Abu Dhabi’s sustainable development hub continues to attract new businesses, despite COVID-19 pandemic, as tenants benefit from its positioning as an innovation hub and Free Zone support
While the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted business across the region, Masdar City, Abu Dhabi’s flagship sustainable development, continues to attract new companies. Throughout the peak months of the pandemic, Masdar City Free Zone doubled its growth rate, adding more than 100 companies this year.
From March through June, the Free Zone attracted 87 new companies, compared with 42 for the same period in 2019. Today, Masdar City Free Zone hosts more than 800 businesses – ranging from the regional headquarters of engineering giant Siemens to SMEs and start-ups.
One company joining the Free Zone this year is decentralized cleantech company Ryse Energy, which has established its global headquarters in Masdar City.
Ryse Energy – which combines its patented wind turbine technology with solar and energy storage to create bespoke renewable solutions across a variety of sectors, from decarbonizing infrastructure to community power for rural electrification – is looking to be part of a new phase of economic growth in the UAE, as it continues to build on its global leadership position in sustainability.
“Masdar City is a global hub for renewable energy and sustainable urban development, and Abu Dhabi is driving innovation through investment into renewables and sustainable technologies, so it is a natural fit for us to establish our business here and build for a greener future for all,” says Alistair Munro, Founder and CEO of Ryse Energy. “We plan to double our workforce in the UAE this year and begin manufacturing our world-leading renewable technologies as soon as possible.”
Established in 2008, Masdar City today is a leading hub for innovation, research and development in the region, advancing real-world solutions in energy and water efficiency, mobility, artificial intelligence, and other areas.
“Masdar City is a rapidly expanding urban context in which universities, research centers and prestigious companies have established operations, making it one of the leading technological and scientific hubs of the UAE,” says Ashish Koshy, chief executive of G42 Healthcare, which has helped to establish a COVID-19 testing facility within the city.
As well as being a center for research, Masdar City pioneers sustainable urban development: applying technology and best practices to reduce energy, waste and water consumption. All buildings are constructed using low-carbon cement and other locally sourced and verified materials – resulting in a 40 percent reduction in embedded carbon – and 90 percent of all construction waste is recycled. Further, Masdar City buildings are designed to be at least 40 percent more energy and water efficient than conventional city buildings, meaning both energy and cost savings.
“Masdar City is environmentally friendly but also makes good business sense,” says Yousef Baselaib, Masdar’s executive director of sustainable real estate. “The carbon footprint for our business tenants is 40 percent of conventional offices; power is supplied through a 10MW solar field, water is recycled and re-used to world-leading standards, and the buildings themselves channel wind to reduce the need for cooling. Businesses here don’t just talk sustainability – they live it every day.”
While Masdar City offers unique environmental features, businesses also benefit from the Free Zone’s support, with a range of offerings designed to help them build local and global networks, explore investment opportunities and test new technologies.
This support is especially applicable for start-ups, a rapidly-growing sector across the region, and the UAE in particular. This year, holding company ADQ launched an AED 1.1billion venture fund that will help start-ups set up global or regional headquarters in Masdar City. Targeting early-stage businesses in India and Southeast Asia, the fund will invest in pioneering companies, helping them to gain market access to the UAE and the broader region.
Start-ups are already well catered for in Masdar City, with innovation incubation hub Krypto Labs offering custom business incubation programs, mentorship, seed funding, and entrepreneurship-focused training.
The Catalyst, launched by Masdar and BP, is the region’s first clean technology accelerator focused on sustainable growth and provides funding, training and mentoring for start-ups at Masdar City.
“The Catalyst has provided us with the necessary support to establish our offices and laboratory at the tech Park in Masdar City during the acceleration period, and we also received access to financial support to launch the company and buy equipment,” says Dr. Nicolas Calvet, CEO of Seramic Materials Limited, which converts industrial waste such as fly ash or steel slag into value-added ceramics.
“The Masdar City Free Zone was very supportive with administration issues, such as getting a license and opening a bank account – things that may seem simple but can prove extremely complicated for a new business,” says Dr. Calvet. “The Catalyst also provided mentoring to develop our strategy, business model and commercial products, as well as access to their network to meet relevant contacts and attend key events, and support in preparing venture capital fundraising.”
Another company supported by The Catalyst is Volts, which is developing a smart battery management system that can power an entire house from a renewable energy source. The founders moved to Masdar City in March from Russia, highlighting the City’s growing global reach.
For MOTORI, a subsidiary of Safe City Group, the positive experience the company had of working with Masdar and the Free Zone made locating there a natural choice. MOTORI is positioning itself as a leading provider of smart digital services for the insurance industry.
“The city provides a friendly and professional working environment and we’ve received a lot of support from the free zone including administrative support, a suitable office location and excellent facilities, which make the city the perfect place for us to establish our company,” says Ahmed Eissa, founder and CEO for MOTORI.
Masdar City is also home to the Mohamed bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence the world’s first graduate-level AI institution, which will open its doors to students next January. For the City and the Free Zone, the future looks bright indeed.