DIFC Innovation License for Tech Startups

The coolest tech ecosystem in town!

Working in a startup is stressful as it is. What helps (and this is from personal experience), is the presence of fellow entrepreneurs around you. There is a lot of collective learning that happens in tech, and being part of a vibrant ecosystem contributes a lot to the package. 

The DIFC Fintech Hive is one such tech community that is slowly but steadily gaining traction.

It initially started out as a Fintech accelerator, but quickly morphed into much more than the limited space it had tried to carve out.

The DIFC Fintech Hive is now a full-fledged, all-encompassing tech hub, where established players rub shoulders with newbies who have little more than a dream and a passion to go about it. There is a lot of excited founder-talk, cross-introductions and hopeful meetings, and a whole lot of presentation material for potential seed and VC investors (who may sometimes walk right past you and you fail to put a name to a face). Well, some people don’t have all the luck, do they?

Why get setup in the DIFC?

A question I’ve been asked often enough – what’s a financial services jurisdiction (thatin itself sounded a bit too serious) doing in technology? Isn’t the DIFC all about suits and ties and deep conversations on global markets? 

Turns out that it isn’t. The DIFC had recognised the power of technology (especially fintech) quite early on, but jumped onto the bandwagon a bit later (after someone else opened shop down the road). Nevertheless, it has quickly gained traction, and dare I say, eclipsed the early starters in quite a few ways. Added to the mix is it’s location in the Gate Avenue, that is in itself a great place to hang out (need some startup lingo here, do excuse me…). 

And so here they are, three years and over a hundred and thirty technology startups later, with the DIFC Innovation License, that offers multiple subsidies for a generous period of four years, a co-working space in the heart of Dubai and more importantly, a willing team to help grow your startup into something tangible and hopefully (one day) world-beating.


Without getting into the nitty-gritty (we are consultants after all, not much for free!), there are two roads – the regulated and the non-regulated. If you are a fintech company that deals with money, or blockchain, or…well anything that can screams regulation, you would need to trudge down to the friendly neighbourhood regulator – the DFSA. Well, they aren’t that friendly if you screw up, but that’s another story (so, in short, don’t mess up). Assuming your have a business plan that is more (much more) than a dream you woke up with one fine morning, and you have good credentials to back you up, you can opt for a regulatory sandbox (provided it hasn’t been done for your kind of business before), or a full-scale license (yes, it is quite comprehensive, so find an investor). 

You can also opt for a non-regulated technology license, that allows you to have a company registration and a bank account (don’t get me started on that part). But be good and don’t start doing your regulated part of the business (refer DFSA paragraph above). 

All good, but how much does it cost?

By DIFC standards, the Innovation License is quite inexpensive – US$ 1,500 to be precise. And that’s every year, for four years. What happens past four years? Well, for now, you would have to pay full-board, but if you haven’t really ‘started up’ in four long years, maybe it’s time to reconsider the business model anyways. Sarcasm apart, you also have to shell out US$ 500 (plus the VAT of course) for co-working space in the DIFC Fintech Hive (glamorous pics here) – that is payable monthly, and that is a big relief to visionary (but mostly broke) entrepreneurs like me.

You get the option for four visas on the desk space (visa costs are subsidised as well), so the only question remains…

How would four people fit on that desk??

No, ignore that. So the only question remains…

Why don’t I consider Fujairah? (try opening a bank account genius)

Ignore that as well. The only question remains…

What are you waiting for??