UAE spreads its wings at investment summit in Abu Dhabi
Investopia x SALT conference, co-sponsored with Anthony Scaramucci, promotes ambitious Gulf state as a world center for trade, tech and culture
INVESTOPIA + SALT
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – As the United Arab Emirates builds a national museum whose soaring architecture suggests a falcon in flight, this tiny oil-rich nation is spreading its wings in seeking to double gross domestic product, negotiate more than two dozen foreign trade agreements and take a lead role in slowing climate change.
The UAE’s top financial stewards trumpeted that message at the Investopia x SALT conference here last week, where Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director of the $232-billion Mubadala sovereign wealth fund, cited government plans to double GDP over the next eight years to 3 trillion dirhams ($817 billion).
“We are well on our way to supercharging economic growth,” he told an audience of some 2,000 investors at the plush Hilton Yas Island resort near Abu Dhabi’s Formula One racetrack. “We continually work together to strengthen our world position as a destination of choice for entrepreneurs, innovators and investors.”
The invitation-only meeting, aimed at promoting the UAE to money managers from around the world through its Investopia platform, was co-sponsored by SALT, a networking forum for investors founded by Anthony Scaramucci, who is best known for his brief tenure as White House spokesman during the Trump administration. Scaramucci, co-founder of New York-based SkyBridge Capital, has cultivated a role as a door opener for investors seeking business partners in the Gulf. His SALT [SkyBridge Alternative] investment conferences regularly take place in New York and Singapore.
“What I love about this country is they’re always saying to themselves: What’s next?” Scaramucci said in opening remarks while sitting onstage with UAE Economy Minister Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri. “I think it’s a place where international investors are very comfortable.”
Scaramucci also gave a shout-out to Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who blasted off on Thursday for a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. The UAE is enjoying a bout of space fever over its orbiting native son. Along the Yas Island waterfront, conference participants strolling in the warm nighttime air snapped photos of each other posing under the arms of 14-foot astronaut statues placed along the cafe-lined promenade.
Al Marri used the event to launch the “Investopia Marketplace,” an outreach campaign to venture capitalists and angel investors, institutional investors, large investment funds, sovereign wealth funds, family investment offices and banks. The program is targeted to promote international partnerships with the UAE in fields that include renewable energy, health care, transportation, logistics, agricultural and financial technology.
“We want to open the world for businesses to think about what kind of trade they want to do, both in products and services,” Al Marri told the conference.
Calling attention to agreements signed over the past year with Israel, India and Indonesia that helped increase foreign trade to a record $599 billion last year, the minister said the UAE is negotiating similar pacts, known as comprehensive economic partnership agreements, or CEPAS, with 23 other countries. The latest was signed with Turkey on Friday.
Al Marri also expressed hope for progress in addressing global warming when his country hosts the COP28 U.N. climate conference later this year. “We might have conflicts in other areas, but we all come together on this topic.”
The UAE has embarked on a wide-ranging effort to expand its international profile as a haven for investment, technology, cryptocurrencies, cultural sophistication and religious tolerance. It opened the Abrahamic Family House interfaith complex last month that comprises a mosque, a church and a synagogue, and cost a reported $500 million paid for by the government. Under construction beside the compound is an Abu Dhabi branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the Zayed National Museum, whose massive winged shape is inspired by the falcon, an official emblem of the UAE.
Among hundreds of companies represented at the Abu Dhabi conference was Israel’s Liquidity Group, a financial technology firm that announced plans during the event to invest $500 million this year in startups in the UAE and across the MENA region. Liquidity, based in Tel Aviv and New York, set up an R&D center last year at the Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) technology hub in the Emirati capital.
“We are committed to providing entrepreneurs with access to fast and flexible capital so they can realize their growth ambitions and contribute to the thriving tech ecosystem and vibrant community of global entrepreneurs, VCs and accelerators in the UAE, Liquidity CEO Ron Daniel said at the conference. In response, Dhaher bin Dhaher Al Mheiri, CEO of the ADGM Authority, said: “As the relationship between the UAE and Israel continues to evolve, particularly in the technology sector, we believe that Liquidity Group’s expertise and experience will play a key role in facilitating innovation and growth in both countries.”
For Scaramucci, the conference was part of his effort to rebound from the loss he took when the cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed in November. Founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who bought a 30% stake in SkyBridge two months earlier, was arrested at his headquarters in the Bahamas on Dec. 12 and charged in the U.S. with eight federal counts of fraud and money laundering, to which he pleaded innocent.
Scaramucci, who brought Bankman-Fried to the New York SALT conference in a much-covered appearance last September, said he was duped by the cryptocurrency trader despite conducting extensive due diligence examination of the business. The former White House official, who was fired by former President Donald Trump after 11 days on the job in the wake of an obscenity-laced phone call with a reporter for The New Yorker, is producing a podcast about the FTX debacle titled “Tales from the Crypto.”
“What Sam did was so horrific and damaging that I put together a six-episode podcast to describe exactly what he did from my perspective,” Scaramucci told The Circuit in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. “OK, so it’s not objective. It’s my perspective and my window into what he did, because if I can save one person from going through what SkyBridge had to go through as a result of what Sam did, then it will be beneficial.”
Scaramucci said he similarly needed to bounce back after his short tenure at the White House.
“Trump’s firing me looked terrible at the time, but it turned out to be fantastic,” Scaramucci said. “It raised my profile and gave me the opportunity to speak out against him when he was acting like a jackass. It emboldened me and created more business relationships for me. I don’t regret any of it.”