Expert Insights: Overcoming the challenges of UAE Market Entry

Renad Jabaji is our Partnership Lead for Rainmaking Expand in the United Arab Emirates. She has extensive background in the region and we recommend reading this article where she provides an introduction to the UAE market, trending industries and how to prepare for market entry.

Hi everyone, I’m Renad. At Rainmaking Expand, I help fast-growing startups scale their business to the UAE. There are multiple reasons why expanding to the UAE is highly attractive, and while there are big opportunities in the region, there are also challenges that startups and SMEs often overlook when thinking about entering the market.

One challenge is adapting to the unique business culture. It can be a mix of traditional Arab customs and modern Western practices, and can vary greatly from company to company and person to person. This requires an understanding for the different social and cultural demographics and the ability to adjust your approach in a meeting, depending on who’s in the room. Moreover, in-person meetings tend to be more impactful than virtual ones, so being accessible not only helps to establish a local presence but also to build meaningful relationships. It’s not unusual for opportunities to transpire over a casual lunch or from a personal referral.

Another challenge is strong local competition. Dubai is one of the largest startup hubs in the MENA region and the UAE is home to several large multinational companies, so it can become difficult to compete against established players. However, the presence of these players should not be intimidating but rather seen as a beacon to opportunities for collaboration. Take the time to look into who these players are for your industry, explore their problem or mission statements, and understand the customers they serve. You may find a gap where there’s a possibility to introduce something different or a potential to explore a collaboration through a corporate partnership.

Back in 2019, Singaporean startup aelf, entered the UAE market via Dubai and brought their decentralised cloud computing blockchain technology to the region. In order to leverage their potential in the UAE market, they explored a variety of opportunities where their technology could be implemented, and leveraged a partnership with Connect Global Strategies and their Dubai-based advisory group. Together they approached the UAE market to bridge the gap between traditional industries and digital solutions. Although the UAE has a plethora of blockchain solutions locally, aelf brought their expertise from Singapore and leveraged the vision of Connect Global Strategies to differentiate themselves in-market. Today the two companies provide leading solutions to businesses in the UAE looking to scale their own services leveraging blockchain. This partnership and local support were key elements of aelf’s growth within the UAE, and other companies looking to expand to the market can learn from their success.

Finally, navigating the legal and regulatory landscape in the UAE can be complex. Businesses need to be aware of local laws and regulations, as well as the licensing requirements for operating in the country. Companies in certain industries may find themselves facing more regulations than others, but the most important thing is to make sure that you understand these regulations and address them when discussing business with potential partners or clients.

The UAE offers new market opportunities for startups and SMEs, but there are also challenges that businesses need to be aware of when entering the market. High levels of competition, cultural differences, and navigating the legal and regulatory landscape are all challenges that businesses may face. Our Rainmaking Expand programme helps de-risk market entry and provides startups with access to our local network and expertise, ultimately positioning them for success in the UAE (and applications are open all year round!)

Interested in scaling your business to new markets?

Rainmaking Expand is for growth stage startups & SMEs looking to accelerate market entry into multiple locations, focusing on business development and leveraging genuine commercial opportunities. Our Rainmaking Expand framework aims to accelerate companies’ speed to market while de-risking market expansion.

Our programmes are accepting applications on a rolling basis. Explore our current markets available and apply now:


Written by
Renad Jabaji
March 30, 2023
Partnerships Lead, Rainmaking Expand: United Arab Emirates

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