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Beyond Completion: NDTI Paving the Way for the Next Wave of UAE Fintech Innovation

In a world where global fintech investment has faced challenges, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is a beacon of resilience and innovation. The National Digital Talent Incubator (NDTI), operated by Emirates NBD and supported by partners like DIFC Innovation Hub, Visa, Microsoft, and Dell Technologies, has proven to be a vital catalyst for growth, providing startups with the tools and connections needed to thrive in this dynamic landscape

The 2023 cohort of the NDTI program saw four diverse fintech firms take significant strides in their growth journeys. Under the guidance of Emirates NBD and its partners, these startups not only honed their skills but also gained access to a valuable network of potential partners and a supportive community of alumni. The program’s unique focus on Emirati founders and co-founders underscores its commitment to nurturing local talent and fostering innovation in the region.

Founders engaged in the Decision Makers Series, interacting directly with Emirates NBD’s senior leaders, shaping their strategic vision, and exploring collaborations. A trip to Saudi Arabia further broadened their horizons, connecting them with vibrant pioneers of the Saudi startup ecosystem and potential regional partners.

The program has already sparked discussions with Emirates NBD teams, with three POVs under discussion in the UAE and Saudi, as well as introductions to other financial institutions. Two founders are also in talks with VCs for potential investments.

A program highlight was the founders’ participation in a panel on ‘Empowering Emirati Founders’ at COP28 in Dubai, showcasing their achievements on a global stage amid discussions on sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Mohammad Alblooshi, CEO of DIFC Innovation Hub
Mohammad Alblooshi, CEO of DIFC Innovation Hub

Reflecting on the success of the programme, Mohammad Alblooshi, CEO of DIFC Innovation Hub said: “DIFC Innovation Hub is dedicated to driving innovation and fostering local talent in line with UAE vision 2031.

Through our participation in the Emirates NBD NDTI programme, we were able to provide meaningful, relevant, and in-depth knowledge and expertise to the participants which facilitated access to influential networks, discussions for POCs, introductions to financial institutions, promising conversations with venture capitalists and significant media exposure.

“Through NDTI, we strive to provide a platform for aspiring Emirati entrepreneurs, equipping them with the skills and opportunities needed to thrive in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.”

Only the beginning
Hasan Kazmi, VP, head of strategic partnerships and ventures – CEMEA, Visa
Hasan Kazmi, VP, head of strategic partnerships and ventures – CEMEA, Visa

The MEA region has blossomed as fintech leaders continue to emerge and prosper. Commenting on the attitude of the region’s entrepreneurs, Hasan Kazmi, VP, head of strategic partnerships and ventures – CEMEA, Visa, said: “The NDTI programme recognises the growing entrepreneurial spirit of the fintech sector in the region and helps enable Emiratis to become tomorrow’s fintech leaders, positioning them at forefront of innovation in digital banking and financial services.

“Dubai is a great driver of fintech innovation, with its world-class infrastructure, regulatory framework, and tax advantages that draw interest from a broad range of financial institutions, multinational corporations, and startups. This creates an ecosystem that thrives on collaboration and innovation, empowered by a strategic location that connects East and West.

“At Visa, we recognise this immense home-grown potential and seek to harness it – our Innovation Center and NDTI Immersion Day design in Dubai is just one example, tapping into the power of collaboration and co-creation to collectively spur the future of commerce through emerging financial technologies that enhance the way we pay and get paid.”

Innovation across various areas of fintech

The National Digital Talent Incubator (NDTI) distinguishes itself by propelling startups across the fintech spectrum. In the UAE, AI’s rise is particularly notable, with AI-driven statistics expected to add $37billion to the financial sector by 2035. Additionally, there is increased demand from UAE residents seeking greater personalized services, highlighting the demand for micro-investments, data transaction enrichment, and AI.

Sustainability is another focal point, boosted by the momentum of COP28, with the program supporting startups that integrate ESG principles into their offerings. This is in response to a growing preference for low-effort sustainable practices among UAE consumers.

With founders concentrating on AI-driven statistics, micro-investments, sustainability, and data transaction enrichment, the NDTI program aimed to address key challenges in the fintech ecosystem and the demand for customization, to continue to drive fintech innovation in the region.

Success of the programme 
Naim Yazbeck, general manager, Microsoft UAE
Naim Yazbeck, general manager, Microsoft UAE

Naim Yazbeck, general manager, Microsoft UAE, discussed the success of the Microsoft Immersion Day, during which participants had the opportunity to engage directly with Microsoft’s latest technologies: “Microsoft is proud to partner with Emirates NBD and contribute to the success of the National Digital Talent Incubator. The positive impact of the programme, particularly the Microsoft Immersion Day, is a testament to the power of collaborative learning and hands-on experience.

“Equipping the next generation of UAE fintech talent with the latest cloud technologies and practical skills is crucial for fostering innovation and building a thriving digital economy. We are excited to see the NDTI graduates shape the future of the UAE’s fintech landscape and remain committed to supporting their journey every step of the way.”

A commitment to growth
Walid Yehia, managing director – UAE, Dell Technologies
Walid Yehia, managing director – UAE, Dell Technologies

Walid Yehia, managing director – UAE, Dell Technologies, shared his thoughts on the partnership with Emirates NBD: “At Dell Technologies, our mission is to equip businesses with agile and scalable solutions, that allow them to innovate and thrive in the ever-evolving digital landscape. This commitment serves as the cornerstone of our cooperation with Emirates NBD, a disruptive leader in the region’s financial sector.

Dell is unwavering in its dedication to providing ENBD with the necessary infrastructure to sustain growth, ensuring they remain at the forefront of the region’s dynamic fintech space. As a testament to this commitment, Dell is proud to collaborate in the groundbreaking ENBD National Digital Talent Incubator (NDTI) initiative. This transformational program fosters fintech talent and is poised to propel the UAE’s financial services sector to greater heights in the future.”

Looking to the future 
Eman Abdulrazzaq, group chief human resources officer at Emirates NBD
Eman Abdulrazzaq, group chief human resources officer at Emirates NBD

Ahead of the second cohort, Eman Abdulrazzaq, group chief human resources officer at Emirates NBD, revealed what he was most excited about: “The inception of the National Digital Talent Incubator (NDTI) stems from the collaborative efforts of Emirates NBD and DIFC Launchpad, driven by a shared vision to aims to boost UAE talent and advance the Dubai fintech landscape.

“As we celebrate the successful conclusion of the inaugural cohort, we take pride in our culture of innovation and exploration, which has been instrumental in the programme’s achievements.”

She added: “Throughout the intensive eight-week programme, participants benefited from invaluable insights provided by venture building and innovation experts at DIFC Launchpad, hands-on guidance from most successful entrepreneurs in the UAE, personalised mentorship sessions with founders of leading fintech scaleups in the region, and access to a vast network of innovators, established corporations, governmental entities, and capital sources in the UAE.

“We look forward to the launch of the second cohort of the NDTI programme in April 2024, poised to deliver yet another wave of pioneering initiatives and entrepreneurial excellence.”

Author

  • Francis is a journalist and our lead LatAm correspondent, with a BA in Classical Civilization, he has a specialist interest in North and South America.

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