Ahmed Taha from DuBiotech, the Dubai Biotechnology & Research Park, has two questions for GEN readers: “Do you have a biotech idea that you’d like to develop rapidly, conveniently, and inexpensively?” Or alternatively, “Do you have an existing biotech product that you’d like to market in a region close to Africa, with its potential market of one billion people, India with its 1.2 billion people, and the Middle East, with its 400 million people?”
According to Taha, “The goal of DuBiotech is to be to biotechnology what Silicon Valley is to information technology.” He’s proud of the robust incentives the government has created to attract biotech companies to Dubai, and we’ll get to them in a moment, but first, why is the Dubai government putting a major effort into becoming the biotech center for this region?
DuBiotech is part of a larger plan encouraged by Dubai’s far-sighted leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Sheikh Mohammed’s goal is to make Dubai a knowledge-based economy. Although this may look surprising for a country already known for its wealth and stand-out success, this approach makes economic sense.
Dubai, with its tallest building in the world, the 2,700-foot Burj Khalifa, or its incredible architecture growing out of the desert sands, may have a reputation for fabulous wealth, but to the surprise of many, less than 10% of this wealth comes from oil and gas. Unlike many of the other six Gulf Emirate States that compose the United Arab Emirates, this Rhode Island-size city state is not well-endowed with minerals.
Its true endowment is geographical, being perfectly situated as a business and cultural center for the region. Sheikh Mohammed exploits Dubai’s central location with an attention and zeal that may exceed the effort his oil-producing neighbors spend on making use of their natural resources.
DuBiotech is part of the larger plan for solidifying Dubai’s role as an international business hub. DuBiotech is one of ten business parks, each of which is a city within a city, planned so that in a concentrated area there are all the special requirements for that particular sector. Other centers include media, education, sciences, manufacturing, and logistics, all a few minutes’ drive from each other.
DuBiotech currently has 22 million square feet of space, all of it “purpose built” for the needs of biotech companies. The architectural design firm HDR designed the buildings with, for example, an air exhaust and ventilation system with special air filters to prevent any cross contamination within the complex. There’s also extensive equipment for maintaining bio security, plus there are spaces that are vibration free. Additionally, there is acid-resistant drainage and a PH neutralization system which allows for safe disposal of waste, plus there’s sterilized high-quality stainless steel mechanical equipment for ensuring high standards of hygiene. Among the current 120 companies now installed at DuBiotech and taking advantage of its array of features are Pfizer, Bristol Meyer Squib, CHR Hansen, and Firmenich.
As an example of how the design of the buildings caters to biotech needs, Firmenich, the fragrance and flavor company, needs the air in its laboratories changed eight times each hour. The building’s design easily accommodates this requirement.
Although there are currently 120 companies resident in the DuBiotech space, Taha would like to see that number doubled soon, and he has some powerful tools for attracting additional biotech firms. Dubai is in a unique position for companies wanting to have a presence in the region. The country has an unmatched infrastructure for helping international companies conduct business. As Taha says, “We have a reliable and sophisticated legal system, modern hotels, attractively priced housing, and an educational system designed to attract an international clientele.”
He goes on to talk about the world-class restaurants, shopping, and nightlife, but that’s only the beginning. “Dubai is a magnet with its strategic location connecting the East and the West and with its proximity to a population of roughly three billion people and a combined regional GDP approaching $7 trillion. Logistically, it’s a ten minute drive from Dubai International Airport and 15 minutes from two cargo hubs.” Other value added aspects include: fast-track visas,-fast track licensing, mail room, conference rooms, show rooms, warehousing, and access to hardware and office equipment.
Taha feels that economics are a major draw. “The Dubai free zones permit foreign companies to own 100% of their enterprise in Dubai; they pay no tax, and they can easily and transparently remit their profits to their home company. There is a free flow of goods and wealth. If you make 1 million Dirhams, ($330,000) you can send it wherever you want and no one questions it.”
This of course raises the question, “What’s in it for Dubai if there are no taxes and profits can freely be transferred out of the country?”
“Our compensation,” Taha answers, “is rent on the building space and an annual fee for a trade license.” He goes on to say that of the ten business parks in Dubai, there are currently 4,500 resident companies, including major multinationals and many of the Fortune 500 companies.
The rent and trade licenses, he feels, are not expensive. “A small company that wants to explore becoming involved with DuBiotech can get in relatively inexpensively,” he says, adding, “We’ll charge $6,000 a year for our smallest office. It will be furnished, you won’t be paying for electricity, and the trade license will be $3,000 a year. Further, we can get you set up in a month or at most two months. For roughly $10,000 a year, you can be doing business in a city within a city in Dubai.
“Out of the 120 companies which now rent from DuBiotech, 50 of them are currently in small offices.” The focus of most of them is on food and pharma, and they’re interested in human, animal, and plant applications. An important component is diagnostic services for hospitals.
A significant amount of what goes on at DuBiotech is R&D for products that already exist. Laboratories there formulate products, often food or flavors or fragrances, specifically designed to appeal to the various populations in the nearby regions.
For example, individuals in Egypt or Pakistan or India might prefer different formulations of Tang or Heinz Ketchup. Companies like CHR Hansen, Firmenich, Gucci, and Versace all use facilities at DuBiotech for developing flavors or fragrances that appeal to different local populations.
DuBiotech companies are a major market for scientific instruments. With just a quick stroll through just some of the laboratories, you’ll see Thermo Scientific, Agilent, Bicom, Shimadzu, Hach, Hanna, or PerkinElmer. “Any lab equipment used in a biotech lab would be of interest to the DuBiotech companies,” says Taha.
Something else that he believes is a draw for DuBiotech: “Middle Easterners are more apt to be risk takers. More or less every other guy you meet on the street,” he says jokingly, “is a businessman who’s looking for an investment idea.”
In a more serious vein he continues, “There are a lot of wealthy people or investors from many parts of the world. They come here for a month’s vacation, discover that they like it, and end up setting up a business. If you’re a biotech inventor who has a new device or kit—like, for example, a new DNA kit—come here, and with the highly competitive labor costs and the ready access to capital, you can really hit it big here. And by the way, I’ve seen examples of people who’ve spent years trying to raise capital elsewhere who were able to do it in a few months here in Dubai.”
Ahmed Taha would love to have more international clients for DuBiotech. “For Dubai, entrepreneurship is part of our culture, and we’re open for business!”