Global venture funding reached $221bn in the first three quarters of 2023, marking a 42% downturn from $381bn invested over the same period in 2022. This slowdown is evident in seed and early-stage funding, which declined from $37.6bn in the third quarter of 2022 to $23.4bn in 2023.

Despite the global downturn, the UAE has been successful in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) in recent years, with a record high of $22.7bn in FDI inflows in 2022, representing 10% growth compared to the previous year. To further enhance its economic diversification efforts and capitalise on this success, in July 2023 the UAE government established the Ministry of Investment. The ministry aims to develop strategies to streamline the investment process to attract more FDI, with a target of $150bn in FDI inflows by 2031.

Within this context, Sharjah has emerged as one of the top emerging ecosystems in the MENA region for entrepreneurship. Start-ups in Sharjah raised $161m and generated revenue of $247m in 2022, solidifying the emirate’s position as a key player in the start-up scene of the UAE and broader region.

Enabling Entrepreneurs

The two key entities supporting Sharjah’s entrepreneurial landscape, the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) and the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa), have recently witnessed significant development. In 2023 SRTIP merged with Sharjah Oasis for Technology and Innovation to create an independent free zone authority. In addition to SRTIP and Sheraa, the board of the merged organisation includes representation from numerous prominent Emirati and Sharjah-based entities and companies.

Sheraa has plans to increase its support for startups, aiming to assist 100 firms annually, with a focus on education technology, clean technology and creative industries. The goal is to foster the growth of unicorns while exploring additional funding instruments. Since its inception in 2016 Sheraa has supported over 150 start-ups and intends to establish its own fund to invest in early-stage companies.

Priority Sector Development

The SRTIP actively supports the goals of the COP28 UN Conference on Climate Change, held in the UAE in November and December 2023, by targeting international investors and start-ups for green investment. The park engages in various projects, including hydrogen-related initiatives, sustainable agriculture and the development of green transport solutions. Notably, in 2023 an SRTIP resident start-up launched the Sulmi EB-ONE e-motorbike. Beyond this, SRTIP’s showpiece global competition for start-ups, the Sharjah Advanced Industry Accelerator, attracted over 3500 applications from more than 40 countries in its November 2023 edition, with a particular focus on sustainable projects in areas such as digitalisation solutions, transport and logistics, as well as environmental analysis and water technologies.

In the context of Sharjah’s vision to increase the contribution of tourism, leisure and creative industries to its economy, the emirate partnered with local developer Alef Group to empower food and beverage start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises in the UAE, providing select organisations with opportunities to expand their businesses at Al Mamsha, Alef Group’s flagship urban development project in Sharjah. In May 2023 Sheraa, in collaboration with the ICT Fund and BEEAH Group, organised the Sustainability Hackathon which brought together 150 youth to develop more than 300 food waste management solutions Additionally, Sheraa aims to support the creative economy, as demonstrated by hosting the Amazon University Esports Masters MENA Series finals at the Sheraa Hub at the American University of Sharjah in July 2023. Around 3500 students from more than 90 universities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt participated in the competition.