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How a startup culture is spreading in the Middle East

August 18, 2016

Innovation Factory

Can Dubai become a major player in the startup scene? Because he believes it can, Muhammed Mekki, co-founder of online fashion retailer Namshi, partnered with Google for Entrepreneurs and the DMCC Free Zone of Dubai to create AstroLabs. This is a collaborative coworking space based in the Emirates, also offering training, access to a range of mentors and connections to venture capital funds.

In an interview with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where Mekki studied, he explains that Dubai, a global hub for retail, travel and finance, is the perfect spot to reach new and emerging markets. Individuals and companies pay no taxes, and local residency permits for foreign talent are easy to get. According to Mekki, the infrastructure and lifestyle are ‘world-class’, and the region is wealthy, with ‘the highest smartphone penetration levels in the world’. Plus, one-third of the world’s population lives within a four-hour flight.

Since its launch in the spring last year, AstroLabs has received more than 400 startups applications – accepting over 60 from 27 countries and 20 industries. AstroLabs is particularly looking for ‘tech-driven startups that are scalable and have a developed product ready to be launched or live in the market’, Mekki says. The company is also planning to expand to additional nearby locations where youth unemployment is a challenge and the startup movement can bring young people opportunities.

The full interview is available here.

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