Reflecting On the Speed of Innovation in Dubai

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my struggle with consistency right now. Things are very busy with a lot changing in my life. One piece I did not share before because I didn’t know it would come to fruition was a work trip to Dubai… for three weeks in March and then another in April. Add more to the plate that is already full.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Dubai. I’ve been here for more than a week, and have another two weeks left before I return to Atlanta sandwiching a trip to Hawaii before heading back here for another three weeks. This work trip is as part of the Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA).

DFA is a nine-week “accelerator” program whereby the government’s arm, the Dubai Future Foundation, to spearhead innovation and bring the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the status of “best country in the world” by 2071 – its centennial vision. Here, my startup Verusen is one of seven total startups around the world taking part of three challenges for Emirates airlines – owned by the Dubai government.

It’s been an interesting experience so far to be a part of this program and learning of the government’s role in leading the country, and specifically, how Dubai is spearheading this initiative for the UAE as a city and one of the emirates.

In the U.S. and in Atlanta, GA, much of innovation and transformation is led by corporations. The government applies regulation and enforcement of laws. However, it’s all commercial. Meanwhile, the governments and corporations are very well established with hundreds of years of experience, and with layers of bureaucracy.

In contrast, the UAE was established in 1971 – almost 200 years after the U.S. Dubai was founded almost 100 years earlier, but really started taking hold after UAE was formed. Meanwhile, the governing body has been under tight control under the family of Sheikhs with almost full authority. Under the visionary leadership of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and before him, his father, Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

What I’ve noticed is an incredible joint effort between government and corporations to execute. Dubai has been able to push through many changes in the spirit of innovation. It’s one of the ways the city is quickly diversifying its revenue streams including building up tremendous tourism. The city is already home to some of the “World’s XX-est” superlatives including the Burj Khalifa as the tallest tower in the world, Dubai Mall as the world’s biggest mall, etc.

The ability to execute is second to none in this city where speed and innovation reign. Though, I admit the internet connections throughout the city have been fractions of what is found in the U.S. or Japan. The speed of growth is also the reason why so many expats are located here as they look to capitalize on Dubai’s success so far and growth into the future. Wikipedia shares that back in 2013, “only about 15% of the population of the emirate was made up of UAE nationals” (Wikipedia) leaving the rest made up of expats. When I ask Dubai citizens today, they resoundingly believe the ratio has skewed closer to 10% with the expats hailing from more than 200 countries around the world. It’s not hard to see that fact in the incredible diversity in the city.

Being a part of this accelerator has opened up my eyes to how Dubai is trying to change the landscape not just for itself, the country, or the region. It wants to lead the world. Dubai is fostering innovation from the top.

Pushing the boundaries with today’s speed of technology innovation seems like a great fit for now. The questions will come soon whether other cities (looking at you, Atlanta) embrace a more collaborative partnership between government and corporations with execution at speed. But also, will Dubai’s rapid growth and eventual maturity bring about the typical pains and layers of bureaucracy found in established cities around the world?

Till then, it’s great to be in this accelerator program and see what type of change can be brought to make lives better.