Innovation plays a crucial role in the UAE’s diversification efforts as it transitions into a knowledge-based economy. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, launched the National Strategy for Innovation Vision 2021 in October 2014 which aims to make the UAE one of the most innovative nations in the world within seven years. By 2021, the UAE aims to be ranked among the top 20 countries in the UN’s Global Innovation Index, which measures the performance of 128 countries with respect to innovation and offers a clear understanding of how innovation drives economic growth. The UAE currently ranked first among Arab countries and 41st worldwide in terms of its overall performance on the Global Innovation Index 2016.

The UAE’s innovation program has ambitious targets such as raising R&D expenditures as a proportion of GDP to 1.5% from its current 0.5%, and increasing the country’s non-oil real GDP growth to 5% from 3.5% by 2021. Vision 2021 focuses on fostering innovation in seven key sectors, renewable energy, transport, education, health, water, tech, and space.

Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA)

The Dubai government in partnership with Dubai Holding announced the launch of the Dubai Future Accelerators initiative which encourages participants to propose innovative projects in healthcare, transportation, renewable energy, sustainability, education, security, and urban planning. The initiative will invest $275 million over the next five years in projects and companies taking part in the initiative. Over 2,200 companies from 73 countries had applied to be part of the first cycle of the program as of August 2016. The initiative is expected to attract the world's best start-ups and companies, and will improve Dubai’s high-tech investment landscape by providing investors the opportunity to diversify their portfolios in innovation-led areas.

Did you know?

The ‘Creative Community Law in the Emirate of Dubai’, issued by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, represents a concrete step in the transformation towards an innovation-based ecosystem. The Law sets out the legal basis for the establishment of an Innovation Hub and a ‘Creative Community’ in the Dubai TECOM Free Zone. This law allows innovation-based companies to benefit from the zone’s 100% ownership and tax-free environment.

The Happiness Agenda & Smart Dubai

The UAE ranked as the 20th happiest country in the world, and the happiest Arab country in the UN’s 2015 World Happiness Report.

The Dubai government is working on a ‘Smart Dubai’ project that will make Dubai the happiest city on earth, powered by smart technology. The Smart Dubai Office announced its ‘Happiness Agenda’ for the city in May 2016. The Agenda will guide the city’s transformation with a science-based approach to increasing happiness.

The Smart Dubai project, which will make Dubai more efficient and safe, has completed the first phase of its transformation of the city as the first pilot city for the UN’s International Telecommunications Union Global Smart City Index.

In order to optimize its Smart City goals, Dubai offers outstanding business and investment opportunities for innovation-based companies. Huawei has recently installed its first Smart Street Solution in the Middle East in Dubai. The street features digital signage, CCTV surveillance, and Wi-Fi enabled environmental sensors.

Dubai organizes the region’s largest annual IT event, Gitex, where government bodies and companies have an opportunity to experience the next wave of innovative projects that are already helping cities around the world.

Did you know?

Dubai opened the world’s first 3D-printed building in May 2016. One goal of the Dubai Future Agenda is for 25% of the city’s construction to be 3D-printed by 2030.

Clean Energy

Developing clean energy and water technologies is one of the key pillars of the UAE’s innovation strategy. Vision 2021 aims to reduce water and energy consumption in the UAE. The country is looking to increase the proportion of its power generated from clean energy to 30% by 2030.

There are two very important examples for innovative clean energy projects in the UAE: Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City and Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. Masdar City, the world’s most sustainable eco-project, is set to be completed by 2030. Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the world's biggest solar park, is being built in Dubai. The $14 billion solar park will eventually produce 5,000 megawatts, which is enough to power 800,000 homes, by 2030. Dubai aims to become the city with the lowest carbon footprint in the world. It is expected that Dubai will generate 7% of its power from clean energy sources by 2020, and 25% by 2030.

Did you know?

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, DEWA, has established a 24/7 Cyber Defense Center, the first government organization in Dubai to have such a safeguard, making Dubai the smartest city in the world.

Transport

The UAE also has a number of ambitious innovative projects in the transportation sector. The Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy aims to make 25% of all trips on public transportation driverless by 2030. The Dubai Road and Transportation Authority has already begun trial runs of the first driverless smart vehicle, accommodating up to 10 passengers at a time.

The Dubai Future Foundation, a leading research organization that plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of Dubai, launched a contest inviting participants to design a Hyperloop link project. In a Hyperloop link, passenger capsules travel along a low-pressure pipe linking two stations enabling the capsules to travel at speeds of up to 1,200 km per hour. The Hyperloop project will reduce the travel time between Dubai and Fujairah to less than 10 minutes.

Did you know?

The Dubai government launched the world’s first electronic medical tourism portal, Dubai Health Experience, in April 2016. The portal provides health, travel, hospitality, and visa services for medical tourists.

Space

The UAE Space Agency signed a cooperation agreement with NASA with the aim of carrying out joint ventures in areas such as space exploration, aviation, and the exploration of Mars. Under this agreement, the county’s Space Agency is working to launch a space mission to Mars by 2021, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. Around $5.4 billion has been invested in the Emirates Mars Mission program. The Emirates Mars Mission team will build a core capability to develop the UAE’s space knowledge base. The Mars mission will be the first space exploration mission by an Arab state and will provide a boost to scientific discoveries and technological innovation in the UAE.

Dubai Silicon Oasis in numbers

Dubai Silicon Oasis is an integrated free zone technology park. Based on UAE Vision 2021 and Dubai Plan 2021, the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority is preparing government entities for the post-oil economy era.

Dubai Silicon Oasis
Dubai Silicon Oasis is an integrated free zone technology park.

Total investments: Dh3.6 billion (2015)
Foreign Investment: Dh1.8 billion (2015)
Annual Revenue Growth: 16% (2015)
The number of companies: 1,920 (2015) — up from 1,391 in 2014.
Company breakdown: 32% European - 24% Asian - 22% MENA - 11% North & South America

Conclusion

The UAE is building a sustainable knowledge-based economy dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs. The UAE’s innovation strategy aims to turn the country into a global laboratory for next generation technologies by 2021 which will radically change lives across the country and the region.

According to McKinsey’s report, the Internet of Things’ impact on Smart Cities could reach $1.6 trillion by 2025. Opportunities include $800 billion in transportation and $700 billion in healthcare. The UAE is emerging as one of the top investment destinations for innovative projects concerning Smart Cities and various other sectors. The UAE’s innovation-led agenda seeks to further position the country’s as a leading force in creating markets for the technology of the 21st century. Thus, the UAE is one of the leading markets in terms of investment opportunities for innovation-led companies.