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Your Guide To Crowdfunding in Dubai

Dec 13, 2023 | Entrepreneurship

Crowdfunding in Dubai transforms the financial landscape for startups and SMEs, allowing innovators and entrepreneurs to tap into collective support. With the UAE’s economy thriving, crowdfunding has emerged as a pivotal mechanism for funding diverse projects and ventures.

We look at the regulatory frameworks, diverse crowdfunding models available, and the platforms driving this exciting financial sector forward. Whether you’re an investor looking to diversify your portfolio or an entrepreneur seeking funding for your next big business idea, understanding the ins and outs of Dubai’s crowdfunding scene is essential in navigating this dynamic market.

Is Crowdfunding Allowed In The UAE?

Crowdfunding – a method of raising capital through the collective effort of friends, family, customers, and individual investors, primarily online – is picking up steam in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This innovative approach to funding has caught the attention of the UAE government, as shown by the launch of DubaiNext, a digital platform aimed at boosting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs play a crucial role in the UAE’s economy, with their contribution to the GDP expected to climb from an already impressive 60% to an estimated 70%. They also make up over 94% of companies in the country and provide jobs for most of the private sector workforce.

Regulatory Authorities Overseeing Crowdfunding

The regulatory landscape for crowdfunding in the UAE involves multiple authorities. These include the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA), the Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE), the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) in Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), and the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) in Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC). These entities ensure that financial services and activities, including crowdfunding, comply with the established regulations and standards.

Key Regulations and Compliance for Crowdfunding Platforms

The DFSA has initiated a regulatory framework for loan and investment-based crowdfunding platforms, which is a first in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This framework is designed to licence and regulate crowdfunding activities while protecting the rights and obligations of all parties involved. The DFSA’s crowdfunding regulations are part of the UAE’s broader National Innovation Strategy, which aims to promote growth within the financial technology (FinTech) sector by catering to the specific needs of crowdfunding platforms. These regulations govern FinTech businesses and protect their customers.

If you’re looking for startups to run a crowdfunding platform in the UAE, you’ll need to be licensed or registered with the Central Bank or respective regulatory bodies such as DFSA, SCA, or FSRA. The DFSA, for example, offers three types of crowdfunding licences: Investment-based Crowdfunding Platform, Loan-based Crowdfunding Platform, and Property-based Crowdfunding Platform. Property Crowdfunding has particular requirements, like listing only residential properties and a cap of US$ 5 million on the value of a single property listing.

Registration Processes for Crowdfunding Initiatives

Securing the correct licence is essential to kick off a crowdfunding platform, and this process can be both lengthy and costly. The DFSA’s Innovation Testing License Programme provides a regulatory sandbox that allows licence holders to test their financial products and services in a controlled environment. This reflects the UAE’s dedication to fostering innovation while maintaining strong regulatory oversight.

The base capital requirement for a Category 4 Crowdfunding Business licence in the DIFC is set at US$ 140,000. Firms based in the DIFC can service clients beyond the centre as long as the services are primarily conducted from the firm’s premises within the DIFC area. Additionally, marketing and promotional activities for DIFC-registered entities are permitted outside the centre, which helps them engage with potential investors and project initiators more broadly.

People Putting Money Into Wooden Box

Types of Crowdfunding Available in Dubai

Crowdfunding in Dubai taps into the collective financial power of a large number of individuals through licensed online platforms. The DubaiNext platform operates on an ‘All-or-Nothing’ model, which means that campaigners must reach their set fundraising goals to receive the funds; otherwise, contributions are refunded to the backers. This model ensures that only viable projects with enough community support get funded while also allowing campaigners to keep full ownership of their projects.

The UAE Cabinet’s approval in March 2022 for crowdfunding activities to extend to both public and private sectors marks a significant step in expanding the scope of this funding method. This move is particularly beneficial for SMEs, which often need help to secure traditional bank loans. Data from the Khalifa Fund shows that a substantial percentage of SME funding applications are rejected by conventional banks, with loans to SMEs accounting for just a fraction of the outstanding bank credit in the UAE, well below the regional average.

In Dubai, a variety of crowdfunding models are available, catering to different funding needs and preferences. These include donation-based crowdfunding, where contributors support a cause without expecting a financial return, and rewards-based crowdfunding, where backers receive non-monetary rewards in exchange for their contributions. For those interested in financial returns, Crowd-Sourced Equity Funding (CSEF) allows individuals to invest in a company in exchange for equity. Debt or peer-to-peer lending models enable investors to lend money to businesses or individuals, expecting repayment with interest.

Beehive, the first peer-to-peer lending platform in the MENA region regulated by the DFSA, exemplifies the potential of crowdfunding in Dubai. It connects creditworthy businesses seeking funding with investors looking to support growth, offering a more accessible capital source than traditional banking channels. Eureeca, an equity crowdfunding platform launched in Dubai, facilitates the funding of private companies through a rigorous screening process. This allows investors to take a stake in promising ventures.

Real estate crowdfunding has also gained traction in Dubai, with platforms like SmartCrowd enabling investors to build diversified property portfolios. Regulated by the DFSA, SmartCrowd sources investment properties and allows investors to earn rental income and benefit from long-term capital appreciation. The platform operates transparently, creating Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) for each property. This allows investors to become shareholders and receive monthly returns proportionate to their investment. With a minimum investment requirement and a user-friendly Share Transfer Facility, SmartCrowd makes real estate investment accessible to a wider audience.

A diverse range of options thus characterises the crowdfunding landscape in Dubai, each with its own set of benefits and considerations. Whether you’re raising funds, supporting innovative SMEs, investing in real estate, or backing social causes, the platforms available in Dubai empower individuals and businesses to participate in the financial growth and entrepreneurial spirit that defines the city’s dynamic economy.

