THE BEST STARTUP CITIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST: A GUIDE

The Middle East is a very diverse region that has some of the most interesting startup cities in the world. Startup founders can benefit both from deep networks and highly technical workforces in very developed ecosystems like the Tel Aviv Area, or from well funded and very promising ecosystems like Riyadh. Half of the top-10 cities in the region are Israeli (4 in the Top-5), while the UAE is the second most represented country. This article presents the 10 highest-ranked Middle Eastern cities in 2020. North African cities are not included, as they appear in the Africa article.

  1. Tel Aviv Area, Israel
  2. Jerusalem, Israel
  3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  4. Haifa, Israel
  5. Beer Sheva, Israel
  6. Amman, Jordan
  7. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  8. Yokneam, Israel
  9. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  10. Tehran, Iran

The Best Startup Cities in the Middle East

To find out which cities are the best places to run a startup, StartupBlink has analyzed startup ecosystems in 1,000 cities and 100 countries to publish its annual Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020.

Best startup cities in the Middle East

In the report, 9 Middle Eastern countries appear Top-100 (including 2 in the Top-50). As for the cities ranking, 19 regional ecosystems appear in the Top-1000, with only 3 in the Top-100.

1. Tel Aviv Area, Israel

The Tel Aviv area is the most important innovation hub of the “Startup Nation”, ranked 7th in the world (and 3rd outside the United States). This cluster hosts Israel’s top Technical University (the Weizmann Institute), has given birth to many high quality startups such as Waze and Wix, and is particularly strong in the Software & Data, Social & Leisure, and Fintech spaces. Tel Aviv has the honor of being the city in which more businesses are born per capita every year.

2. Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is Israel’s second largest Metropolitan area in Israel, and home to the country’s top University. This, together with its closeness to Tel Aviv, makes it a really interesting and growing startup ecosystem. The city ranks 55th in the world, coming a long way since placing 115th in the 2017 report (58th in 2019), and is currently the home of two homegrown unicorns. 

3. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, ranked the 99th best city for startups in the world, is the last Middle Eastern city (and the only one from outside of Israel) in our Top-100, for 2020. It offers founders a large pool of foreign talent, a high-income population, and a gateway to the Arab world. The city has good quantity and business scores, but still lags in quality, having produced no Unicorns or significant exits.

4. Haifa, Israel

Haifa, with its highly technical workforce, hosts development centers for many multinational companies, and its city officials are currently working in leveraging these assets with the goal of developing its startup ecosystem. It is the 143rd best startup city in the world.

5. Beer Sheva, Israel

Israel’s 4th startup hub, Beer Sheva is ranked 199th globally. A rising tech center in the country, it is currently building CyberSpark, a government-backed cyber innovation hub. The complex is expected to be the workplace of more than 40k people working on high-tech projects when finished in 2030.

6. Amman, Jordan

Amman (203rd) stands out as Jordan’s only city featured in our 2020 Global Ecosystem Report. The ecosystem benefits from the existence of a healthy number of startups and coworking spaces, as well as a relatively high business score for the region, but similar to Dubai, is yet to produce many high quality startups. 

7. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The first Saudi ecosystem in our rankings, Riyadh is the 281st best city for startups in the world. City and country expect to reap the rewards of the policies to incentivize entrepreneurship outlined in the Vision 2030 plan. With a very young population and deep pockets that have recently taken an interest in Venture Capital investing – the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has important stakes in Uber and Softbank’s Vision Fund, among others – Riyadh has the potential to become an important player in the region. 

8. Yokneam, Israel

With a population smaller than 30k, Yokneam is the smallest city in this list. Ranked 296th in the world, it is an inspiring case study of a small town, relatively far from other cities, that has received tax cuts and managed to use them in a cost-efficient way to create a strong hub. Mellanox Technologies (founded in Yokneam in 1999 and sold for just under $7b in 2019) is the biggest success so far, very impressive for such a small town.

9. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Still relatively lowly ranked at 315th, the city made a significant leap in the rankings (188 spots) to become one of the best startup cities in the Middle East. Government support to the tech scene has been key to this significant improvement. The announcement of a $250m fund in late 2019 for investing in homegrown startups is proof of the continued efforts towards the development of this interesting ecosystem.

10. Tehran, Iran

Iran faces very complex geopolitical challenges, and Tehran doesn’t escape them. Tehran ranks 338th globally, but it’s very inspiring to see it standing its ground at the regional level. Country and city have enormous unleashed potential, but current difficulties make it close to impossible for them to improve.

Untapped potential

Half of the ecosystems in this ranking are Israeli cities. This clearly tells us that the country is a great example for ecosystems around the world. Nevertheless, as most Arab countries are bigger and wealthier, there’s the sense that untapped potential isn’t being seized. We see hopeful signs in countries like the UAE, that are leading development in a region with very few cities in the world’s Top-100.


This list was compiled based on the results of Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report 2020 that ranked 1,000 cities and 100 countries worldwide. If your city was not included in this list yet but you want to find out the current status of your local startup ecosystem, download the Report for free here and start discovering. Compiling the list for the Middle East was made simple with the help of the PRO account, and Ecosystem Partners

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