Opportunities And Challenges For Entrepreneurs In Starting A Business In Dubai

Opportunities for Investment in Dubai

Startup is a word that is used to describe a business venture which is still in its initial stage of formation. An entrepreneur perceives a business opportunity; this is the first step of setting up a venture[1]. This venture is then nurtured with resource and capabilities that the entrepreneur gathers as well as the external factors that support the growth[2].  During setting up any business organisation the primary objective of the business is to earn profit and then with the values and the principles of the entrepreneur, other objectives are based. In order to achieve these objectives there are number of factors that the entrepreneur has to keep in mind. For example, the external business environment consists of factors like political condition of the country of operation, the dynamics of the society and the condition of the economy etc. While starting a business venture an entrepreneur conducts a market survey in order to determine the prospect of the idea. A SWOT analysis is one of the most common analytical tools that are used in order to understand the feasibility of a business idea, while the strength and weakness are the internal aspects, the opportunities and threats are faced due to the external factors. In this assignment the opportunities and challenges that are faced by the entrepreneurs while starting up a business in Dubai is going to be discussed[3].

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Depending on the nature of the business and the scale of operation as well as the industry the challenges and the opportunities vary, however there are a number of factors that impact the operations of any business unit in a country equally and these are some of the aspects that are going to be discussed in the assignment.  As a startup one of the most important aspects is funding and investment, financial support is the most essential aspect of forming a strong institution. Dubai is one of the major cities in the UAE and is known for the extravagant lifestyle of the people as well as cutting edge architecture. UAE’s economic condition has been improving and the growth is on the rising trend, therefore making the nation state a land of opportunities for business. However, with such opportunities there are a number of threats as well which will also be discussed in the assignment.

The opportunities that are discussed above are also combined with a number of challenges and threats in the business environment. There are a number of limitations and challenges that are faced by the investors while operating in UAE or Dubai to be specific.

Challenges in Setting up a Business in Dubai

Tradition and customs are some of the key elements in a business organisation and the society is characterized by these traditions and customs. Though Dubai is a modern city but it is backed up with several traditional and old ideologies. The society of UAE has a modern approach with traditional Islamic rules, the government policies and the laws of the nation state are based on the Islamic regulations. The impact of religion on several aspects of business and investments are evident, and this can be a major barrier in the business opportunities based on the areas of operation[4]. This makes it imperative for the investors to understand and comprehend with the culture that is prevalent in the region. In UAE Sharia or the Muslim Law is applicable as the region is an Islamic state.  A company has to abide by and address the Islamic culture while setting up the organisation and in order to do so there must be enough understanding of the aspects, this can be a challenge for a person who is establishing a new venture[5].  

One of the major differences in the region related to business is the working hours and the holidays, for a multinational company in order to establish operations in the region. The week serves from Sunday-Thursday as Friday is associated as a holy day in Islam. Not only that during the month of Ramadan the working hours of all organisations are revised and shortened to facilitate the people who are observing fast. For a business, catering to such organsiational changes in the structure can be an issue. For example, a business organisation that serves clients oversees will have issue with this format as the clients will be available for business during Friday and Saturday as well. The clients and the customers have to accommodate with the times accordingly which might be a barrier in the operation of the business[6].

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Another barrier can be the process and the tradition of communication in the region, the official language in the UAE is Arabic, however English is the business language. Communication is a large part of culture and the difference in the comprehension of the gestures and body language can be misleading. However there are documents and records that are in Arabic language making it difficult for a person who is new to the language or the region to comprehend with the language[7].

According to the Hofstede model of cultural dimension, the power distance dimension is at 90, which means that the level of hierarchy is evident and is traditionally followed in the culture of the region, which can be difficult for organisations or investors form other cultural background to adopt[8].  It is important to respect the position of the people in the society as well as in the organisation.  Top-down hierarchy is the most common organisation structure. The society is characterized by one individual who is responsible for making a number of decisions. The society is very punctual and uptight, people are disciplined and maintain a very scheduled lifestyle, luxury is a part of life and people like to splurge as well. However, the people of this region have a strong sense of punctuality. The society considers public display of emotion to be extremely disrespectful, people are expected to behave in a certain manner in the public, and even discussing someone in a negative tone is also disregarded by the society[9]. Thus, it can be said that there is major challenge in people management by foreign entrepreneurs in the region. There is also a difference in the way the two genders are addressed in the region, the tone and the etiquettes are different based on the gender[10]. The people who want to establish business in the region are expected to know these nuances of the society. This is also a challenge for any individual who is trying to establish an organisation in the region[11].

