City Focus: Abu Dhabi

By Leah Netabai

Business Chief Middle East takes a closer look at the Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi, a name meaning ‘father of the gazelle’, was once a simple island inhabited by wildlife until it was founded by a small tribe searching for water in 1761.

Fast forward to 1958 – after an extensive 30-year search – oil was discovered at Murban Bab Oil Field with crude oil production commencing in 1960. This discovery is said to be the spark that blossomed into the ultra-modern and luxuriously wealthy capital of the United Arab Emirates.

In 1971, after many subsequent oil field discoveries – such as Bu Hasa Field and Bida Al Qemzan – revenue grew. As a result, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan established the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). 

Today, ADNOC is responsible for most of the oil and gas production in Abu Dhabi, providing 90% of the government’s revenue through the 3mn barrels of oil produced each day (bopd) and the 277.5mn cubic metres (mcm) of gas produced per day. However, this could all change. In recent months, the president of Abu Dhabi established a three-year economic development plan known as Ghadan 21 Accelerator Programme. It aims to enhance the competitiveness of Abu Dhabi in four key areas: business and investment, society, knowledge and innovation and lifestyle. In support of the proramme, the President has also passed two new laws in relation to foreign direct investment (FDI) and private-public partnerships (PPPs), in the hope of increasing employment opportunities and attracting talent, as well as saturating the capital’s economy with varied industries to reduce the reliance on crude oil for revenue.  

A direct response to these new laws is the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO). Designed to connect investors with relevant private and public sector shareholders, identify local strategic partners, provide business information, licensing help and business regulation assistance, as well as continued support throughout its development. ADIO is also in charge of producing and executing an FDI strategy, as well as encouraging growth with the help of the Ghadan Ventures fund, an AED535mn (US$145mn) investment pool to support startups and VC ecosystems. 

ADIO has two business funds – New Managers Fund and Startup Matching Fund – established to stimulate the growth of venture capital ecosystems expanding the sources for early stage funding, and to invest in innovative seeds and early startups.

ADIO is keen to invest in innovative technology companies such as SenseTime, a valuable and world leading startup company for Artificial-Intelligence (AI) founded in 2014. The company develops AI tech that can positively contribute to economics, society and humanity. 

ADIO and SenseTime signed a strategic partnership agreement back in July 2019 marking a key milestone for the Ghadan 21 Accelerator Programme. “SenseTime’s AI capabilities and developments will be of great value to businesses across the region. […] ADIO is working to create a comprehensive ecosystem of tech companies at different stages of development, across a variety of industries. It will also provide a thriving environment for tech talent to establish careers and grow,” said CEO of ADIO, Elham Al Qasim.Also present at the signing, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, His Excellency Saif Mohamed Al Hajeri, commented: “We are delighted to welcome SenseTime to Abu Dhabi. As part of the Ghadan 21 programme, we are helping some of the world’s best companies establish a presence in the Emirate to encourage innovation and create jobs of the future.” 


The agreement will allow SenseTime to establish a Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Research and Development (R&D) headquarters in Abu Dhabi. Over the next five years the company is “expected to create hundreds of jobs, most of which will be highly skilled engineers.” SenseTime will also take the lead on a number of AI projects to drive growth and provide other companies with “technology to enable autonomous driving, augmented reality, medical image analysis, remote sensing and photo quality enhancement,” said, ADIO.

Abu Dhabi is continuing to work towards ensuring the “right quality and the right volume of talent comes in” to support the tech startups. Creating a community that puts “very large companies and startups side by side so they may both benefit in various ways, including fluidity of talent,” said Elham Al Qasim

ADIO has overseen the success stories of several businesses over the years, including: TALEX, Plaza Premium Lounge, Big Bus Tour, CNN International and TwoFour54. 


A largely automated and flexible extrusion plant for precision engineered aluminium, TALEX was established in 2011 as part of the SENNAAT General Holding Corporation. SENNAAT supports TALEX by providing the necessary permits and certificates.

Plaza Premium Lounge

Established in 2014, the company offers global airport hospitality solutions in over 160 locations. Its vision is to become a household name and a world class premium airport service provider. 

For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.

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