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Why 1776 Expanded to Dubai

Evan Burfield

Cofounder & CEO, 1776

Dubai’s savviest leaders know solving the world’s hardest problems will yield impressive returns in the digital economy’s next wave, and that’s why it’s the first stop in 1776’s international expansion.

We set out to create a global movement when we started building 1776 three years ago and have seen world-changing ideas everywhere we’ve traveled during our annual Challenge Cup competition. We found more urgency in Dubai (part of the United Arab Emirates or UAE federation) for turning great ideas into reality than in any other city: There’s even a museum dedicated to the future.

Dubai’s dedication to leading the future hit home for me shortly before our Challenge Cup competition in February 2016. We arranged the Challenge Cup to run simultaneous to the World Government Summit, an annual gathering of civic leaders from around the world that Dubai hosts to stimulate conversation about how government can best deliver services to support people.


While walking into the Future of Government exhibition, I noticed a group of my friends in the Dubai government, all talking excitedly. I asked what had happened. They said that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, had just announced a major shakeup of the UAE cabinet — over Twitter.

Beyond the medium, the content of the announcement was fascinating. His Highness had appointed a Minister of Happiness, a Minister of Tolerance, and a Minister for Climate Change and the Environment. The Minister of Cabinet Affairs gained an additional title as the Minister of the Future so that all other government functions could be refocused on preparing Dubai for a rapidly approaching digital future. And he appointed a Minister of Youth, a 23-year-old Emirati woman who had recently graduated from the University of Oxford. With the changes, nine of the 29 cabinet ministers were Emirati women. (By way of contrast, seven of the 23 Cabinet-level positions in the United States are currently held by women.)

Later in the week during the Challenge Cup competition, we discovered even more of what was happening in the Middle East that you might not read about on the front page of the Wall Street Journal:

  •  Saudi Arabia’s Smart Detection Bra (SDB) addresses the lack of access to regular, reliable breast cancer screenings with its wearable device that alerts users to early stages of breast cancer.
  • Pakistan’s E4 Technologies designed a wearable gadget for cows it calls Cowlar to help farmers improve their herds’ health, optimize operation, and boost milk yields.
  •  MUrgency is building a global emergency response network. First responders are on the app. So, when you have an emergency, not only do you notify 9-1-1, but rather 9-1-1, the local network of first responders, and your family or emergency contact. MUrgency has support from MIT, Stanford, and Harvard and recently earned some nice media attention and contest wins.

At one point during the program, I was sitting around a table working with a small group of startups on their pitches. One was from Tehran. One was from Islamabad. One was from Ramallah. And one was from Jeddah. Unless you had checked their passports, you would never have known that we weren’t sitting in University Cafe in Palo Alto, California. We were discussing customer acquisition funnels in education, the complexities of selling into hospitals, and how to tell a complex story in a simple, compelling way.

The Dubai Future Foundation is working hard to capture that spirit, and that’s why we’ve partnered to find, fund, and grow the startups producing the best innovations in critical industries.

The foundation is leading the government’s charge to create drones, robots, 3D printing, and driverless cars. It understands that leading the future involves attracting promising startups from all around the world, committing established institutions to leading through innovation, and making the policy and regulatory changes necessary to unlock the power of technology to make people’s lives better.

When his Highness Sheikh Mohammed launched the foundation, he approved the Dubai Future Agenda as a strategic framework for the foundation, which will help Dubai reach its 2050 target date as the world’s most sustainable smart city.

Benchmarks include:

When I met last month with His Excellency Mohammed Al Gergawi, the UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future and Vice Chairman of the Dubai Future Foundation, he told me that the foundation will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of Dubai and the UAE as a beacon of hope for regional socio-economic growth and a global model for future cities across strategic sectors, in cooperation with government and private-sector organizations like 1776.

Evan Burfield

Cofounder & CEO, 1776

Evan Burfield is an entrepreneur, investor, successful author and regulatory hacker. He is the founder of four companies including 1776 and has helped build startup ecosystems on six continents (and…