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New Israel-UAE agreement to promote innovation-based business ties

Nonprofit Start-Up Nation Central and Dubai International Financial Centre ink deal to advance tech relationships, primarily in fintech, digital security

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

From left to right: Michal Seror, Director of Community Development at Start-Up Nation Central, Salmaan Jaffery, DIFC Chief Business Development Officer, Eliran Elimelech VP Strategic Partnerships at Start-Up Nation Central, Mohammad Alblooshi, DIFC Sector Head – FinTech and Innovation. (Courtesy/ Start-Up Nation Central)
From left to right: Michal Seror, Director of Community Development at Start-Up Nation Central, Salmaan Jaffery, DIFC Chief Business Development Officer, Eliran Elimelech VP Strategic Partnerships at Start-Up Nation Central, Mohammad Alblooshi, DIFC Sector Head – FinTech and Innovation. (Courtesy/ Start-Up Nation Central)

Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), an Israeli organization seeking to boost the local tech ecosystem, and the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a leading global financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, signed an agreement Tuesday aimed at establishing innovation-based business ties between the UAE and Israel, specifically in the fields of fintech and digital security.

The signing ceremony was held in Dubai at DIFC headquarters, where SNC’s VP of strategic partnerships Eliran Elimelech and DIFC chief business development officer Salmaan Jaffery inked the agreement, pledging “to work together on promoting commercial agreements to benefit both nations,” according to the announcement.

The DIFC was established 17 years ago to facilitate trade and investment in Asia, Europe, and the Americas through Dubai. The center, working with people in 72 countries, built an ecosystem of almost 28,000 professionals working across 3,200 registered companies. It is also home to over 60% of all fintech and innovation firms in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), it said.

Meanwhile, Israel is home to over 500 startups and companies in the fintech space that apply advanced technologies such as data science, biometrics, AI platforms, and fraud detection to the more conservative banking, finance and insurance sectors, according to SNC’s comprehensive startup database.

Representatives of Start-Up Nation Central and other Israeli organizations are currently taking part in the annual GITEX (Gulf Information Technology Exhibition) technological conference and tradeshow in Dubai through October 21. They are attending the event with a delegation of 30 Israeli entrepreneurs and investors that are part of the UAE-IL Tech Zone community.

First launched in December 2020, the UAE-IL Tech Zone is an innovation community designed to enable practical collaboration between the two ecosystems. It has over 1,000 members and invites entrepreneurs, senior business executives, government officials, and technology companies to join and cultivate the talent and resources shared by the UAE and Israel.

As part of the new deal, SNC and the DIFC agreed to facilitate communications and mutual referrals of companies interested in scaling their operations in each other’s regions. This will include programs such as regulatory sandboxes and accelerators, and market access for innovative solutions providers.

“We see great importance in fostering the relationship with DIFC as a central ally in the UAE and a strategic avenue aiding the development of the two ecosystems,” said SNC CEO Avi Hasson.

“Following the anniversary of the Abraham Accords, we see this agreement as a manifestation of the innovation diplomacy efforts taking place in the region. We believe it will be an excellent platform for future collaborations.”

The Abraham Accords, signed in September 2020, normalized relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, followed by agreements with Sudan and Morocco, creating a buzz of excitement regarding the potential for economic cooperation, particularly in the field of technology.

While Israelis have long maintained quiet commercial and security ties with the UAE, the normalization agreement was seen as a potential economic boon, with increased access to the global business and shipping hub of Dubai, on top of tourism and energy.

“As the region’s hub for financial services, fintech and innovation, DIFC is well regarded for promoting and nurturing innovative and disruptive enterprises that have the potential to be the next unicorns from the region,” said Arif Amiri, CEO of DIFC Authority, the principal governing body of the DIFC. “Our partnership with Start-Up Nation Central will enable us to foster a culture of collaboration among entrepreneurs and innovators in both nations and further build a vibrant ecosystem to advance the fintech sector.”

Earlier this year, SNC signed a deal with the UAE’s new ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khajah, to set a joint task force that will study ways to boost innovation cooperation between the nations. The parties agreed to use the UAE-IL Tech Zone as the basis of the new relationship.

UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khajah, right, and Start-Up Nation Central’s CEO Eugene Kandel; April 11, 2021 (Eyal-Marilu)

In April, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) officially launched its activities in Israel, seeking to help Israeli firms from specific industries integrate into the innovation ecosystem of Abu Dhabi.

The ADIO also has signed cooperation agreements with two Israeli bodies, Invest in Israel and the Israel Innovation Authority, to speed up private sector collaborations on investment and innovation, as well as an accord with the Israel Export Institute to strengthen the foundations for bilateral trade and investment with Israel.

A year after the Abraham Accords

Last month during a virtual event marking the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the Emirati minister of economy, Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri, said the UAE believes that economic activity with Israel could reach more than $1 trillion over the next decade.

The Emirati minister noted that Israel and the UAE have already signed off on over $600 million in bilateral trade for the first half of this year in areas like food, agriculture, healthcare, aviation, water and energy, as well as dozens of MOUs (memorandums of understanding) that outline existing and future deals.

A year after the accords, “we have a story [to tell], and the major story is that we exchanged ambassadors, we have signed over 60 MOUs, we have $600-$700 million of bilateral trade happening… [and] we are moving into so many areas of economic opportunities,” bin Touq Al-Marri said at the time.

“We’re looking to create over a trillion dollars of economic activity with Israel over the next decade,” he said.

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