Note: This is a re-post from an earlier submission...
GlassQube Coworking Co-Founder and CEO serves as a mentor at Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi, a technology & new media focused incubator here in Abu Dhabi.
According to the Flat6Labs website, they are:
“…a global hub for digital innovation that will support a generation of entrepreneurs from the UAE and abroad to launch digital businesses in Abu Dhabi and scale to regional and global markets. Supported by twofour54, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will support startups at idea, early, and growth phases, with a focus on media and digital content, including media and film production, e-commerce, social media, online education, gaming, mobile apps, and big data and analytics. In its competitive core program, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will provide entrepreneurs with seed funding, strategic mentorship, office space, a multitude of perks and services from partners, and entrepreneurship-focused business training and development workshops, all engineered to prepare companies to be investment-ready within four and a half months.”
They are tasked with identifying digital startups and helping them through their early stages, preparing them for VC fundraising and market entry in exchange for equity. Given the size of the technology market in Abu Dhabi, inherent challenges exist with this concept but the team at Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi has done an exceptional job in aligning itself with the reality on the ground.
While the digital economy has become a fundamental driver of global economic growth, pioneering new technologies while reshaping our views of convention, particularly within the world of retailing and services, Abu Dhabi and the region are still in its early days of this evolution. Providing institutional support for a platform like Flat6Labs and enabling them to sponsor this sector is long overdue and the timing couldn’t be more critical given the UAE’s increased focus on economic diversification coupled with historically low oil pricing. In some ways, the success of Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will be indicative of Abu Dhabi’s ability to successfully position itself as a player in the region’s growing digital economy.
Interestingly, rather than limiting the current applicant pool to UAE residents only, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi opened the process to the international startup community. This reveals the fact that the domestic entrepreneurial talent pool within the digital space is thin because a meaningful domestic talent pool can’t exist without structural changes to support a sustained organic growth of homegrown and imported talent along with the proper incentives to retain this talent in the UAE. This scenario as a functional reality is at least a generation away. While those with limited perspective and experience will view this as a pessimistic observation, the truth is far more nuanced.
What this actually means is that the UAE must position itself according to the resources that are currently available. There are no MITs or Stanfords in the UAE or in the region that can provide the brain power to fuel a globally competitive, domestic digital economy as seen in Silicon Valley or even New York or Austin these days. Flat6Labs clearly understood this and thus expanded the program to international applicants. This makes great sense strategically because it accomplishes two critical objectives; (1) drawing the attention of top tier international talent to Abu Dhabi, both as part of the program and anecdotally, and; (2) channeling the talent feedstock for other domestic stakeholders like us at GlassQUBE Coworking to provide a sustainable infrastructure for this talent pool to stay and succeed in the UAE.
The talent influx that programs like Flat6Labs facilitates in partnership with infrastructure and service providers like GlassQUBE Coworking, enables an incremental but sustained economic pivot away from oil and gas, and towards the digital space.
Make no mistake, this is not an empty platitude about how the UAE or even the Middle East is on the verge of becoming the next Silicon Valley. The point made here is that permanent evolutionary shifts are not exclusive to violent, tectonic plate smashing events. They can also happen through slow, modular shifts, where both result in something categorically and permanently altered.
The UAE is in the midst of the latter as it pivots to determine its place in the new reality represented by the digital economy. Things take time in the UAE but once institutional support gets behind an idea, it can become an unstoppable force. Sometimes that results in a train wreck, as seen in recent history. But more often than not, it results in positioning the UAE as a fierce global competitor that cannot be ignored. Take a look at the past 44 years of the UAE’s history as a Federation and this becomes glaringly obvious.