1776 to shake up Dubai startups

Barack Obama is a fan of Evan Burfield’s bold vision. Now the 1776 co-CEO and ‘serial entrepreneur’ Donna Harris are taking their ground breaking global incubator to Dubai 

In a matter of months, expect to see the world’s most promising entrepreneurs discussing viable solutions to pressing global challenges as they walk through the polished corridors of Jumeirah Emirates Towers.

This is not a scene from an upcoming Hollywood flick, but an imminent reality now that 1776, the world famous US-based global incubator and seed fund for startups, is establishing its first international location in Dubai.

Founded in 2013 by former ‘serial’ entrepreneurs Donna Harris and Evan Burfield and headquartered in Washington DC with an additional campus in San Francisco, 1776 is growing at enviable speed and acquiring a formidable reputation along the way, given its “big ambitions to solve meaningful problems for the world.”

Evan Burfield 1776

Much like 1776, Dubai has a bold vision for the future, for transforming the world as we see it through ground-breaking innovation

Evan Burfield, Co-founder, 1776

Profoundly named after the year in which the American Declaration of Independence was passed, 1776 was "when people individually and collectively collaborated and rose up to create new institutions and frameworks for a better future for themselves and future generations," says Burfield. 

"We're in a time now, not just America but the world as a whole, where the onus is on each one of us to use our gifts, talents and priviledges in a creative, entrepreneurial way for a sustainable future."

To do so, Burfield and Harris have declared investment in the most promising startups with potential to transform industries that impact millions of lives every day; from education, energy and sustainability, health, transportation and cities.

But its commitment to keeping these startups not so much warm as red hot in physical incubation spaces goes beyond American soil. Firstly, the company’s latest global startup tournament – the Challenge Cup – visited over 50 cities worldwide, including Dubai, to identify the most promising new startups and join them together in a ‘Startup Federation.’

But it is Dubai that proved itself a perfect fit for Burfield’s first campus abroad. “Much like 1776, Dubai has a bold vision for the future, for transforming the world as we see it through ground-breaking innovation, and this ideally positions the city as a pivotal location for our debut international campus,” shares Burfield, 1776 co-founder and co-CEO.

The campus will be housed at the Dubai Future Foundation, a new initiative by the Ruler of Dubai intended as a destination for inventors and entrepreneurs. The Foundation, which recently inaugurated its temporary facility in the world’s first 3D printed office structure, will also receive ongoing advice on policy matters from 1776, as part of the strategic partnership.

1776 start up interior
1776 connects startups to wisdom, expert mentors, markets, capital and talent

While other notable venture incubators and funds are also making inroads in the region, such as Silcon Valley’s 500 Startups, 1776 is the first one to establish an official physical presence in the region. The strategic partnership is the result of nearly two years of high-level conversations proactively driven by the UAE Embassy in Washington DC during which 1776 leadership held key discussions with His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, UAE Minister of Economy, the Prime Minister’s Office and other key figures in the UAE’s governmental, commercial and startup sectors.

According to Burfield, Dubai is “steadily becoming a regional epicentre for entrepreneurial innovation.” He cites recent governmental mandates such as the Smart Dubai initiative and Dubai's Autonomous Transportation Strategy as compelling indicators of a city “on the brink of blossoming into one of the world’s major incubators of innovation and future technology.”

Set for a soft launch later in 2016, 1776 Dubai will house high-potential startups from all over the world that meet stringent selection criteria. “We’re especially looking for startups who want to scale their businesses in Dubai and/or have a product or solution that can fundamentally impact the region,” says Burfield.

In return, 1776 membership opens doors globally. “Whether you’re in Lagos or Lahore, startups face common challenges as they seek to transform their ideas into successful, high-growth businesses. It’s all about connections,” he says.

Member startups will receive unparalleled access to influential mentors, potential investors and partners, top-notch talent and financing opportunities, all “critical elements for the founder of a fledgling enterprise, especially one that’s setting out to tackle important global challenges,” says Burfield.

Donna Harris 1776
Donna Harris, Co-founder of 1776

The location at Emirates Towers was a deliberate choice, says Burfield, situated in the centre of some of the city’s most influential government and commercial entities, in the same way that 1776 US is located a stone’s throw from the White House.

Much like its DC counterpart, the Dubai venue will host an array of events and exhibitions and potentially play host to leading heads of state, Fortune 500 CEOs, and major investors. The calibre of former guests includes President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

With the interest in entrepreneurship at an all-time high in Dubai, it seems 1776 will play a determining factor in developing and driving the UAE’s innovation agenda, positioning Dubai as a magnet for the world’s most promising entrepreneurs.