Popular Crowdfunding Platforms In Dubai

DubaiNEXT

DubaiNEXT is a pioneering digital crowdfunding platform launched by the Dubai Government to bolster small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This platform operates on an ‘All-or-Nothing’ model. Entrepreneurs set a fundraising target and must reach it to receive any funds.

This model pushes campaigners to work hard towards their financial goals, knowing they’ll keep full ownership of their projects no matter what. DubaiNEXT is especially keen on empowering the youth and startup community.

It also offers them a way to gain support from a wider investor community, which aligns with the UAE’s vision to nurture a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Beehive

Beehive has emerged as a key player in the UAE’s crowdfunding scene. It’s a third equity-based crowdfunding platform that directly connects businesses in need of finance with the correct investors. The collaboration between Dubai SME, part of Dubai’s Department of Economic Development, and Beehive shows a solid commitment to improving access to funding for SMEs.

This partnership lets individuals invest and raise funds in local SMEs, helping fuel the UAE’s economic diversification and growth.

Eureeca

Eureeca, a Dubai-based equity crowdfunding platform, has played a crucial role in funding various regional ventures. It has led significant funding rounds, like the $1.3 million investment in the car-sharing platform Udrive. Eureeca’s role in the crowdfunding ecosystem is central.

It offers businesses a way to raise capital from a wide investor base, encouraging innovative business ideas to grow and bolstering the UAE’s reputation as a startup hub.

SmartCrowd

SmartCrowd is another innovative platform making waves in the UAE’s crowdfunding landscape. It allows individuals to invest in various real estate investments with relatively small amounts of capital, opening up the property market to a broader audience.

Now, more people can get involved in real estate investment and enjoy the potential returns that were once only available to those with substantial capital.

Stake Properties

Based in Dubai, Stake Properties makes real estate investment more accessible by allowing people to buy stakes in properties with minimal initial investment. This approach diversifies the investment options for the public. It lowers the barriers to entering the real estate market, creating a more inclusive investment environment in the UAE.

The rise of these platforms shows the UAE’s dedication to creating an environment that helps grow SMEs, which is vital to the future results of the nation’s economy. With the UAE Cabinet’s nod to crowdfunding for both public and private sectors, these platforms are poised to expand the country’s liquidity pool significantly.

They’re crucial to financing new and innovative business ideas. The regulatory frameworks set by the DFSA boost the credibility and governance of these platforms, ensuring customer protection and promoting the fintech industry’s growth in the region.

As the SME sector accounts for a large chunk of the UAE’s economy and provides jobs for a significant part of the private sector’s workforce, backing these crowdfunding platforms is crucial for the ongoing prosperity and innovation within the UAE.

People Putting Money Into Piggy Bank

What Are The Benefits Of Crowdfunding For UAE Startups?

Crowdfunding has emerged as a vital source of funding for startups in the UAE, leveraging the collective support of a broad audience. This method is predominantly facilitated through social media and specialised online platforms, enhancing the visibility and reach of entrepreneurial ventures. Since the early 2010s, additional platforms such as Zoomal and Yomken have joined the ranks, supporting a variety of sectors within the local startup scene.

The regulations introduced by the DFSA have been influential in building a conducive environment for the fintech sector, providing a structured governance model and ensuring investor protection. The effectiveness of these regulations is reflected in the growth of crowdfunding activities. For instance, between 2015 and 2016, the UAE witnessed 97 successful crowdfunding campaigns, with a significant portion led by female entrepreneurs, accumulating around $3.25 million. These figures underscore the potential of crowdfunding, which is anticipated to grow exponentially on a global scale.

The UAE government’s recognition of the pivotal role of SMEs has led to initiatives aimed at enhancing their access to finance, including the adoption of crowdfunding as an alternative funding mechanism. The DFSA’s tailored regulatory framework for crowdfunding platforms underscores this commitment.

Crowdfunding in the UAE encompasses various models for raising funds, such as donation-based for philanthropic causes, reward-based for pre-purchasing products or services, and equity crowdfunding for those seeking a share in burgeoning companies.

The benefits of crowdfunding extend to both investors and entrepreneurs. Investors have the opportunity for potentially lucrative returns on investments. At the same time, entrepreneurs can secure necessary capital without relinquishing control of their ventures. Initiatives like DubaiNext exemplify this, providing a platform where entrepreneurs can rally community support to bring their ideas to fruition, aligning with the UAE’s economic development goals.

Crowdfunding presents an alternative funding target for SMEs that have traditionally faced challenges in securing funding from conventional financial institutions due to stringent requirements. By embracing crowdfunding, the UAE is poised to bolster the GDP contribution of SMEs, which are forecasted to grow in significance for the national economy.

Empowering Innovators and Investors

The evolving landscape of crowdfunding in the UAE symbolises a new era of financial democratisation, where access to capital is becoming less centralised and more attuned to the dynamic needs of startups and SMEs. A blend of progressive regulations and innovative platforms has enabled entrepreneurial dreams to find the support and investment advice they need to thrive.

Crowdfunding fuels business ventures and fosters a community spirit where anyone can become an investor or a supporter of innovation, helping to resonate with the UAE’s vision for a diversified and forward-looking economy. The success of such initiatives hinges on the collaborative efforts of the government, regulatory bodies, retail investors, and the creative minds that drive the UAE’s burgeoning startup ecosystem.

As the ecosystem matures, the potential for such platforms to reshape the financial contours of the UAE’s market is immense, heralding a promising future for investors and entrepreneurs alike.

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