During the earliest stages of developing their business, every entrepreneur must first choose where their company will be based. Depending on their varying cultural and economic climates, different cities have distinctive qualities to offer fledgling businesses. In recent years, no part of the world has become better equipped to accommodate startups than the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Due to their location, growing economies, and a number of other factors, several MENA cities are home to a rising number of startups and new businesses.
Here are five of the best Middle Eastern cities where entrepreneurs can start a business:
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
With a population of just over 2 million people, Dubai has become a center of innovation for individuals looking to start a business. Though it is a young market, the city has an entrepreneurial atmosphere that is one of the fastest-growing in the world. Amidst a boom in infrastructure projects, Dubai has seen unparalleled growth in recent years, which has fueled diversity within the local economy. When coupled with its trade partnerships and central location in the region, the city is better prepared than ever to welcome new businesses.
Even though many economies are still recovering from the worldwide financial crisis, Dubai has invested $1.5 billion into the expansion of its Internet City, a free economic zone where non-nationals can hold majority stakes in companies. This funding will help the city serve the needs of the newest tech firms looking to increase their business across the MENA region and beyond. In addition, Dubai is known for its well-developed startup ecosystem, which includes many business incubators and accelerators, as well as other resources like DubaiStartupHub.
Not only is Cairo one of the oldest cities in the world, but its metropolitan area is the largest of any in the MENA region. Currently sitting at the center of economic activity in Egypt, it has much to offer entrepreneurs. With its colleges providing excellent education in engineering, Cairo is fueling the ambition, talent, and innovation of its young people. These individuals are the cornerstone of the local startup market as they learn to navigate business challenges and employ the help of Internet crowdfunding to help build their organizations.
Cairo is also one of the handful of major cities around the world in which the Seedstars World Startup Competition takes place. A platform for both networking and industry visibility, this competition enables Cairo’s business owners to promote their emerging startups and attract investors.
Thanks to steady economic partnerships and growing infrastructure, Doha remains one of the best cities for entrepreneurs in the MENA region. In fact, Qatar has the fourth highest GDP per capita of all nations worldwide and has a larger GDP than any other country in the surrounding area. According to a survey conducted by Bayt.com, Doha is among the top three Middle Eastern cities with the most affordable fees and taxes for residents, making it easier for entrepreneurs to get their businesses off of the ground and help them thrive. In addition, the real estate and construction industries are booming as the city prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
With the majority of Qatar’s population residing in the Doha metro area, there are ample resources and opportunities available for would-be business owners. The country’s major trade partners are India, South Korea, and Japan, which enables entrepreneurs to tap into the ever-growing Asian marketplace. Doha is also home to the Doha Tweetups community, which helps business owners network and connect with investors throughout Qatar.
In recent years, Muscat has developed a cultural and economic climate that perfectly suits the needs of entrepreneurs. Out of all cities in the MENA region, Muscat sits among the top three in terms of affordable living, end-of-employment benefits, and general resident happiness, according to the Bayt.com survey. In addition, the city is situated at the end of the Arabian Peninsula, which means that exporters who rely on maritime shipping can easily reach the Arabian Sea and points beyond without having to navigate the bottleneck in the Strait of Hormuz.
These conditions have fueled the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Muscat. In February 2016, Chairman of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) Said bin Saleh Al Kayoumi unveiled plans to create the city’s first Entrepreneurs Club. This group supports Omani owners of small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs), providing a plethora of resources such as networking and access to assistance from the OCCI.
Sitting on the cusp between the West and East, the city of Istanbul has all the right conditions to support a flourishing entrepreneurial climate. The city boasts a population of just over 14 million people, and its economy has strengthened in recent years. With this prosperity has emerged a young and edgy start-up scene primarily created by young entrepreneurs with a knack for technology. Istanbul’s location also puts its business owners in a unique position to tap into the often-ignored markets of Central Asia and Russia. This provides a potentially lucrative opportunity for international growth.
Another factor that makes Istanbul an excellent location for new ventures is the heavy focus that its local universities place on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. These schools focus on providing students with the knowledge and skills to pursue careers in the tech industry, which has fueled their interest to start businesses locally. Like Cairo, Istanbul is also one of the global cities where the annual Seedstars World Startup Competition takes place.