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Is Sharjah going to be the next Silicon Valley for business?

During the last decade, Sharjah has emerged as an entrepreneurial hub with various Government initiatives in place to attract investors and innovators to establish their companies in Sharjah. But is it actually worth investing in the emirate in today’s date?

Almost a decade ago, Sharjah was called the ‘Cultural Capital’ of the UAE. The emirate has in-fact long been known for its traditional roots, heritage preservation, and its artistic architecture. Sharjah, however, has witnessed a drastic change over these years and has become an entrepreneurship hub in the region. With more than 30,000 companies establishing themselves in 2018 alone, the emirate is thriving with new ideas, startups, and subsequent development.

“We were known for our culture preservation and today we’re known as the city of education and entrepreneurship, and that has to be entirely credited to our Ruler - H.H. Sheikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi who’s vision was to transform Sharjah into a knowledge-based economy,” says Mr Saeed Alnofeli, Venture Creation Manager at Sheraa (Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre).

Indeed there is no doubt that the city is where it is today because of the relentless efforts of the visionary Ruler and the Government of Sharjah who’ve supported his vision by launching many new initiatives to help SMBs grow in their respective businesses. In fact, entrepreneurship has thrived so much in the region that you’d often find people who’ve started something of their own outside their regular jobs.

“It went from something a few had to something everyone has,” says H.E Sara Al Madani, Member - Sharjah Chambers of Commerce. “People in the government, private sector employees, all have small businesses past their work hours, and that’s what makes Sharjah a place where everyone is given the opportunity to develop their vision into a tangible reality.”

Setting up in Sharjah - pros and cons

Sharjah has been a popular destination for residents because of its affordable living but even for entrepreneurs, setting up in Sharjah can cost them half of what they’d be spending in other popular emirates like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

As per H.E. Sara Al Madani: “Most important advantage is the affordability. Especially for SMBs, cash-flow is an issue. So the emirate provides them an opportunity to establish here without burning much cash, allowing you to use it elsewhere, and test the market.” Since the initial startup costs are low, if the business does not work out for an entrepreneur, at least he wouldn’t lose as much he would lose otherwise.

She further adds that the other factor that sets Sharjah apart is the location. The emirate is in the middle and quite close to all other emirates. Hence commuting and doing business with other emirates becomes easier. Also, Sharjah has closer access to all ports which is an added advantage to people especially in the trading or industrial production lines.

“Even the license fees is a lot lesser than other emirates,” says Saeed Al Nofeli. But while the fees are lower compared to other emirates, for startup companies, it is still high. Ruba Hasan, founder of 3Dinova, a 3D printing company feels that in general, it is difficult to set up a company in the UAE, and considering Sharjah is encouraging startups, it should lower the costs further.

“I wished we had cheaper licenses and easier facilities to open bank accounts, at least in the first two years,” says Ruba. For a new entrepreneur, shelving our AED 10,000 - 15,000 for the license in the first year of business is difficult. Moreover, opening a company bank account requires a physical office and hence renting an office when you’re not really sure if you’d succeed is quite risky.

Sheraa, however, has considered these points and has tied up with a couple of firms to provide better facilities for their members. “At Sheraa, we’ve partnered with Shams who provide with cheaper licenses. We not only provide advisory help, but we also have a system in place whereby we can connect them with investors and vice versa so that both parties benefit from each other’s resources.”

Government initiatives

As mentioned previously, H.H. Sheikh Sultan Bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi has always focused on developing the city into a knowledge-based economy for which he established the American University of Sharjah 20 years ago. Recently, he also announced that he will be opening research parks in Sharjah to commercialize on the resources. He wants to develop a complete ecosystem to allow entrepreneurs to flourish.

Moreover,  we see the presence of many entities to support traditional businesses but this is not the case when it comes to start-ups and new businesses. Sharjah aims to eliminate this issue and has established multiple entities which work together to ensure that the support systems for a start-up to grow and flourish are in place. These include centers such as Sheraa which not only provide opportunities for new ideas to expand but also train people to create a skilled workforce.

“When we started off, we realized that the people in our region aren’t equipped with the right skills to launch startups, and that’s where we came in,” says Saeed. “Sheraa aims to educate these budding entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to create their brand, their product, their pitch and even connects them with the right investors to help them access the global markets.”

While Sheraa is doing this, SRTI Park, another entity set up by the ruler himself focuses on creating solutions for a number of innovation challenges. “The strategy of the park is to create solutions for a number of innovative issues, in order to build a technical scientific base for development in the fields of water technology, renewable, environment technology, transportation technology, information technology, industrial design, and architecture,” says H.E. Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTI Park.

SRTI Park has already succeeded in attracting a number of international companies, as well as there are talks of non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations establishing technological laboratories in the future.

With these initiatives in place, Sharjah is advocating entrepreneurship in a way it has never before. With perks, initiatives and start-up centric entities, it is aiming to capture the imagination of anyone with an idea. People from any nationality, background, and walk of life are welcome here, they just need an idea. With the growing need for more businesses in its economy and a student population beaming with innovation, could Sharjah be the bright new spot for innovators?

“We have the minds, we’re building the resources and we’re developing world-class technology,” says H.E. Sara Al Madani. “If everything goes as planned, in a few years time, Sharjah could be the next Silicon Valley for startups and businesses.”