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Rise in startup exits a sign of UAE’s ‘market maturity’

The purchase of Careem by Uber is the most high-profile startup exit in the UAE, but the number of startups successfully exiting in the emirates is increasing Alamy via Reuters
The purchase of Careem by Uber is the most high-profile startup exit in the UAE
  • 43 startup sales across Mena in 2023
  • 24 of last year’s total in UAE
  • Successful exits ‘fuel the ecosystem’

Startup exits – when a new company sells its ownership or stock, for profit or at a loss – are rising sharply in the Gulf, which observers say is proof of a maturing ecosystem.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, 43 startup exits were recorded in 2023, up from 15 in 2015, according to Magnitt, a venture capital platform based in the UAE. 

The UAE accounted for 24 of the 43 exits in 2023, with 60 percent of the deals taking place in the first nine months of the year, said a report from the Dubai International Financial Centre.



This trend reflects investors’ “evolving priorities”, according to Ryaan Sharif, UAE general manager at Flat6Labs, a venture capital firm headquartered in Cairo.

“Successful exits are not just about returns,” Sharif said. “They validate investment decisions and fuel the ecosystem by providing capital for reinvestment in new ventures.”

UAE startup exits include Spotii, a buy-now-pay-later operation, TruDoc, a healthtech startup, Beehive, a crowdfunding platform, and ChatFood, a food ordering operation.

The e-commerce and transport and logistics sectors have been particularly active. The founders of Careem, a taxi-to-deliveries app, sold their ride-sharing business to Uber for $3.1 billion in 2020. Last year, the other elements of the technology operation were sold for $400 million to e& capital, a subsidiary of the UAE state-owned telecoms operator. 

The owners of Dubizzle, an online classified platform, and InstaShop, a grocery delivery app, also exited. 

So far this year, 10 startup exits have been completed in the UAE.

Last month VC Beco Capital, based in Dubai, scored its second billion-dollar exit with the sale of its entire stake in the Property Finder platform.

Sharif attributed the rise in exits to a confluence of factors. “Market maturity, strategic acquisitions, foreign investment and strong government support – all play a crucial role,” he said.

There were also more startup exits in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. 

The emirate produced a 28 percent increase by value in startups between 2021 and 2023, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem report launched during London Tech Week earlier this month.

This translates to $4.2 billion generated through exits and startup valuations.

Abu Dhabi is Mena’s fastest-growing startup ecosystem, the report said.

The city showed healthy early-stage funding ($284 million) and a strong venture capital presence ($1.06 billion invested between 2019 and 2023).

“The UAE’s ability to attract foreign investors seeking exits is a key driver,” said Sharif. 

“Acquisitions by established corporations seeking access to innovative technologies, talent and new markets further bolster the UAE’s startup ecosystem, particularly in fintech, e-commerce and logistics.”

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