DIFC Tech Startup License | DIFC Innovation License - 10 Leaves

DIFC Tech Startup License

The Middle East has seen a flurry of tech-related activity in the recent years. Tech companies are characterized by rapid ideation followed by implementation at an equally rapid pace. Another commonality is that most tech companies start small, and then ramp up quickly upon securing funding. However, managing costs at the onset is critical, especially in the first year, so as to ensure that the tech startup does not fold before it manages to attract its first round of seed/angel investments.
A fledgling tech ecosystem needs good support from all quarters, and here is where the Dubai International Financial Centre has come to play an important part. Recognising the difficulties faced by early stage technology companies, the DIFC made a lot of changes to create and accommodate a startup ecosystem in its award-winning onshore financial centre.

What is DIFC?

The Dubai International Financial Centre, or DIFC, is a leading financial hub in the region for business, fintech, and lifestyle. Setup in 2004, the DIFC has grown to be one of the top 10 onshore financial centres in the world. It brought in a paradigm change in the region, by adopting a Common Law framework, with an independent regulator (DFSA) and an independent English language Common Law judiciary – DIFC Courts.
Since then, the DIFC District has matured into more than just a place to work – it is now a lifestyle destination, with retail outlets, cafes and restaurants, art galleries, residential apartments, public green areas and hotels dotting the landscape.

