ADGM Tech Startup Commercial Licence

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What is the Tech Startup Licence?

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The ADGM Tech Startup Licence is an operational commercial licence with an incentivised (discounted) licence fee structure to enable startups, that meet the criteria, to set up and scale their business for up to 5 years of initial operations in ADGM.
Can anyone apply for this Licence?

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Yes, the ADGM Tech Startup Licence is sector agnostic and is open for entrepreneurs of all nationalities if they meet the application criteria. The licence requires the appointment of a signatory who resides in the UAE.
What type of business can use the incentivised Tech Startup Licence?

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  • A technology-driven startup with an innovative business concept that:
  • meets the ADGM startup criteria (seed and emergent stages)
  • has the potential to scale
  • promotes innovation, in terms of the business application and deployment
  • has current traction or is at least at the prototype stage
  • can be deployed in the UAE and contribute to the development of the local economy
  • has a business plan with clearly defined milestones, against which progress can be monitored
  • falls within the ADGM regulation remit and business structures
  • ADGM tech startup licence does not cover consumer retail, manufacturing or other activities outside of ADGM’s jurisdiction (Al Maryah Island), unless the startup meets the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development’s (DED) dual licensing requirements
What are the various ADGM criteria of startups and incentive benefits?

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Seed Emergent
Stage of maturity Number of FTEs 1 - 10 11 - 50
Year since first registration in UAE Does not exceed three (3) years Does not exceed five (5) years
Incentive packages Incentivised licence fee USD 700 P.A. USD 4,000 P.A.
Duration of incentive 2 Years 3 Years
Office space requirements 1 Desk space in an incubator/ co-working space domiciled in ADGM 1 Desk space in an incubator/ co-working space domiciled in ADGM
Visa eligibility 1.5 Visas for every desk space 1.5 Visas for every desk space

 

Eligibility for the incentivised licence is determined at the time of application and the duration is fixed. E.g. if a startup is approved for the seed stage incentivised licence, it will have two years in seed stage and will automatically move into the emergent stage in its third year of operations in ADGM regardless of the number of full time employees.


If my startup meets the emergent stage criteria, would I apply as emergent?

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Yes, if the maturity stage of your startup meets the emergent stage criteria at the time of application. If your application is accepted, a USD 4,000 annual licence fee is applicable and the startup has up-to 3 years before transitioning to full licence fee.
How long is the incentivised Tech Startup Licence valid for?

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All ADGM commercial licences are valid for 12 months.

For seed stage startups, the annual licence fee is USD 700, and it can be renewed once for another 12 months at USD 700, if the entity still meets seed stage criteria (ie max one time renewal).

At the end of the second year, it is envisaged that the success of seed stage startups will warrant transition from seed to emergent stage.

A licence issued for emergent stage tech startups is valid for 12 months and the annual licence fee is USD 4,000, and it can be renewed for another 2 consecutive years if it still meets emergent stage criteria (ie max two renewals).

Following the emergent stage, it is envisaged that the startup’s success will warrant transition to a mature stage and the full annual licence fee of USD10,000 will be applicable.

Do I need physical office space?

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Yes, physical office space on Al Maryah Island is required. Startups must have at least one dedicated desk or office space i.e. hot-desk is not accepted. The startup needs to provide evidence of confirmed office space by presenting an executed Lease Agreement or Membership Agreement.

Office space can be secured through the following options:

WeWork x HUB71: Alex Payani at alex.payani@wework.com.

Regus Business Centre: Abudhabi Almaqam Abudhabi.Almaqam@regus.com or Abudhabi.alsila@regus.com

Can I apply for employee visas with the Tech Startup Licence?

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The ADGM Tech Startup Licence allows you to apply for employee visas based on 1.5 visa for every 1 dedicated desk space. ADGM issued visas are for up to 3 years. See full visa fee schedule.

All visa related enquiries must be addresses to Gov.Services@adgm.com

Do the shareholders have to be physically present to apply for the licence?

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The registration and licencing process is digital. It is not required for shareholders to be physically present, all documents can be submitted as scanned copies online.
Are there any naming conventions for Tech Startup companies?

