The impact of Expo 2020 on the UAE’s SME landscape.

As Expo 2020 Dubai is forecast to add a value of more than $30 billion, it will have a significant impact on the economy of Dubai, the UAE, and the broader Middle East, North Africa (MENA) region well into the future.

With the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation as a federation, Dubai and the UAE will be front and center of the world’s stage for business and innovations. Dubai Plan 2021 and the UAE’s Vision 2021 plan will both reach fruition this year-ambitious targets outlining optimistic and aspirational strategic goals for the economy, people, and government.

But what are the specific benefits that Expo 2020 will bring? How will Expo 2020 boost the SME sector in the UAE and beyond?

Increased foreign investment.

Expo 2020 Dubai is a significant event. It is the first time in the event’s history that the event will be held in the MENA region. The event is being held in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic, making it the largest global gathering since 2019, with between 20 and 25 million people expected to attend over six months. There will be an opportunity to highlight the relevance of its three subthemes: opportunity, mobility, and sustainability — in a face-to-face celebration of innovation and human collaboration. This appeal is expected to attract between $100 billion and $150 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) across financial services, tourism, hospitality, real estate and infrastructure, and construction.


COP26 will open just weeks after Expo 2020 ends, so this will be an excellent opportunity to showcase the UAE’s green credentials, as it invests heavily in renewable and sustainable energy and promotes green growth. Expo 2020 plans to obtain half of its energy requirements from renewable sources, including the first mega-scale application of integrated solar and photovoltaic systems.


Businesses and entrepreneurs looking to invest in green innovation technology are more likely to view the UAE as a natural place to seek investment. As for the figures, they speak for themselves: despite the pandemic’s adverse effects on FDI flows, Dubai maintained high investor confidence in 2020, with total FDI capital flows estimated at Dhs24.7bn, not far from the Dhs28.6bn figure for 2015.

How could this benefit your SME?

Even if you are not looking for inward investment, the greater the foreign investment interest in the UAE, the more significant the economic boost for the region. This will affect the entire business ecosystem and economy, which means that local and international SMEs will increase business and activity.

Dubai has long been popular with international investors due to its increasing popularity as a destination for foreign direct investment. A number of provisions have already been made into law to promote Dubai as an attractive investment location; the 2016 bankruptcy law modernized the UAE’s previously unpredictable insolvency laws. An investment law enacted in the UAE in 2018 has allowed foreign equity ownership of up to 100 percent of onshore UAE companies in specific strategic sectors.

Foreign investors also consider it an ideal gateway into regional markets. As the gateway of east and west and within an eight-hour flight of two-thirds of the world’s population, it is ideally situated to gain access to more than 1.7 billion consumers in the MENA, Pakistan, and India regions.

It further enhances Dubai’s reputation as a global platform for trade and investment. Expo 2020 presents the region with a unique opportunity to exhibit the region’s advantages at a time when the world is focusing on Dubai and the UAE.

Increase in jobs and the talent pool.

An increase in economic activity is expected to create nearly 300,000 new jobs in Dubai and throughout the UAE and attract a whole new talent pool. Some predict that Expo 2020 will impact the wider region, with 60 jobs being created in the MENA region for every one created in the UAE.

The Expo is forecast to create approximately 905,200 job-years between 2013 and 2031, equating to around 49,700 full-time equivalents (FTE) jobs annually.

How could this benefit your SME?

Economic growth in the UAE will attract more talent and create more business opportunities for SME owners and entrepreneurs. Expo 2020 has awarded 4,500 contracts, of which more than half have been awarded to SMEs, representing investments of nearly 5 billion dirhams and creating around 12,600 jobs- years.
Additionally, entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses can take advantage of the District 2020 strategic partnerships with Dubai SME and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund to expand through the District 2020 platform.


Expo 2020 site will be redeveloped to further ease the setting up of new businesses during its legacy period (April 2022 – December 2031). Over 80 percent of the site will be utilized for District 2020, and it will eventually be able to house corporations and small and medium enterprises.


District 2020’s development is designed in line with Vision 2021 by supporting sustainable economic development and developing an ecosystem supporting growth industries such as transportation, tourism, construction, and education.

New business opportunities.

With several companies opening offices in the UAE prior to the Expo, business opportunities have been created and will continue to be created over the next six-eight months and beyond.
How can we be so confident? The reason for this is that, even in the absence of a World Expo, the region has been relentless in pushing forward an agenda to encourage the growth of SMEs.


The UAE government has championed the cause of small businesses for many years, with Dubai SME offering assistance to entrepreneurs in all phases of development. Further assistance has been made available from agencies such as Dubai Future Accelerators, which assists entrepreneurs in using Dubai as a ‘testbed’ to develop solutions for future global challenges.


In recent years, these types of initiatives have resulted in tangible benefits for SMEs, with the UAE ranking 21st out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 report and moving up to 16th place in its 2020 ranking.


Government-backed accelerators such as StartAd in Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Fund have been instrumental in creating a flourishing ecosystem for SMEs.

Expo 2020 is expected to result in a massive inflow of investment, which will enhance these opportunities further.

How could this benefit your SME?

As the Expo 2020 event is expected to attract approximately 25 million visitors, startups and SMEs will gain significant exposure to potential investors, partners, and collaborators. This is an excellent opportunity to leverage your products and services and a unique chance for enhanced networking in an environment where people are open and willing to interact.

Expo 2020 provides business owners with a unique international business platform for marketing their organization to consumers, investors, and investors from local, regional, and global markets. It is reported that 80 percent of attendees are expecting to be able to hold networking and collaborative events in Dubai, with the ultimate goal of expanding global trade.


This is an exceptional opportunity for UAE business owners to expand into new markets and build long-term business ties under the auspices of innovation and sustainable development. Almost 40,000 small and medium-sized businesses from 150 countries have registered on Expo 2020’s Online Marketplace to do just that.

Expo 2020 presents unrivaled opportunities.

As part of Expo 2020 Dubai, SMEs from all over the world will be able to establish themselves in the United Arab Emirates and demonstrate their contribution to opportunities, mobility, and, in particular, sustainability.

Business owners and entrepreneurs will be able to attract investment, develop new markets, and collaborate on new products and services to address the world’s pressing issues.


The UAE is taking this opportunity to demonstrate its ecosystem for business and innovation in the region; for SMEs, Expo 2020 is an unmissable opportunity to promote the value of their own business while benefiting from the favorable environment it is creating.