In operation for more than two years, AstroLabs was created by entrepreneurs to nurture the growing technology startup ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa. The organization hit a new milestone this October with the opening of its first collaborative workspace in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers neighborhood of Dubai. AstroLabs aims to address some of the main hurdles to entrepreneurship in the Middle East, especially in terms of education. The new space provides a physical location for entrepreneurs to share ideas and learn from each other while building a stronger sense of community. While the Middle East’s startup culture has grown wildly in the past few years, it is still in its nascent phase and its survival depends largely on the creation of such communities.
Creating Opportunity through Google for Entrepreneurs
AstroLabs is one of the few tech hubs in the Middle East with a Google partnership. Through Google for Entrepreneurs, AstroLabs can offer fledgling companies some incredible resources and opportunities for growth, including the following:
Mobile Device Development Lab: This in-house resource allows developers to experiment with and troubleshoot their mobile apps. Engineers can make changes and see the results displayed across multiple screens at once.
Google Dubai Access: AstroLabs members can attend workshops and other educational programs at the Google office in Dubai. In addition, they can contact Google employees to inquire about mentorship opportunities and meet with Google professionals during their scheduled office hours.
Passport Program: Google for Entrepreneurs partners with more than 20 tech hubs and technology development campuses around the world. AstroLabs provides Middle Eastern entrepreneurs with access to all of these campuses, where they can make international partnerships and engage in even more collaboration.
Silicon Valley Blackbox Connect: AstroLabs members can take advantage of this two-week residential program in Silicon Valley, which allows international innovators to make use of the Valley’s resources, mentors, and expansive business network.
Google has become increasingly interested in the Middle East as its potential to become a major global startup hub has grown. Dubai in particular offers a good environment for business growth; earlier this year, for example, HSBC’s Expat Explorer named the Emirate the second-best market for expatriates hoping to start a business. In addition, while the Middle East faces many hurdles, a lack of talent is not one of them. Google recognizes this truth, and its partnership with AstroLabs is a key part of its efforts to create denser startup clusters in the region, in order to encourage the creation of innovative new technologies and products.
Of course, the Google and AstroLabs partnership looks beyond developing entrepreneurship in the Middle East alone. As a senior partnerships manager at Google for Entrepreneurs explained, Google’s partnership with AstroLabs encourages Dubai innovators to think globally, not just locally, and to develop products that can easily cross national lines in the Middle East and, eventually, other parts of the world.
The New AstroLabs Space in Dubai
While the new space in Dubai opened less than a month ago, more than 40 startups already call themselves members. These members have access to incredible resources, from specialized labs to dedicated rooms for coding, training, and holding meetings. Of course, at the center of AstroLabs is a large space created for collaboration and camaraderie. The entire building was designed to encourage interaction and discourage isolation. AstroLabs also boasts a café where people can relax and chat more candidly while exchanging ideas. The café is open to the general public, which could spark more interest in entrepreneurship in general.
When AstroLabs was building the space, it endeavored to keep it as open as possible to the local and international communities. Many of the workshops and educational opportunities that take place in the space are open to anyone who wishes to attend. The organization also teamed with the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre to offer a Free Zone program that makes company registration extremely easy. People from abroad can establish residency and set up a bank account and a registered company quickly, which encourages entrepreneurs to come to Dubai to start their businesses.
The Impressive AstroLabs Innovation Community
Since its inception, AstroLabs has trained more than 150 startups in a variety of different industries, guiding them to success. The organization’s current member companies include some of the most promising names in the future of Middle East entrepreneurship, such as Beneple and Exclusive Tables. Beneple has engineered a simple human resources (HR) platform that allows business owners to streamline tasks related to benefits administration and other functions. Exclusive Tables offers a mobile app for making reservations at nightclubs, lounges, and restaurants and has already broken into international markets. Another notable AstroLabs member is Lovin Dubai, an up-and-coming online lifestyle publication.