How Dubai is competing with Singapore in the Web3 race

Gitex Global 2022

Much like Singapore, Dubai is an SME-driven economy — or at least it traditionally was. Both countries, even as smaller markets in their own right, open up the gates to much larger markets in their respective regions. Both have been equally obsessed with quickly adopting new technology. 

But the demographic of their population is what starkly sets them apart. Dubai is made up of nearly 90 per cent migrants versus Singapore has about half of that. 

Both compete with each other for the inflow of VC capital, banking HQs and even tech talent in the race to become the best global city in the world. And while there is no one clear winner, Dubai has moved quickly in the Web3 world.

Making Dubai a Web3 favourite

In May 2022, Bloomberg reported that former Singapore MP, investor and entrepreneur Calvin Cheng established an NFT and fan token investment holding company in Dubai. Via the Calvin Cheng Web3 Holdings FZE, he invests in projects to integrate crypto into fashion, media and entertainment.

Also Read: RareSkills to help Web3 engineers harness their potential

At a time when the government in Singapore told crypto players in the country to stop advertising their services to retail investors, along with other regulations; Dubai announced its new Dubai Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA)– for licensing and regulating the Virtual Asset sector in the Emirate of Dubai and its free zone territories (excluding DIFC), and oversees all licensing requirements and applications for authorisation of Virtual Asset activities under UAE law.

VARA is designed as the world’s first participatory-governance model, where industry innovators and market shapers share responsibility with policymakers to create a more democratic and borderless economy. Cheng also said that a regulator like VARA is well-positioned to establish Dubai as the leading global centre for digital assets.

Thus even amidst crypto winter, Web3 entrepreneurs and enthusiasts are looking for places where they are welcome, supported and provided various benefits to develop applications and better use cases on the blockchain. Blockchain investor and founder of TDefi, Gaurav Dubey said Dubai has the upcoming infrastructure, regulation and, most importantly, access to banking for Web3 projects to set up shop in Dubai.

Similar to how India’s Web 2 entrepreneurs registered companies such as Flipkart, Ola, and InMobi, in Singapore, for ease of business, India’s Web3 entrepreneurs are now registering businesses in Dubai. Entrepreneurs have cited advantages such as networking opportunities, no restrictions on innovation, access to global opportunities and access to resources for moving base to Dubai to set up Web3 startups. 

The strength of this move was endorsed by the pioneers of the Web 3.0 economy showcasing at Gitex Global in Dubai in October 2022– like the Thumbay Group’s full-fledged virtual hospital in the metaverse to provide patients with an immersive healthcare experience; The Sandbox co-creating with UAE brands such as Atari to launch gamified experiences etc.

While the recent layoffs and scandals mar the Web3 wave, Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Applications, said, “while in some places, you are guilty until proven innocent. In the UAE, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” to display their confidence in this sector and their desire to move ahead.

Attracting tech talent

2.5 billion people live within four hours of flight and two-thirds of the world’s population lives within an eight-hour flight from Dubai. Thus making it a special location to be able to tap into consumers and talent.

Also Read: The future of recruitment in Web3 era

The government is taking a number of steps to try and support SMEs and the venture capital ecosystem. The government has launched funds to invest in SMEs ranging from US$100- US$270 million. Hadi Badri, CEO of the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism said Dubai’s growth market intends to allow for businesses that have a relatively young track record and tap the public markets under certain guidelines and certain requirements. 

And at the heart of it all is talent.

Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, UAE Minister of Economy said the “fuel” for any economy is talent, while the UAE is making investments in research and development and supporting talent development through its focus on science and technology. The ministry is forging a business environment that attracts investments, tourism and talent, and stimulates research, development, and innovation with incentives like the golden visa.

Under the scheme, digital companies get faster business licensing and easier access to banking and financing. Employees can be offered 10-year UAE residency “golden visas” and in some cases, the program– which unifies government bodies, free zones and institutions — helps find accommodation and admissions to schools, said Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Thani Al Zeyoudi said in an interview.

It allows foreigners to work, live and study without needing a UAE work sponsor in a country where expatriate residents, which in the current recession-struck environment can prove to be handy; especially when it doesn’t have to worry about protection from local workers like Singapore.

Image credit: DTE

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