In 2018 Walid Daniel Dib quit a secure job as an insurance loss adjuster to strike out as an entrepreneur. To the dismay of his parents, he convinced his brother, Karim Davis Dib, to do the same. Together they founded Addenda, a blockchain-based insurance platform. Addenda’s solution involved securely connecting the systems of different insurance providers via blockchain, to automate the process of recovery between them. This allowed the reconciliation of a claim within a matter of days, rather than months.
Regulators that work with you, not against you
Fortunately, the Dibs’ gamble paid off. Within only a couple of years, their Abu Dhabi-based startup had signed up nine clients in the UAE, alongside six more in Kuwait. Last year, Addenda reconciled Dh35 million [£7.3 million] between them.
A key factor in facilitating that rapid growth, Walid Daniel Dib explains, was the climate of openness to new ideas from the established players and regulatory bodies in Abu Dhabi; something that is crucial for a new startup trying to break into a traditional and highly-regulated industry.
“I’m just some 29-year-old guy, I’m not an insurance big-shot,” Dib points out. “But the director of the insurance authority in the UAE knows who I am. To date it’s never been the case that anyone from a governmental authority has turned me down for a meet-up. These guys are interested in innovation”
This entrepreneur-friendly culture extends beyond personal interactions to a regulatory environment that is designed to support new ways of doing business. Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the financial free zone where Addenda has been based, boasts the world’s second most active fintech sandbox, RegLab, which provides a safe, controlled environment in which to test out new fintech solutions. The free zone is also the only legislature in the region to operate under English Common Law, administered through ADGM Courts, the world’s first digital courts system
Drawn to Abu Dhabi
In September 2018, Addenda was a winner of the Hub71 MENA Growth Competition, powered by MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab. This gave Dib the opportunity to relocate his entire team of nine to Abu Dhabi, in order to take up the prize of two years’ worth of subsidised living, office space and healthcare costs – offered as part of Hub71’s Incentive Programme.
“I’ve got employees from Nigeria, from India, from Jordan, so we’re an incredibly diverse team,” Dib explains. “The Hub71 prize meant I could just tell them, ‘if you move here you keep the same salary, but you don’t have to pay for your housing, and you get to live in the UAE.’”
Add in the fact that Abu Dhabi has zero income or corporation tax, and when it came to asking his employees to move to the emirate, as Dib puts it, “It didn’t take a lot of convincing.”
Relocating may seem like the kind of extra headache that a fledgling startup doesn’t need. For Addenda, however, the process was easy, thanks to support from Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem Hub71, and ADGM’s startup-friendly registration process. The financial free zone offers a sector-agnostic business license at $700 [£532] per year, specifically for startups, including the option to apply for employee visas, alongside support and advice on navigating the region.
“It took maybe two days to get our business license, it was totally smooth, and everything was done online,” Dib says. “In other countries that could take months”
Start-up life at Hub71
For Dib, the benefits of moving to Hub71 amounted to much more than just financial savings.
“The climate here is phenomenal,” he says, “Hub71 is situated in a WeWork on Al Maryah island, which is like the fanciest, newest place in Abu Dhabi.”
Dib regularly finds himself sharing the coworking space with venture capitalists, or chatting about ideas over lunch with fellow entrepreneurs from one of the 57 startups making up the Hub71 tech community.
Dib credits these contacts, and the support gained from Addenda’s position at Hub71, for the success of their second successful seed round, which closed last February.
“Being at Hub71 gives us credibility in dealing with VCs, because we’ve been vetted and approved,” he says, “And because they’ve seen your progress on a daily basis, when you come to them several months down the line, they’re already interested in what you’re doing.”
Those relationships proved vital this September, when the Dibs decided to pivot their business model towards offering a more convenient digital insurance platform for the end-user. Now re-branded as “hala”, the Dibs’ platform offers incentives and savings to safer drivers, operating in collaboration with one of Addenda’s former clients.
Beyond the network of Hub71, startups like Dib’s can also benefit from the Venture Fund, administered by Abu Dhabi holding company ADQ. This fund can match a startup’s lead VC investment up to a value of Dh10 million [£2 million] for seed rounds, and Dh50m [£10 million] for Series A rounds. The Dh535m fund is just one component of Abu Dhabi’s three-year Dh50bn [£10 billion] accelerator programme, Ghadan 21, committed by the Abu Dhabi government to further diversify the economy and to ensure a sustainable future through investing in business, innovation and communities.
“There’s so much effort from the government to make this the tech hub of the Middle East,” Dib says “For startups the most important things are access to investment and clients who are open to innovation; and that’s exactly what we have here in Abu Dhabi.”