SME Champions

Can corporates pivot like a start-up?




Abu Dhabi’s Unique Global Tech Ecosystem



Nader Museitif, Head of BD & Partnerships

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught businesses anything, it is to be agile and flexible. Corporations that quickly adopt new technologies and cloud services will be the ones that survive economic headwinds that may go on indefinitely for several sectors.

The IMF forecasts the global economy to contract by three percent in 2020.  This will affect all most companies, forcing them to think hard on how to stay relevant and pivot, if necessary.

No longer siloed departments, strategy and innovation teams will find themselves stepping up as pivotal functions that can solve stubborn problems, build creative products quickly and help their companies stay relevant and agile. Keeping in mind this has to happen while competing against other corporates and smaller startups that are nimbler and arguably hungrier for success.

Though there is no cookie-cutter formula for how corporations should innovate, many corporates are turning to tech startups for quick ideas. We have seen many examples of symbiotic relationships in which corporates offer much-coveted market access opportunities compounded by years of knowledge and mentorship.

Though there are many examples of excellent corporate incubators and in-house accelerators, not all corporates have the same appetite to go all-in. So, what if there was a platform that allowed corporations to interact freely with startups with little or no risk? A way that ensures that both parties work in concert to solve real-life challenges and build great products for mutual success.

Confident corporates are not afraid of startups – they embrace them.

The roadmap to corporate innovation and startup engagement can sometimes be daunting, risky and costly. Many things must fall into place, starting from things as seemingly trivial as procurement or contracting, to more complex aspects like system integrations. And while it may take significantly more resources to align, the upsides are usually worth the effort.

After hosting a roundtable with Amazon Web Services, AXA, Google, Microsoft, and Siemens on corporate innovation; we have learned that there are many ways to working with startups. As mature innovative companies, each corporate can provide invaluable experiences for startups, which will help them both thrive.

All too often we see startup failure due to a distinct lack of early-stage support – especially as lean startups navigate the financial, commercial, and regulatory hurdles.  This relates directly to Hub71’s mission of building a strong and integrated tech ecosystem that brings together enablers of capital, talent, market, and regulatory.

How Abu Dhabi will survive the COVID-19 fallout

While it is true that some corporations in the UAE are still behind when it comes to adopting digital technologies such as cloud and AI, over the last 15+ months, Hub71 has been building up Abu Dhabi’s technology capability, helping to nurture early-stage businesses across several sectors, incubating new ideas and fostering knowledge and skills transfer.

In Abu Dhabi, the government has also put in measures to incentivize and further protect the startup community by providing employees with free housing and office space incentives, business license reductions and generous waivers. With these measures in place, we see Abu Dhabi standing out as a competitive global destination for innovative startups who want added security.

From an access to market perspective, the tech hub today connects more than 50 global startups to several blue-chip corporates – creating avenues for organic collaboration, partnerships, and knowledge sharing through a dynamic and open platform. Hub71’s scalable and phased approach will see corporates building an innovation culture alongside startups on industry-specific challenges that keep many CEOs up at night.

We realize that innovation should not be kept in a silo. Instead, it should be encouraged across the organization. Startups have proven to be one very effective avenue for corporates to tap into innovation efforts without immediately disrupting their day-to-day.  As we provide a space to great these interactions, startups need to see corporates invested, engaged, and contributing to the community.  This is happening through corporates contributing content and guidance through events, webinars, and mentorship programs, with the goal of finding mutual commercial opportunities to collaborate on.

In the long term – corporate innovation with startups is a mutually beneficial exercise that creates economic growth; key to building a sustainable knowledge-based economy.

But for the immediate future during uncertain times – for those corporations that need to pivot quickly, they have Hub71 to support them. And, perhaps it will be our hybrid approach that will help both corporates and startups thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.

 Nader Museitif is the Head of Partnerships and Business Development at Hub71 in Abu Dhabi, UAE.


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