Religious and Cultural Factors Affecting Business

Another reason why people management can be a challenge in the city or in UAE is because there is a large diversity of people working in the companies that are established in the nation state. The society has a large diversity of people therefore making management of the workforce complicated.

Investments and capital is the major challenge for any entrepreneur, unless the business organisation is in a position where the operations are enough to churn out the capital that is required to run the business, the management will require funds from outside.  Most of the startups in the region say that the issue of funding is the most significant challenge that they face in the economy[12]. The investors in Dubai or UAE are always looking forward to a modern innovative idea to invest upon; it is difficult to impress any investor in the region. The idea is the key to get funded by an individual or an organisation. The entrepreneur is expected to have a scalable business idea which will not only interest the investors but will also keep them engaged so that they do not take away the funding. The investors in the UAE are controlled by a number of factors such as profitability, social circumstances and cultural background of the investors etc. for a bank the area of focus for any application for business loans are the provision of at least three years of audited balances with positive figures and growth indicators. As discussed above the society is driven by values and principles hence it plays an important role in gaining the investors interest as well. The challenge for the entrepreneurs is to keep the objectives of the business aligned with the values and principles of the investors[13].

The business model of the company is important; the investor has to understand the prospect of the business and should be able to align it with his or her interest. Therefore, it is challenging for the entrepreneurs to find a fitting funding option for the business that will not only support the business idea but will also believe in the idea. One of the recent takeovers of a UAE startup organisation by an American company has raise the argument of the situation of funding of startups in the region. Souq.com is a Dubai based organisation that has been acquired by the e-commerce giant Amazon[14]. There is always a sense of controlled measures among the investors of this regain which has given rise to the issue of low funding among the startups. With every business idea there are certainly some amount of risks associated, however with a start up the risk is even more[15]. 

People Management Challenges

In the early stages of a start up business the funds are supplied by Angle investors, but the real challenge is to keep the investment rolling, hence the stage that comes after the stage of inception of the venture[16]. This is the growth stage here the investment that is required by the firm is relatively larger than the initial stage, for example, $5m to $10m. As the mount of investment here is large the risk associated with the investment is also huge thus making the process even challenging for an entrepreneur.

There is also a lack in financial support from financial institutions, which make it even more difficult for companies to continue their operations. The difference in understanding and comprehending with the business model of the new venture is the barrier and this is the reason for the challenge. Another issue that the investors face is the de-clocking of the funds, even after the venture is being funds, the time that it takes to get processed impacts the business and its prospects[17].

In order to overcome such challenges the entrepreneur has to have a vision and a clear focus of the idea. The idea that the entrepreneur has should be channelized in order to make the investors understand the feasibility and the prospect of the business. A business plan is a good idea while the business is in the initial stage; it is a document that clearly states the nuances of the venture. This document can serve as a feasibility report with all the data points for the investors to read and investigate for the prospect of the business. Another way of overcoming the challenge of funding is to maintain a unique stand point for the business idea, the investors are attracted to business idea and will always willing to channel their money in places with less risks, hence the presentation of the idea matters while pitching it to the investors[18].

Bootstrapping is another way, in which the problem of funding can be solved in simple words it is self-funding, but as discussed above the issue in this process arises when the person is out of funds in the growth stage of the start up[19].

During the analysis of the external business environment he policies of the government and their support to encourage the business play an important role. There are various aspects of the government policies that impact the business, for example, the taxation and the barriers in the process of business are all a part of the government policies that regulate the trade in the nation state.  The administration of the UAE has been trying to ensure that the trade system in the region is of the international standards[20].

