Ask anyone who attended Gitex this year about their experience, you will be met with one of two responses - either an excited “it’s so big!” or a fatigued “it’s too big”. Those in the latter camp will be pleased to hear that the region’s largest tech exhibition is splitting in two, spinning off the startup section into a standalone event - Expand North Star, which will take place in May next year.
The move is a sensible one from the Dubai World Trade and Exhibition Centre (DWTC) and would certainly help in relieving the bustling chaos of over 100,000 attendees descending onto one location. The area around DWTC was so busy throughout the week that journeys which typically take no more than 15 minutes, took upwards of an hour to complete.
North Star, which began a few years ago as Gitex Future Stars, usually occupied a small part of the exhibition. But it has steadily grown and this year filled four halls, one of them temporarily built to accommodate the hundreds of startups that had flown in from across the world to partake in one of the region’s biggest events.
Startups from across Africa, France and South Korea had a strong presence this year, with most hoping to attract investment and expand to the Middle East using Dubai as their launchpad.
With multiple pitch competitions, investment announcements and the launch of a $250 million investment fund from Etisalat, now rebranded to e&, it is clear why outsiders see the region as flush with cash, despite the rising caution among the Middle East’s investment community.
“Our vision is to invest in business ideas that empower a better and brighter digital future,” said Kushal Shah, head of venture capital at e& capital. “As we build a portfolio of fast-scaling businesses that are already proven winners, we are looking forward to setting things in motion in VC and growth investments.”
e& is hoping to “attract, engage and support startups” to enhance the offering for its own customers. The e& capital fund has already invested in two startups, France-based Lablabee, a telco cloud learning platform and UAE-based VUZ, an immersive social app that allows users to experience immersive “extended reality” and metaverse digital experiences. The telco’s investment in VUZ comes only a few weeks after the launch of the Dubai Metaverse Assembly, an event that seeks to cement Dubai as the go-to-destination for all things Web 3.
The enthusiasm for this virtual world was palpable across Gitex, from dozens of startups offering metaverse experiences to the likes of Huawei and e& demonstrating their own use cases for this technology. There was a dedicated tent for metaverse experiences, which for now seems to be limited to gaming and virtual concerts, but in the future, its proponents believe it will revolutionise the way we communicate and connect with one another in the physical and digital or "phygital" sphere.
While many will look forward to a less hectic version of North Star, one of the main appeals for the startups that attend is the access Gitex provides them. Halls dedicated to government entities, to large global companies and key decision-makers provide invaluable opportunity to meet, network and learn. We will have to see if the standalone event will provide the startups the same types of opportunities.