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ADGM tech startups are required to take the legal form of a Private Company Limited by Shares. As per the ADGM Companies Regulations 2015, the names of limited companies must end with either: “limited”, “LIMITED”, “ltd”, “LTD”, “l.t.d” or “L.T.D”. Other provisions on naming conventions apply too. The application for name reservation and incorporation contains validation rules, prompting the applicant not to use restricted words and expressions. The proposed name is subject to the ultimate approval of the Registrar, which can be communicated to the applicant during application process via online registry solution.

Can I use an existing company name when I establish in ADGM?

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To do so, you would need to show ownership of the proposed name, ie for example through any current licence that lists the shareholders. The proposed name must be in compliance with ADGM Companies Regulations and Business and Company Names Rules 2016, ie one of the prescribed suffixes to denominate the legal entity type private company limited by shares must be included. However, ADGM cannot grant a formal name approval until the application for name reservation or application for incorporation of a legal entity is lodged on the Online Registry Solution.

Are there any ongoing obligations for the company?

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Yes. In addition to renewing the company's commercial licence annually, the company must meet other annual obligations with ADGM including:

  • Maintain physical office address in ADGM at all times.
  • Data Protection Renewal: ADGM Data Protection is required to be renewed annually before expiry. The cost of Data Protection renewal is USD 100.
  • Annual Return Filing: Confirming the company’s details are up to date, accurate and complete (not to be confused with the entity's annual account filing).
  • Annual Accounts Filing: Includes financial statements disclosure, the level of disclosure and requirements for audit depends on the company's revenue. Accounts must be filed annually regardless of the level of activity of a company.
  • Please note that that the company has an obligation to notify the Registration Authority within the specified timeframe (as stated in ADGM Companies Regulations 2015) of any changes to the company’s information, including but not limited to, change of name, amendment of articles, change of address, appointment/cessation/change in details of directors and officers and changes to company’s share capital, shareholders and beneficial owners.
For more information, please refer to Guidance on Event Driven Filings.

 

Where and how do I apply for a Tech Startup Licence?

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Application is via the ADGM Online Registry Solution which is accessible 24/7. In addition to this, company service providers established in ADGM can guide you through the application process, including the business plan requirements and preparing the incorporation documentation on your behalf. View ADGM business directory.
Are there any additional costs?

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Yes. Additional costs include office space, establishment card and visa costs, as well as the cost of the annual obligations mentioned above.
Is the USD 700 registration fee refundable in case my application is not approved?

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No, the licence fee of USD 700 is not refundable in the event that the application is not accepted. Startups are encouraged to meet with ADGM team to discuss their business plan before securing an office space and submitting an application online.
Does my licence permit me to open a bank account and commence invoicing activities?

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Once your licence is issued by ADGM, you can apply for a bank account and commence invoicing activities, once your account is active. ADGM can provide you with a list of banks that are familiar with ADGM registration processes. The bank account opening remains subject to the bank’s policies and requirements.
After I submit the online application, how much time does it take for the approval process?

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This depends on a number of factors including the quality of the application, the completeness of information provided in the required documentation, the initial approvals from the immigration authorities as well as the applicant’s responsiveness to additional queries if any. On average, and with the provision of complete documentation, applicants can expect a processing time of five working days.
Does ADGM's Tech Startup Licence allow us to sell our products across Abu Dhabi?

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There is a dual-licence agreement in place between ADGM and Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (DED) that allows certain categories of tech startups that are established in ADGM to apply for, and receive, a DED licence without requiring an additional office space. However, ADGM will need to review your business plan and the type of activities before guiding you on whether they fit within the Tech Startup Licence criteria and are eligible for a DED licence application.

Startups looking to sell products need to seek legal advice to establish whether their activities require other Abu Dhabi or wider UAE approval or regulatory approvals.

Conducting regulated financial services in ADGM is not possible with a Tech Startup Licence. However, there are financial services related activities (such as software as a service), that are not regulated and which may be eligible for the Tech Startup Licence. Please contact ADGM to discuss further if you require more information.
How do I join Hub71, the tech ecosystem and community based in ADGM?

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  • Startups can apply for the Hub71 Incentive Programme before or after applying for the ADGM Tech Startup License via www.hub71.com.
  • ADGM registered businesses can also apply to work within the Hub71 community by emailing the WeWork x Hub71 community via Alex Payani at alex.payani@wework.com.
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