAE is a global power, in many senses, standing as a kind-of beacon of innovation, an endlessly cosmopolitan playground of the future.  This is very much reflected in a recent Brand Finance report which places the UAE as having the strongest and most valuable brand in the MENA region, and 18th globally, at AED 2.45 trillion (US $672 billion). Brand Finance is an independent brand valuation firm that measures the strength and value of nation brands though the same methodology used to value the world’s largest companies and brands. This year they moved the Emirates up two spots from last year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic - a testament to its commitment of a new nation brand identity and largescale initiatives such as EXPO 2020.

It’s also reflected, quite emphatically, by the increasingly diverse and innovative entrepreneurial landscape.

This past year, the Emirates has seen a boom in their entrepreneurial ecosystem which only helps to further cement their position on Brand Finance’s 2020 Nation Brand ranking. The increase in startups across industries, especially fintech, sustainability and e-commerce, as well as many non-MENA based enterprises launching UAE based offices, and the spike of memberships to Dubai Startup Hub during H1 2020 are all indicators that the UAE’s ecosystem is in ascendency, no doubt further accelerated by a focus on digital transformation.

Just this year, we’ve seen several indicators that show exactly that, in addition to the ecosystem turning heads beyond MENA.

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) recently invested in multiple agritech companies as they begin to enable the rapid expansion of Abu Dhabi’s agritech sector. One company of interest was US-based Nanoracks, which is the largest commercial user of the International Space Station and the company behind the first-ever commercial agritech space research program. The company already has a presence in Abu Dhabi through its Starlab Space Farming Center, where it will develop its space-based technology to be applied to desert agriculture. "Abu Dhabi is pressing ahead at full steam with our mission to ‘turn the desert green’ and solve long- term global food security issues,” said Tariq Bin Hendi, Director General of ADIO. These investments represent the technological transformation that is occurring across the United Arab Emirates as funding for tech-based startups increases.

The starry-eyed interest in space doesn’t stop with Nanorocks, of course. The Emirates Mars Mission contributed some $6.8 billion to the Emirates’ Nation Brand valuation. According to David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, “Given the mission’s cost of development, launch and spacecraft operations of some $200 million, the Mars mission has certainly delivered value from a Nation Brand valuation standpoint.”

The move of companies to UAE such as Silicon Valley blockchain fintech, Ripple, only serves to prove that the ecosystem is an attractive destination for startups across the world, while Berlin-based micro-mobility startup, Circ opening offices in the UAE underlines the country as an ideal commercial market for many. UAE headquarters have often been used by enterprises as a way to launch their presence in the MENA region and gain more regional accounts and better oversee their operations in the area. Interest in the Emirates is coming from both outside of the country as well as from within, a trend you can see in the incredible increase in Dubai Startup Hub memberships.

The hub is an initiative that is overseen by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry and was the first of its kind in the region with its 2016 establishment. Their goal is to increase public and private sector collaboration and emphasize innovation and entrepreneurship as a main driver of the Emirati economy. During the first half of 2020 they recorded 236% surge in memberships as a result to the changing market conditions caused by COVID-19.

President & CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, H.E. Haman Buamin, said that Dubai Startup Hub is representative of the strong entrepreneurial sprit that exists within the Emirates, as well as the role that startups play in filling market gaps. As the UAE transitions to a digitally driven economy he believes that these startups and SMEs will have a major role to play in building the UAE’s post-COVID-19 economy.

The UAE’s development of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, investment in new frontiers, and strategic global partnerships all played a role in launching them up on the index to 18th, despite the brand value loss many brands have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emirate’s future looks bright and full of opportunity as they lead the MENA region as one of the world’s most valuable and strongest nation brands regardless of global negative market pressures.

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