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Step Conference 2022 opens its doors in partnership with Dubai Internet City to showcase a decade of support for thousands of startups across the Middle East and North Africa 


23 February 2022
Press Release

10 years of Step conference has platformed 1,224 startups from 56 countries. Step’s top 10 startups alone have raised more than USD 150million and around 50 of the startups participating at Step have raised approximately USD 500million across the region.

(23 February, 2022 - Dubai) Step Conference, the leading technology festival for emerging markets, has opened its 10th edition today in partnership with Dubai Internet City (DIC), the region’s leading hub for tech companies and talent.

Engaging talks taking place at the main stage on 23 February include: A fireside chat with His Excellency Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs. Reflections on a decade of MENA’s startup ecosystem, a panel discussion featuring regulators and key stakeholders who are playing a significant role in shaping up the startup ecosystem. A panel discussion titled World Class Interest in Emerging Markets will discuss how global investors are showing great interest in startups in emerging markets like MENA and the advantages and challenges they bring. Another session titled Web3 - a buzzword or a new reality? will see experts discuss whether Web3 will replace the internet and what a future with it might be like.

Step is an opportunity to celebrate a decade of achievement with the Middle East and North Africa’s startup community. The evolution of the conference over the last 10 years has demonstrated the exponential growth of the startup ecosystem and community in the region and emerging markets. Step’s compound growth rate was 261% in the last 5 years alone. The first edition of Step Conference in 2012 had 100 attendees, while this year’s event is expecting more than 8,000 international attendees. A decade of Step Conference has showcased 1,224 startups, welcoming more than 30,000 attendees, over 1,200 speakers, and 252 established investors, and generating upwards of USD 500 million in funding for leading startups in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as other emerging markets.

Startups from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon have been consistently represented at Step Conferences throughout the past 10 years, but the ecosystem and community have grown to include startups and participants from South Asia, Central Asia, as well as the UK and the US. The range of industries represented is equally diverse with startups, concepts and participants focusing on everything from software development to fintech, fashion, health and fitness, education, transport and entertainment.
Step Conference 2022 is focused on 4 key verticals, tackling fintech with an emphasis on payments, crypto and E-commerce; future innovations with a focus on AI, mobility, energy and cloud; digital with media, marketing and content; and lastly, wellness, deep diving into Healthtech and lifestyle.

His Excellency Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: “The UAE has firmly established itself as a global center for entrepreneurship; we have gone to great lengths to make sure entrepreneurs have everything they need to succeed, launching a host of ambitious initiatives and strategies to create an innovation- and entrepreneurship-friendly environment. These efforts paved the way for a tremendous accomplishment in 2021, as the UAE snatched the first spot among all nations of the world on the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. The Emirates is now home to a robust and thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem: as of mid-2020, there were 350,000 SMEs in the UAE, representing over 94% of all companies, employing more than 86% of the private sector’s labor force, and accounting for over 60% of GDP. The UAE was also home to the region’s very first unicorn in 2019.”

“Guided by a forward-thinking leadership, we have set even more ambitious plans for the future,” H.E. continued. “The Entrepreneurial Nation initiative is an ambitious and unprecedented plan, launched to attract promising unicorns and support homegrown billion-dollar companies. Our ambition is for the UAE to be home to 20 unicorns by 2031. With its three advanced programs – Skill-Up, Start-Up, and Scale-Up – the initiative also aims to train 15,000 entrepreneurs and support 8,000 startups to go global over the next decade. And this is open to everyone, not only Emirati citizens. We want all brilliant minds to think of the UAE as their partner towards success, and to that end, we spare no resources or capacities in promoting a culture of entrepreneurship and building a sophisticated entrepreneurship environment. This has cemented the UAE’s reputation as a destination of first choice for the world’s most talented entrepreneurs and innovators.”

H.E. Al Falasi looked forward to significant growth in the startups and SMEs sector in the year ahead, saying: “The SME economy is set to soar in 2022, and as governments, we are responsible for playing perhaps the most crucial role in ensuring success for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Bold ideas are of course the essence of startups, but without the necessary infrastructure, financing, mentorship, etc., they remain just that – ideas. This is where we come in: our role is on a more macro level. We must rally our efforts and work together to set a global vision for building a cross-border entrepreneurship ecosystem. Great minds are not limited by borders.”

Ammar Al Malik, Managing Director of Dubai Internet City, said, “Our region is home to an incredible wealth of entrepreneurs and talent defining the future of tech. Dubai has always provided a haven to ambitious and curious individuals by delivering an enabling business framework and facilitating partnership opportunities that help startups expand their reach and pursue accelerated growth. As the region’s leading tech hub, we are delighted to partner with Step for its 10th conference and continue elevating startups before a global audience of industry experts, investors and peers. We look forward to seeing the breadth of technology and ground-breaking solutions on display over the next two days and anticipate a great number of success stories to emerge from this milestone edition, reinforcing Dubai as a leading hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Ray Dargham, CEO of Step, said: “The past ten years have been a giant leap for us and the startup ecosystem in the region. When we started Step in 2012, the MENA startup ecosystem was very nascent. We struggled to get 10 startups together in our first event. Today, we have more than 300 startups participating annually, and it amazes me how many founders, investors, accelerators, government organizations, and pure general interest in tech and startups exists today in our region. Year on Year, over the last 10 years, Step’s community has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 30%. Step Conference 2022 is an opportunity to push the evolution of the ecosystem forward with a particular focus on improving overall talent, skillset, and awareness among founders in MENA, supporting MENA startups to become global with our objective to improve the reputation of MENA startup founders in Silicon Valley and beyond. Overall, achieving these aims will enable us to support startups with funding and sustainable solutions from across the globe.”