Funding Challenges

The first challenge for a person to set up an onshore venture in the UAE is to have a local sponsor, who will be able to support the cause and the idea of the businessman. This sponsor must have 51 percent share of the venture, this is one of the policies of the government that makes business ventures or foreign investment a major challenge for startups. This policy takes way the right of the entrepreneur with the business idea the liberty of taking decisions and making policies in the organisation as per his or her vision. In case of money and business trust and reliability play an important role thus making this policy even more challenging for an individual to establish a venture[21]. Looking for a local sponsor can thus be a daunting task as people would also not like to link themselves with a venture which they do not trust. This local sponsor is also a point of contact form the legal perspective; therefore there is considerable risk for the person who will agree to associate with the venture making the task of looking for a sponsor even more challenging. However, there is a new policy that the government has come up with considering the challenges that startup entrepreneurs’ face in the region is to provide license for 100 percent ownership. This is a recent development where the individual can apply for the incubator license online and then a checking process will be held and a committee will be set up in order to determine the feasibility of the business[22].

The new taxation policy in the region can also be one of the main barriers of the process of developing a new business venture. In October 2016, the Federal Tax Authority was established it is a new government entity which is responsible for the implementation of value added tax across the UAE. In 2018 a new value added tax has been introduced. 5% taxation will be levied upon the business ventures, thus this would mean more cost of running a business. The area that has been exempted from the taxation is the basic food items, education, and healthcare. Previously the state was in a tax-free zone where any individual with a vision could legally set up a business in the region, this was one of the reasons for the region to be more lucrative for the investors. However, the process of adaption with the new policies of the government can also be challenging for the entrepreneurs with a start up. The government has announced that there are going to be a number of changes in the policies regarding the monitoring of the entry and residency of the foreigners in the gulf region [23]. There are also several penalties which will be imposed upon the organisation that will not abide by the law. As a startup it is already challenging for the entrepreneur to sustain the dynamics of the business environment, any change in the process especially form the government makes the process of growth slower. Economists believe that this change in the government policy of introducing VAT may give rise to an inflationary situation in the economy, posing a bigger threat to any start up and increasing the challenges they are already facing even further[24].

Overcoming Challenges

There are also certain restrictions in the process of import and export of items. The UAE authorities can restrict the import and export of certain commodities based on the Federal Law No. 13 of 2007. Some of the criterions of restriction are goods which pose threat to the people, environment, society and national security of the region and there are other restrictions on the goods which are listed on the foreign policy of The UAE. There is a list of items or commodities which are banned in the region, therefore a businessman or an individual who would have a business idea involving any of these requirements will have issue in establishing their business or selling the business ideas to local sponsors and investors.

A business organisation can be called a start up while the venture is in the initial stage of inception. One of the major aspects of a business unit is to have a physical identity in terms of resource and capabilities, here having an office space are very essential while applying for a license of business. However, the cost of real estate in Dubai and the UAE region is expensive and thus making it a challenge for a start up owner to begin the business.

Innovation is also driven by infrastructural support, the investors are interested in ventures which are modern and innovative but the challenge is to develop a product or service which can be easily developed with the given infrastructure in the country. Furthermore there are also a number of other regulations that has to be done before incorporation along with a number of documentation that increases the hassle and indicates towards an issue in the government support infrastructure to help the start up ventures to navigate through the process of documentation and regulations. For example, for an e-commerce company to gain momentum they will require infrastructural support from the logistics and transport system of the region. The time of delivery is one of the most crucial aspects of an e-commerce venture. The transport infrastructure is set to improve and develop in order to facilitate the industry as well as other industries which depend upon transport being on an important aspect of improving the business[25].

As discussed above there is also an issue in the region with financial infrastructure, the start ups face a number of funding issues in the growth stage. Banks and other financial institutions do not easily lend money to the people who applied for it; they have to again go through a number of processes before getting any help from the institutions[26].

There are several norms and conditions laid down by the government in order to uphold the sustainable growth of the UAE, to follow these rules and to ensure there is a steady cash flow in the business can be challenging for organisation that is new and instill in the inception or in the growth stage. In order to maintain a sustainable growth start ups are being involved with large corporate bodies.  

