Tech

The oil-reliant United Arab Emirates is betting big on tech start-ups and A.I.

Key Points
  • Abu Dhabi authorities have launched a $272 million scheme to attract and develop technology start-ups.
  • The UAE has put in place significant adjustments to its long-term visa system.
  • SoftBank's Vision Fund is a founding partner to the scheme, while Microsoft is a strategic partner.
Abu Dhabi
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is furthering its push into technology and artificial intelligence, in a bid to future-proof its oil, trade and tourism-dependent economy.

In the capital of Abu Dhabi where about 90% of central government revenue comes from the hydrocarbon sector, authorities have launched Hub 71 — a 1 billion dirham ($272 million) scheme driven by state investor Mubadala and supported by the Abu Dhabi government to attract and develop technology start-ups.

"We're looking global," Mahmoud Adi, the head of Hub71, told CNBC's "Capital Connection" Thursday. "We believe that Abu Dhabi can offer access to capital, access to ease of doing business, and we are extremely glad that yesterday we saw that the cabinet announced five-year visas," he added.

The UAE has put in place significant adjustments to its long-term visa system, which includes a 10-year residency visa for investors and specialists, and a five-year visa for exceptional students and entrepreneurs.

The new Hub71 program will be based at the Abu Dhabi Global Market site and will involve the launch of a 500 million dirham fund to invest in technology start-ups. It aims to attract 100 companies over the next three to five years by offering incentives such as housing, office space and health insurance.

"Hub71 will bring together three key factors essential for the success of Abu Dhabi's tech ecosystem — capital providers, business enablers and strategic partners, all under one roof," Mubadala's Deputy Group CEO Waleed Al Muhairi said in a statement.

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Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of the SoftBank Group, said in a statement: "The SoftBank Vision Fund and our portfolio companies are honored to participate as a founding partner of Abu Dhabi's Hub71."

The Abu Dhabi Government also launched a 50 billion dirham stimulus fund, Ghadan 21, in September last year to accelerate economic growth. Ghadan means "tomorrow" in Arabic.

"All of this is part of the program to make sure that doing business is competitive in the country," Adi added.

As a strategic partner to Hub71, Microsoft will provide technology and cloud services to the businesses that join the community. SoftBank will also be active in the hub and support the expansion of companies in which it has invested.

Dubai looks to artificial intelligence

These announcements come as the first wholly-focused artificial intelligence (AI) conference wraps up in neighboring emirate Dubai, where sluggish growth and falling property prices are prompting policymakers to rethink long-term residency programs and foreign ownership laws.

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The two-day event, organized by the UAE National Program for Artificial Intelligence and in partnership with Smart Dubai, aims to elevate the UAE's position as a Middle East technology hub, and attract new investments in the field of AI to further diversify its transitioning economy.

"It's a much bigger success than we anticipated," Omar Al Olama, the UAE minister of artificial intelligence, told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Tuesday. "It's the biggest event of its kind of the world, more than 16,000 people participated and are part of the event and the numbers are really phenomenal," he said.

"We're not looking at artificial intelligence for the sake of artificial intelligence, we're looking at artificial intelligence for the sake of creating value," added Al Olama.

—Reuters contributed to this article.