Location is critical to the success of a start-up; it dictates the staffing pool, the cost of premises, as well as local taxes and government incentives, including business support and funding. A solid infrastructure with good transport links is also key to succeeding in business.
Global start-up research centre StartupBlink publishes the annual Startup Ecosystem Rankings Index. The index ranks 1,000 cities and 100 countries worldwide, tracking both momentum and trends within the start-up ecosystem. In 2021, the top 10 countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, Germany, Sweden, China, Switzerland, Australia and Singapore.
The report also states that the UAE is now a top 25 global country and had one of the most impressive rank increases this year, jumping by 18 spots to rank 25th. Offering both airports and seaports, Dubai's infrastructure and location between east and west make it a strategically sound base for import and export.
In October, Dubai International Airport was ranked as the world's busiest, and Jebel Ali, Dubai's biggest shipping port, boasts the world's biggest manmade harbour, three terminals and one million square metres of container yard. Established in 1979, it's connected to more than 150 ports across the globe today, making it one of the top 10 most important ports for business.
Squat Wolf co-founders Wajdan Gul, CEO, and Anam Khalid, CPO, chose to start their business and establish headquarters in Dubai because of the emirate's dynamic location.
The two corporate professionals shared a passion for fitness and fashion. Their shared frustrations over not being able to find high-quality gym attire that looked good led them to launch their own business. With the motto "Good things come to those who sweat", Squat Wolf was born. With the logistical capabilities of Dubai, the brand has spread beyond the UAE as far as America and Australia.
"We're shipping into the GCC, to the UAE, Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain – these are our big markets," says Wajdan Gul, "but 55% of our business is now coming from outside of the GCC. The US is our biggest market outside of the GCC, then the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia."
Shipping freight rates surged during the pandemic. Price hikes and container shortages remain an issue, but Squat Wolf has been able to continue shipping in and out of Dubai.
"For some business, it's impossible to get [container] space right now," says Wajdan. "If you want to move your items from your manufacturing hub, you have to pay four times or five times more in some places, but Dubai offers a unique location. It's at the centre of the world. There are a lot more connecting ships and connecting flights going out of and into Dubai, so we're always able to get more flights, and we're always able to get more ships to bring in our products."
Shipping isn't the only challenge faced by start-ups. Finding the right employees aligned with the brand vision who are prepared to go the extra mile was also tricky for the Squat Wolf founders.
"There are so many challenges for a start-up. In a more established [business], everyone has their job description. In a start-up, it's not that clear because you're growing at the same time," says Squat Wolf's Anam Khalid. "We have a saying in our office that we are making the plane while flying it. It's not easy, and you really have to employ the right kind of people."
Having secured the talent to propel the brand, Anam and Wajdan are now focused on future growth and international marketing.
"We're going after our top 10 markets and growing those markets," says Anam. "They're huge, so we can definitely expand them more. We're going one by one, sometimes focusing on influencer marketing in one specific market, and other times using digital advertising, trying different things. That's how we experiment and keep growing."