The Immigration Game – building a new startup hub

I was reading an article shared by Kevin Hale (@ilikevests) today about the contribution of immigrants to the American entrepreneurial landscape and it struck a lot of points I think could be applied to the state we’re in as a startup based in Dubai. The contribution of immigrants to entrepreneurship in this region is probably more prevalent than anywhere in the world, where we have a rare case of the local population being outnumbered by expatriates significantly. It’s also a fact that 95% of companies registered in Dubai are categorised as SMEs, which shows the sheer magnitude of the contribution entrepreneurs have to this economy. In the case of the US, the benefits of having more and more businesses created by immigrants is clear, it creates more jobs for Americans, allows them to generate more income, which contributes to a stronger and more productive domestic economy overall.

That’s where the similarities end. The above initiative is based on the fact there is a readily available workforce seeking jobs in the sector. Opportunities for additional job creation by startups is a huge factor on governments agendas when creating funding opportunities and subsidies to facilitate growth for that sector. The issue we have here as founders is that there is no readily available workforce to hire at all. The state of immigration in Dubai is such that without full time employment, expatriates cannot gain visas to enter the country. So recruitment of talent locally can really only base itself on people already here seeking to leave their current jobs. That might work for some, but working in technology, it is still a severely underdeveloped local economy, the best talent the world has to offer is yet to come. In the long term however, the technology sector will prove to be crucial and a primary need for an emerging market to survive.

What kind of solution can we propose to help build this economy to last for generations? Create a system that provides a consistent supply of new workforce that can disrupt and innovate the local economy. That system is education. What all the other leaders of innovation have that Dubai doesn’t lies in the education sector, more particularly in the higher education of technology and scientific research. That’s what can attract the best talent and what leads the country to continuous improvement.

Think about it, where would Silicon Valley be if not for the CS graduates of Stanford being down the road. Where would the leading startups find their talent if the universities didn’t spend time and billions of dollars attracting  and educating their students from all over the world to be ready for this industry. It starts in the classroom.

The debate on American immigration law is very well documented, with a large amount of Silicon Valley based founders warning that limiting immigration further – in terms of limiting the attraction of top talent from outside the US – will greatly hinder the progress and put America in a position where it will eventually be overtaken as the leading innovator in the world. With so much uncertainty and presidential elections soon approaching, managing regulations will soon become a nightmare.

That’s reflected in a great article posted today by Sten Tamkivi on the need to look beyond the Valley, “If you’re a foreign government dreaming of attracting talent to your own startup hub, stop talking all this nonsense of building “your own Silicon Valley”. Take the laundry list of the weaknesses above and start being 10X better than Silicon Valley in a specific area by changing antiquated e-governance, healthcare, creative arts, education, affordable housing, or immigration rules.”

Now’s the time for an agile emerging economy to offer value in seeking opportunities elsewhere. Dubai has positioned itself as the safe haven in the region amongst all the turmoil surrounding it, and a leader in every category. We’re only 3 hours away from India, the world leader in technology talent supply, as Paul Graham says in this essay , “The US has less than 5% of the world’s population. Which means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed, 95% of great programmers are born outside the US.this whole discussion has taken something for granted: that if we let more great programmers into the US, they’ll want to come.”

It’s time to translate the money and effort put into developing touristic attractions, into attracting the best global talent in technology today to secure the leaders we will need tomorrow.

Note: We are always looking for passionate new members to join the inVibe team, get in touch