The UAE economy competes with the global market making the process of ensuring a sustainable growth for any start up a challenge. There are a number of organisations in the economy as well as in the international industry which poses major threat to the new organisation. In order for a company to have a sustained growth in the UAE they have to ensure that the service or product that they offer has competitive advantage among the intensely populated industry.  The fact that the economy is lucrative in terms of investment returns makes it even more difficult for a start up business to survive the competition in the industry. Therefore it is imperative for the companies to ensure that the business model and the business idea are unique in its own way making innovation a major aspect of the business. To sustain such an competitive market the approach of the business should be innovative as well[27].

Conclusion

The economy if the UAE is characterized by developing entrepreneurship ecosystem. From the analysis above it can be said that there are certain challenges, but there are also some of the major aspects in the economy which makes the place a lucrative place to invest. The business environment of the United Arab Emirates is characterized with its fast improving infrastructure, policies that are feasible both for the entrepreneurs as well as the investors and a stable political condition.  According to the many experts and business personalities UAE is one of the most attractive investment destinations in the world. The government promotes and encourages private investors with removing the legal barriers and making it easy for the business to operate. In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list, the U.A.E. continued to rise in its position among the 189 countries; in 2016 the nation state has improved from being on the 32nd to 31st place[28].

Factors which contribute to success of Dubai or UAE to be a startup hub in the future are as follows:

Economic development and the vision of the government for achieving milestones in the region is one of the major reasons for the investors to become interested in the region. Vision 2021, is aimed at making the economy sustainable, diversified, agile in terms of acceptance of various economic frameworks. There are a number of KPIs that has been set by the government in order to measure the success among which one is the number of successful SMEs and startups which cater to something that is not in the energy industry[29].

Apart from these political and legal facilities that are available in the UAE, the nation state also enjoys a geographical advantage of being located three major continents: Asia, Europe and Africa. This geographical proximity with other countries provides investors opportunities to think of the business beyond the home country. UAE is a nation state that is contemporary, innovative and lively.

Though funding is a challenge in the region does not mean that the potential of the country in terms of finance is low. As per the forecast of the International Monetary Fund the gross official reserves of the UAE is in the growing trend. In 2015, the amount was USD 76.8 billion to USD 118.4 billion in 2020. Therefore, an organisation with unique ideas and innovative methods will have no challenges in getting funds for the venture.

The vision of achieving the green economy is also a far sighted vision which makes the region attractive for a number of investors.  In order to achieve sustainable development Sheikh Mohammed launched the Green Economy initiative under Vision 2021 [30]. This strategy will help the start ups and the business units to cater to the society and the environment in being aligned with the objectives of the business.  

Strict government laws ensure that there is hardly any corruption or malpractices in the economy there are rules and regulations regarding money laundering as well as corruption.  This helps the business organisations to ensure that their interests are being respected by the government.  

Encouraging innovation by the administration and the government, in 2016 AED300 billion was invested in order to encourage innovation and development in the energy sector[31]. Thus, it can be said that the government is always looking forward to innovations and modern technology to offer the people of UAE.

Following are some of the points which are advantageous for the investors:

  • Leniency in the tax system, there are also hardly any restrictions on profit transfer
  • The currency is stable and is in sync with the US dollar
  • The import duties or barriers form the government are negligible providing the investors opportunities to enjoy the benefit of the geographical location of the nation state
  • The labor costs are competitive in nature making it easier for the investors during employment.
  • There are no currency limitations or boundaries in the economy
  • Competitive import duties (5% with many exemptions)
  • Modern communication infrastructure
  • Low expense on energy
  • The infrastructure is modern fitting the modern business requirement [32]

It can be concluded from the above discussion that through there are some staggering challenges that startups face while operating in the UAE or Dubai region. There is a major issue in funding as the financial institutions are skeptic of proving loans to business units without running a feasibility check, similarly with the policy of having a local sponsor is an issue with investment. The local sponsor not only hold 51 percent of the share but also is the point of contact legally thus reducing the right of the entrepreneur with whose vision the organisation is being established. Significant challenges are in the societal font where cultural plays a crucial role in the acceptance of an idea or a feature of the business, the society is strictly bond by Islamic regulations which has to be comprehended with by foreign investors before investing in the region.  There is also a challenge in the process of business is communication culture and society plays an important role in the way a person communicates as the cultural aspect of the society is strictly Islamic while communication there are a number of aspects which has to kept in mind to honor the religious sentiment of the people in the region.

References

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