April 17, 2018 4 min read

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The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) currently boasts a community of 22,338 professionals working in 1,853 active registered companies, but distinctively from other similar centers, it houses both fintech and traditional financial institutions under one roof. Launched in January 2017, the FinTech Hive at DIFC is one of the region’s first fintech accelerator, bringing together financial institutions, government entities, technology partners and entrepreneurs to develop technologies that benefit the financial industry.

And at its helm is a woman- Raja Al Mazrouei, Executive Vice President of FinTech Hive at DIFC- who works on building awareness and facilitating partnerships in the main fintech markets, such as China, India, the UK, the US and Africa, and positioning DIFC as the region’s leading innovation destination for fintech. “The fintech ecosystem in the region and more specifically in the UAE has picked up traction in recent years,” she says. “Now with a greater understanding of what fintech is, and how it can benefit the financial services sector as a whole, there is significant interest growing in this field. In the past couple of years, we have seen tremendous interest from major financial institutions operating in the UAE to work closely with innovative startups that may have the capacity to address sector-specific challenges. However, the three main obstacles for fintech startups are visibility, audience education, and trust. Another challenge is funding, which is still limited in the region.”

Tackling the topic of the lack of funding for fintech startups, Al Mazrouei is quick to point out that DIFC launched a US$100 million fintech fund last November in order to support investing in startups from incubation through to growth stage. This fund was further strengthened with the recent announcement of a partnership with Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) to explore co-investment and co-management opportunities in fintech startups. And DIFC’s support does not end there- increasing its commitment to fintech in 2018 with the launch of two new Fin- Tech Hive programs, namely RegTech, which focuses on companies specialized in issues pertaining to regulation, and InsurTech that will encourage startups that specialize in finding technological solutions for insurance companies. Furthermore, DIFC has launched a dedicated commercial license, specifically developed for fintech, regtech, and insurtech firms, allowing them to operate within the center.

For Al Mazrouei, her work at FinTech Hive at DIFC evolves from the visionary approach of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who encourages institutions to embrace technology innovation. “I believe innovation is key to developing certain sectors, for instance, the transportation and hospitality sectors have been disrupted through Uber and Airbnb, whereas the automotive industry shifted with Google Maps and Tesla. We are seeing new market segments created due to these innovations,” she says. “The UAE government has expressed strong interest in fostering an innovative culture, and has laid the foundation to create a viable ecosystem for startups, which is key to growth and development. All these programs are helping companies and government institutions to build new partnerships and eliminate the growing challenges faced by the financial sector, such as time, cost and efficiency. For example, from a regulatory perspective, we are working closely with our independent regulator, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), to develop a framework that is conducive to the growth and development of startups. The DFSA introduced its Innovation Testing License (ITL), a first-of- its-kind license in the region, which allows qualifying fintech firms to develop and test innovative concepts from the DIFC, without being subject to the regulatory requirements that normally apply to financial firms.”

QUICK TAKES
Raja Al Mazrouei shares four pointers for entrepreneurs

1. Look into the long-term
“Look ahead and anticipate future trends in your sector, and then move into implementing your vision. Tailoring the products and solutions to fit the changing market needs is what innovation is all about.”
2. Iterate for success
“Challenge your own business model, and identify opportunities for growth and development– never be afraid of failure, and starting over.”
3. Never stop learning
“Stay up to date with the latest innovations and maintaining track of their peers and competitors is crucial for the success of any SME- it helps entrepreneurs remain motivated, dedicated, and creative thinkers.”
4. Stay future-proof
“Invest in R&D, and always pursue the implementation of new technologies.”

Related: Entrepreneur Middle East’s Achieving Women 2018: Jean Liu, President, Didi Chuxing

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