DIFC Innovation License

The DIFC started by attracting financial technology, or Fintech players into its DIFC Fintech Hive, which is an accelerator that has completed multiple cohorts, with over 100 fintech companies. It quickly extended the benefits of a startup license to all kinds of tech startups – fintech, edutech, regtech, and all technology-based startups that wish to cater to the region. 
The DIFC Innovation license offers heavily discounted initial and ongoing fees, world-class co-working spaces at low costs, and an ecosystem of fellow technology firms, seed and angel investors, and access to the leading venture capital firms in the region.
Benefits offered to tech startup licenses in the DIFC:
1. Well-subsidised license fee of US$ 1,500 per year, for upto 4 years*
2. Zero incorporation and registration fees
3. Waiver of the minimum share capital requirement of US$ 50,000
4. Minimum co-working desk space at US$ 500 per month, payable monthly or annually
5. Upto 4 visas approved on the minimum co-working desk space
6. Reduced visa costs of upto 50%
*The reduced license fee may be valid for two years only in some cases (regulated fintech licenses for example). 
Why setup a technology startup in the DIFC?
The DIFC is a leading financial hub in the region for business, fintech, and lifestyle. While the primary focus of the DIFC has been to authorise financial service companies, the advent of fintech led to an increased interest in both non-regulated and regulated technology startups. The DIFC Innovation License offers licenses to both, with regulated fintechs having to secure additional DFSA authorisations. Here are a few advantages of setting up a technology company in the DIFC:
Codified English Common Law:
The DIFC offers a modified version of the English Common Law, which gives foreign investors an additional sense of security and stability. In partnership with the common law framework, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) functions as the DIFC’s regulatory body and plays a crucial role in providing as well as enforcing the international regulatory standards that make the financial hub a popular destination for international businesses. While a DIFC non-financial tech startup company is not regulated by the DFSA, the robust regulatory structure of the Authority gives comfort to investors.
Premium Jurisdiction:
The DIFC is well regarded in the international community, being voted among the top 8 onshore financial centers worldwide. It’s emphasis on regulation, and visibility in the investor community also helps to attract further investments down the road.
DIFC Courts:
The DIFC Courts initiative was the first of its kind in the region, and the laws establishing the DIFC Courts were designed to ensure the highest international standards.
The DIFC Wills & Probate Registry allows eligible individuals the ability to register their wills under Common Law, and hence providing the ability for legacy planning within the center.
Visa Services:
Tech startup companies in the DIFC can apply for visas for their staff and their families.
The Government Services Office in the DIFC is dedicated to providing a wide range of administrative services, and one of these is the issue and renewal of employment visas. For tech startups, the DIFC offers upto 4 visas on the minimum co-working space that they have earmarked at the Fintech Hive.
The DIFC has implemented a path-breaking Employee Workplace Savings Plan, called DEWS, to restructure the previously defined employee benefit plan into a funded and professionally-managed, defined contribution plan. The DEWS initiative also offers a voluntary savings plan, allowing employees working in the DIFC to secure their financial future in an easy-to-manage fashion. DEWS has found significant traction within the centre, and together with the DIFC Employment Law, provides employees and employers with a world-class Human Resources framework.
DIFC 2.0:
The DIFC is set to undergo significant expansion and plans to use the additional space to construct more office and creative spaces, residences, retail spaces, and entertainment. That’s 13 million square feet of space dedicated to the pursuit of fintech and innovation and designed to accommodate the needs of professionals from around the world.
Such an environment helps attract good talent from the world over. Over 25,000 professionals already live and work in the DIFC. Technology companies in the DIFC are able to source better talent and access a pool of premium service providers within the center, thus making it a self-containing ecosystem.
DIFC VC Fund Manager ecosystem:
The DIFC recently implemented a new Venture Capital Fund Manager regime, that made it easier for startup and existing VC fund managers to set up in and operate from the centre. It is anticipated that the new regime will atrract over 100 VC fund managers in the coming two years, thus creating an ecosystem where technology companies and VC Funds co-exist, and access to funding is made much easier for techonology firms that set up in the DIFC. 
Such an environment helps attract good talent from the world over. Over 25,000 professionals already live and work in the DIFC. Technology companies in the DIFC are able to source better talent and access a pool of premium service providers within the center, thus making it a self-containing ecosystem.
Specific Advantages:
Here are some specific advantages of establishing in the Dubai International Financial Centre:.
1. The legal framework supports cross-border activities.
2. 100% foreign ownership permitted.
3. No restriction on foreign talent or employees.
4. No restrictions on capital repatriation.
1. Zero tax for 50 years on profits, capital or assets from 2004. 
2. Zero tax on employee income.
1. Highly regarded, independent regulator.
2. Independent, English-speaking, common law judicial system.
3. Distinct from the UAE legal system.
4. isk-based regulatory approach.
1. Central to regional deal making.
2. High concentration of international firms, investment funds, wealth management firms, banks, and financial institutions.
3. World-class regional and international law and auditing firms, and other professional services.
4. The largest fund domicile in the region.
1. Management offices, holding companies and family offices are located closer to the assets they own or manage.
2. The Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) is increasingly the center of gravity for the global economy.
3. Dubai plays a central role in the growing South-South trade, principally between Asia and Africa.
4. Well-positioned to harness the potential of emerging markets.
What is the process for registering a Tech Startup Innovation License in the DIFC?
The process comprises the following steps:
1. Submission of application, including a detailed business plan and KYC.
2. Pre-screening and issuance of approvals.
3. Completion of the registration of the legal structure at the Registrar of Companies.
4. Issuance of license.
5. Establishment card issuance for visa processing.
The whole process takes 10-12 working days, following which visas and permits can be applied under the new company. 
How much does it cost to register a Tech Startup Innovation License in the DIFC?
The costs involved are as follows:
1. Registration fee - US$ 100 (one-time)
2. License fee - US$ 1,500 (annual)
3. Data Protection fee - US$ 250 (year 1, US$ 200 subsequently)
4. Co-working space - US$ 500 (per month)

How Can 10 Leaves help you?

We provide turnkey services for DIFC Innovation licenses. In fact, we are one of the two approved service providers to assist with the formation of such licenses in the centre.
Our digital processes help you complete the formalities in a systematic and timely manner, with zero in-person interaction requirements.
We also assist with bank account opening, in most major local banks in the UAE.
Startups require a lot of legal assistance, but sometimes find lawyer costs to be prohibitive. Many then resort to short-cut methods of downloading template agreements from the internet, ones that can lead to many problems in the future.
Through 10 Leaves Legability, we offer customized legal solutions for startups, from the shareholder or investor agreements, to share-vesting plans and employment agreements. We also assist in designing holding structures to protect Intellectual Property, which is key to technology companies.
All this, at startup-friendly prices!!
Our market-entry solutions help you explore expansion into Saudi Arabia, Europe and India. We assist you in these jurisdictions as well.
Coming to technology, our in-house tech solution - tenL technologies, helps you partner with recognized and professional vendors so as to build your platforms and integrate them with financial service partners such as banks and other fintechs.
Finally, our access to Venture Capital Fund Managers, who are our own clients. helps put you in front of VC funds that seek to invest in startups such as yours.
Are you looking to set up a Tech Startup Innovation License at the DIFC? Plese Do Contact us
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