There is no shortage of new niches to seek in the UAE. Fresh proposals for booming business across healthcare, retail and even laundry can fill gaps in the market. These are the for-now imaginary businesses that we would back
There are many opportunities to hang out your shingle in the uae – plus plenty of venture capitalists and deep-pocketed customers to embrace suggestions. Here we round up underserved corners of the market where an enterprising firm could add to the riches on offer, from aviation to architecture.
Making a spectacle
A far-sighted eyewear brand
How has this been missed so far? The uae’s abundance of both sunlight and sand – a vital ingredient in glass lenses – is an untapped and obvious place to try to launch a homegrown luxury eyewear brand. Ditto for a decent opticians service that we would roll out across the Emirates with solicitous and professional service and same-day lens fittings. Can you see what we mean?
Fit for purpose
Artificial intelligence is being touted in everything from fintech to marketing, but few applications will provide as much relief as those in healthcare. From screening scans to managing patient data, opportunities abound. We would back a platform that processes (anonymised) patient information to improve treatment and focus on early screening for illnesses – tailoring care and resources to those who need it.
A properly shady consultancy
Not the suit-wearing sort but those teaching architects how to harness the heat. Think awnings, blinds, slatting and bricks that let through a breeze. Harnessing the principles of the barjeel (wind tower) and the nation’s sha’bi houses could make the right firm a regional leader in managing heat. The pay-off? More walkable neighbourhoods with better retail and fewer car journeys required.
Souks you, sir
A decent multi-brand menswear shop
Not all retail in the uae is mall-based but too much of it involves luxury brands selling faintly inappropriate versions of European apparel. There’s space for a decent shop selling both understated brands (think light linen blazers, seersucker shirts and slip-ons) as well as Gulf staples. We would operate the nation’s freshest kandura laundry, alteration service and tailoring while you wait.
A newsstand (with global distribution)
The uae is already a global air-traffic and sea-freight hub, so why not fill any empty bellies with the books and magazines that are currently missing from the nation’s not-so-well-stocked newsstands? Yes, there are one or two independents but a homegrown book and magazine distributor could help to put the country at the centre of a global conversation about media, journalism and publishing.
Be our guest
A UAE hospitality school
Despite the number of jobs in the hospitality sector, there’s a gulf in the Gulf. Top GMs are flown in from Swiss hotel schools, while kitchen porters and scullions are kept back of house. There’s still a stigma around Emiratis in the kitchen and service industries, though this is shifting. Starting a hotel school would put paid to both, helping to train staff for a new generation of restaurants and cafés.
A florist rooted in local flora
Too many shop and hotel displays use flown-in posies that are ill-suited to the climate and short-lived. They also send the wrong message about sustainability and taste. What about celebrating the feathery fronds of the ghaf tree, oleanders or salt cedars? The native brush is spikier and wilder than Dutch tulips but perhaps getting back to the nation’s roots involves some aesthetic rearrangement.
A world-leading aviation repair centre
The arid conditions of deserts make them ideal for storing planes that need fixing (Arizona does this in the US) and the uae’s ascent to a global aviation hub presents an opportunity to become the world’s workshop too. The nation has the space, the climate and connectivity. An aviation and aeronautical hub that’s as attractive to start-ups as global manufacturers is anything but blue-sky thinking.
Top of the shops
A toothsome produce-led supermarket
This won’t sound revolutionary to some, but for all the souks and pop-ups, the uae lacks a decent, walkable place to buy fresh produce. While you might be able to try local tomatoes or Gulf oysters at restaurants, the city needs to get people excited about local produce – and that means growing and buying at scale. Our little supermarkets will help smaller growers and producers to win new fans.
A sunny solar provider
While many countries in the region are keen to reduce their reliance on oil, it’s obvious that battery alternatives aren’t always much better for the environment and are tough to recycle. So what about making the most of the region’s abundance of sun? A canny operator could retrofit buildings, set up spots in the desert and be an ambassador for a technology that’s more than a little overlooked.