The Mena region has witnessed a structural shift in women ventures and startups in recent years, with the highest rate of entrepreneurial projects in the world buoyed by more national and global level strategies for inclusive economic growth.
Entrepreneurial women are setting the bar high by successfully launching the digital economy to overcome social obstacles and prosper while bridging the gender gap. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report (2020-2021) reveals that women entrepreneurs own or run one-third of established businesses in the world with an 11% total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rate globally, and a proportion of 83 out of the 595 unicorns in 2021 were founded or co-founded by women.
Businesswomen in the Middle East
With strong entrepreneurial culture in the GCC region, the rate of startup businesses spearheaded by females represents an average of 40.9% in the GCC region, as women are finding ways to navigate unprecedented business growth.
The World Economic Forum 2022 Global Gender Gap Report shows that the unequal workplaces and economic difficulties during the pandemic impacted the growth of women entrepreneurs. Inspired by the dedication of leadership to achieve the dynamic vision in national building, a growing number of female entrepreneurs contribute to boosting economic growth rates in the emerging business sectors of the Middle East.
Women entrepreneurs in the UAE
Women entrepreneurship grew by 68 per cent in the UAE as the country offers more comprehensive support by building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
There has never been a better time for a woman to establish a business in the UAE, with a rise in female investors, supporting organisations and investment for new enterprises. The UAE has the highest number of women among the 100 Most Powerful Arab Businesswomen listed by Forbes in 2020.
Backing for female entrepreneurs
Women are active investors in the region. The top women-led investors in the GCC include Mindshift Capital, Women Angel investors Network (WAIN), Women, Leap Ventures, and government investment enterprises — Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority.
The UAE provides substantial chances for women to advance in various industries with ground-breaking visions and support systems.
A recent survey by Nama Women Advancement in partnership with and UN Women’s Empowerment Section reports that over 25,000 entrepreneurs are working on 50,000 business projects worth more than Dh60 billion last year.
Government initiatives for UAE businesswomen
The latest UAE visa options grant long-term residency for international investors and talented individuals. While the green visa offers a five-year residency option, the UAE golden visa allows international investors 10-year residency choices.
There are more than 40 free zones with unique benefits, including 100% foreign ownership, co-working spaces, infrastructure, and advantageous locations in the UAE.
There are free zones in the UAE providing licencing packages exclusively for women. Here are a few free zone licence packages in the UAE crafted for female entrepreneurs:
- The businesswomen package from RAKEZ Free Zone
In 2019, Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ) launched a unique package for women entrepreneurs in the UAE, named the Businesswomen Package, designed to empower businesswomen with incentives. It includes instalment plan options, a free zone licence, a shared workstation, a UAE residence visa, and numerous support services available to businesswomen who want to establish their company within the free zone.
- Women in innovation package by Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI)
It is an initiative to support female entrepreneurs to obtain registration and licensing to enter the business world in collaboration with Sharjah Business Women Council (SBWC).
The programme encourages women to participate in technology, research and development by offering various business establishment and support services.
- Women entrepreneurship programme by Masdar City Free Zone
Masdar City Free zone offers a women business package to support women with all requirements in building a sustainable and competitive business in the UAE, driving female entrepreneurship.
- She Wins Arabia by IFC and ADGM
In 2021, the International Financial Corporation (IFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) launched — ‘She Wins Arabia’, an initiative to support female-led startups, incubators and venture capital funds in the Mena region through mentorships, training, and building the skills to grow.
Through the second round of initiatives in 2022, ‘She Wins Arabia’ has committed to supporting 100 women-led startups across the Mena to thrive.
- Department of Economic Development’s Intilaq programme
With the Intilaq programme by DET, women can start micro-enterprises in different sectors at a minimal cost. It helps women entrepreneurs launch businesses legally from their homes.
The Emirates guarantees economic resources to start a business with access to ownership, bridging all the gender gaps in the economy. As a result, there are institutions to assist UAE women entrepreneurs in all aspects of business ventures- funding, access to networks, and exposure to business opportunities.
How can Ascent Partners help?
Ascent Partners is a boutique consultancy providing bespoke, end-to-end corporate services ranging from company formation to accounting and bookkeeping and compliance services for entrepreneurs looking to set up their next venture in the UAE. We work alongside to strategise, startup, and scale businesses in the UAE and the broader region.
With a combined experience of 50+ years, our expert consultants provide reliable and unparalleled guidance throughout all strategic phases of a business’ evolution.
Ketaki Kulkarni is Compliance Officer at business consultancy Ascent Partners.