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Revealed: The first few businesses that will come up at Expo 2020 Dubai site

The first cohort of 85 startups and small businesses will set shop at District 2020, the futuristic mixed-use community that will take shape at the Expo site, by the end of this year, it has been announced.

Tala Al Ansari, Director of Innovation Ecosystem and Scale2Dubai, a global entrepreneurship programme, said they received over 3200 applications for startups from 129 countries around the world.

"628 (companies) have been shortlisted, and today we are pleased to announce our first cohort of 85 scaleups from 27 countries around the world that will join us at District 2020," Al Ansari said at a press conference Thursday at Expo 2020.

"These 85 startups will receive a soft landing at District 2020 and will become part of our innovation ecosystem," said Al Ansari, who leads on curating District 2020s innovation ecosystem responsible for attracting global corporate partners.

She said it reiterates "Expo 2020's commitment and district's commitment to supporting entrepreneurs worldwide."

With seven days left for the curtains to fall on the six-month long world fair, 80 per cent of the Expo built structures at the sprawling 4.38 sq km site will be repurposed to transform it into a 15-minute futuristic, human centric city where people can work, live and explore. Encompassing government offices, Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, cultural attractions, accelerators, incubators, labs, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups, District 2020 aims to attract diverse talents from across the world.

“The main ethos behind the District 2020’s ecosystem is to bring together diverse thinkers and to enable partnerships and carry forward that legacy of the expo of connecting minds and creating the future,” she Al Ansari.

Al Ansari said Scale2Dubai will now be working with 85 organizations on their logistics of scaling and being part of district 2020. She said the first cohort will first come onboard in a virtual program in the summer and then join physically on the ground at District 2020 starting October.

Scale2Dubai will host new cohorts annually at District 2020 and selection is already closed for cohort 2, she added.

Nadimeh Mehra, Vice President of District 2020 said the selected startups can operate from District 2020 rent free for two years. “That is critical for as for a startup that's moving and scaling to a new organization. So, we're de-risking for them a lot of their operational costs,” she said.

Elaborating on why Dubai plays an important role in attracting the entire startup movement, Mehra said: “It is such fertile ground for businesses to expand and scale up.”

“The UAE has the most active startup ecosystem in the Middle East, as 33 of the 50 most funded startups named by Forbes are headquartered in the Emirates. Among the top 10 startups in Forbes Middle East list of the 50 most funded startups in the Middle East, Seven startups were established in the UAE,” she said.

She said over the last few years, the UAE has also become home to 17 accelerator programs, 12 incubators and seven co-working spaces. It also has a clear vision and roadmap to become a leading global future city. This is supported by numerous initiatives and strategies such as the Dubai blockchain strategy, UAE strategy for artificial intelligence 2031 Dubai future vision, Dubai plan 2021, Smart Dubai, Dubai10x, UAE innovation strategy, and the UAE Centennial 2071.

The landmark law allowing 100% foreign ownership of companies and long-term visa reforms are the latest among a host of measures taken by the government to attract investors. “Excellent infrastructure, investor friendly reforms, safe haven status, and sound regulations have contributed among other factors to help the UAE stand out as one of the most sought-after destinations for startups in the world,” she said.

Anchor tenants like Siemens, Siemens Energy, Terminus Technologies, and DP World will also play a key role in developing tech-driven solutions and also collaborating and helping startups innovate and flourish.

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