Compared to many other economies, innovation among SMEs in the UAE still has some catching up to do – a conclusion that’s proved by recent data. However there are initiatives and laws in place to help make this happen, many of which are relatively new and well worth being aware of.

Key statistics
A key survey was undertaken in 2013 by the Dubai Department of Economic Development, canvassing 500 SMEs in the Emirate on their attitudes to innovation. Its headline findings were:

  • 13% of SMEs have implemented some level of innovation, either in terms of product innovation or process enhancement/improvement.
  • 8% of SMEs maintain an annual budget for R&D and product development.
  • Where there is innovation, most SMEs apply it at the product/service level (42%), followed by internal processes (30%) and distribution and delivery formats (28%).
  • The main objective and motivation for investing in innovation is to create competitive advantage through product or service differentiation (cited by 38% of SMEs).
  • Manufacturing SMEs lead the way in innovation – 29% have implemented some level of innovation within their business, compared to services SMEs (16%) and trading SMEs (4%).
  • Those SMEs who do use innovation are more likely have international customers – 75% of innovating SMEs are also exporting businesses.

Sources of help

In Abu Dhabi:

Abu Dhabi has made substantial investments in improving its capacity for innovation, particularly in the field of Science, Technology and Information:

  • Through the Technology Development Committee (TDC), funds have been channeled into improving the Emirate’s technological and innovative capacity. The Takamul programme, for example, helps in raising awareness of protecting intellectual property, patent applications and filing, which are low in the region
  • The Emirate has also strengthened its intellectual property laws to incentivize businesses with sensitive intellectual content to do business in the region, and patent, trademark and copyright laws have been updated to protect intellectual property.

In Dubai:

  • The Hamdan Innovation Incubator (H2I) was launched this September. A 20,000 sq ft area in the Business Village in Deira, H2I provides a complete support environment to stimulate and foster innovative entrepreneurial projects in the Emirate.
  • Turn 8 is a collaboration between Dubai Ports and i360, launched in 2013. It gives office space, mentoring and access to around AED 90,000 to a select annual intake of SMEs to advance their ideas.
  • The in5 programme lasts for three months and aims to help ICT and digital media SMEs establish innovative ideas. Selected start-ups are registered under in5’s license and hosted in their Innovation Hub in Dubai Internet City. The Hub then facilitates mentoring, training and coaching by a network of industry experts to help you accomplish prototyping and development of your innovation.


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