By Ahmad Zakkout , New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Trade Commissioner – Middle East and Africa Region
11 April 2023
Aotearoa New Zealand's cutting-edge technology is beginning to break through in the Gulf region, with the number of exporters targeting the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf markets on the rise since Expo 2020 Dubai.
As Gulf countries look to diversify their economies away from oil and invest in the services economy, opportunities abound for New Zealand tech innovators that can address the needs of Gulf governments, businesses and consumers – from fintech and edu-tech to holistic, patient-centric healthcare.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia both have young, digitally-connected and wealthy populations who spend significant time online – 7.5 hours a day in the UAE and 8 in Saudi Arabia. Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of new technology, online shopping, and contactless transactions in both countries, and local and home-grown fintech businesses have quickly capitalised on this trend to grow and expand.
Investment is also keeping pace with innovation, with a 50% increase in fintech investment in the first half of 2021 in the UAE and just over $400 million invested in fintech in Saudi Arabia over 2021-2022. There are around 150 active fintech businesses in Saudi and over 130 in the United Arab Emirates.
In both markets, fintech solutions are tackling problems in a wide variety of areas, ranging from digital payments and financial inclusion for blue-collar workers through to regtech solutions that meet the needs of local businesses looking to streamline compliance with government regulations.
All in all, the fintech environment in the UAE and wider region is ripe for newcomers from countries such as New Zealand to sell to, partner with or invest in the local industry.
It’s fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic revolutionised education in the Gulf. By one estimate, the pandemic pushed 72% of Gulf educational institutions to bring forward their digital initiative roadmaps by at least a year. Gulf countries have been particularly proactive in embracing edutech solutions across a range of areas in primary and higher education. In the UAE, fully digitised education isn’t just permitted but encouraged, both in early schooling and higher education.
Many education institutions in the Gulf today are aiming to operate more like a digital enterprise, where tech solutions act as a “cognitive companion” in a blended learning environment. There’s widespread use of digital tools to engage students, manage homework and tests, and offer digital versions of ancillary activities, such as virtual campus tours and virtual campus recruitments.
Some institutions in the Gulf are even experimenting with applying AI and automation to more advanced use cases, such as personalised and adaptive learning.
For New Zealand businesses, the Gulf offers access to a thriving market where both large private education groups and government education agencies are seeking out the best global solutions to help their institutions and their countries to climb local and global rankings.
As Gulf countries race against one another to become leaders in new economic sectors such as healthcare, New Zealand exporters and suppliers can capitalise on the business opportunities presented by these expanding healthcare markets.
Just a handful of promising areas for tech businesses include:
Informa Markets’ Voice of the Healthcare Industry Market Outlook 2021, which surveyed healthcare providers and technology agents, distributors, manufacturers and consultancies across the Gulf, found that 45% of respondents identified technology as the best opportunity for business growth in the region – with digitisation creating the most significant impact.
Beyond specific tech trends, Gulf countries also need better preventative care and mental health solutions for their residents. 88% of UAE expats in a recent survey reported feeling anxious due to the demands of their workplaces, and significant numbers also cited a lack of mental health support.
Solutions to support employee wellbeing, mental health support and resilience training are in demand, across business and government in response to the UAE’s National Wellbeing Strategy 2031.
As the Gulf countries continue to invest in the next generation of healthcare, education and fintech solutions, these markets will only become more attractive for Kiwi exporters.
With healthcare budgets under strain in many developed countries, Gulf markets stand out for the scale and size of their continued investments in the healthcare sector. Edu-tech and fintech are also benefiting from growing expat populations, who can now benefit from longer-stay visas and retirement options – meaning these sectors will likely continue to go from strength to strength, attracting more international and local investors and businesses who can see a long-term sustainable opportunity.
NZTE is working with a range of companies who are aiming to tackle different Gulf markets, and with the region’s appetite for world-leading tech, there’s room for many more tech businesses from Aotearoa to find their niche and set themselves up for long-term growth.
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