By: Sandhya D’Mello
2017 will end up on a very, very bright note and its effect will spill over in 2018 as women cohorts in the UAE join hands to incubate every startup holding potential to be a success in the UAE.
Khaleej Times picked popular names to check the pulse of the market. Leading women angels like Elissa Freiha, angel investor and founder of Womena; Sonia Weymuller, founding partner, VentureSouq; Maria Pearson, CEO, grow.me; and a very ambitious Genny Ghanimeh, founder, and CEO of Pi Slice & Mind Cloud Academy believe in being the game changers.
An Arabnet and Dubai SME research report indicates that at the end of 2016, women represented 14 per cent of all founders of investor-backed businesses in Mena. This figure will soar in coming years.
Gender distribution among startup founders has been relatively stable over the years ranging from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. The female founders in Mena tech startups that raised funding in 2016 jumped to 26 per cent demonstrating that the ecosystem is doing a better job attracting women founders.
The Dubai-based Womena’s mission is to support innovation, diversity and economic growth in the Mena region through encouraging women to invest in early-stage tech companies.
“Through our work, we hope to create a diversified economy, more women in business, more women on boards, more funded entrepreneurs, and more capital available to early stage startups,” says Freiha.
“In two years, we hope to be fostering a large and active community of angel investors, as well as running more programmes to support and empower females in the Mena entrepreneur ecosystem.”
In her quest to tap best women entrepreneurial talent, Freiha said Womena currently has 21 signed female angel investors that invest alongside other male members.
“Our investors come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines however they are all high net worth individuals that are proactive, collaborative and driven to make an impact. Some are current or former entrepreneurs and other are professionals that are looking to diversify their investment portfolio and help grow their community.”
Let’s look at VentureSouq (VSQ), which is an early stage equity funding platform based in the UAE started in 2013. The platform has a network of 650-plus angel investors from across the GCC. It has participated in 20 rounds into 14 companies from Mena, Africa, India and the US. The investment size in a funding round for a company has ranged from $100K to $2 million.
“Our objective is to democratise capital allocation by enabling individuals to invest in sustainable enterprises. We aim to build and cultivate a new class of informed regional angel investors that will serve as a viable funding source to ventures both regionally and internationally.
“This investment pillar is complemented by an educational one that serves to support our investors in their journey. We have developed our own angel investing curriculum that we deliver across the region alongside our institutional partners. The content addresses key topics related to angel investing around investment strategies, term sheets, valuations and due diligence amongst others,” said Weymuller.
The gender neutral VSQ has about 25 per cent of women investors in its network. “We don’t have membership fees so anyone interested in the angel investing space can reach out to us and be kept in the loop. The idea is for this to be a community of like-minded individuals with an interest in investing in early stage ventures,” added Weymuller.
VSQ has witnessed increased interest in the angel investing space regionally.
“In order for a startup ecosystem to flourish, the investor base needs to mature and evolve in lockstep with the entrepreneur base. We’ve seen growing excitement around innovation and this touches every level of the country and the region. Investment is one access point for many.
“People feel the pulse that these new tech-enabled businesses will be the primary beneficiaries of value appreciation over the coming years.There are some great regional platforms such as WAIN and Womena that aim to encourage and support female investors and entrepreneurs specifically. This itself is a testament to the growing appetite amongst women angels,” adds Weymuller.
Pearson, who has launched cohort Women-able 2017, completed phase 1 in a pitch event to mentors just before Ramadan. The grow.me CEO says: “Women had worked hard at examining their ideas and existing businesses from a customer and market perspective to shape value propositions that have the real commercial potential for growth and investment.”
She says examples of women entrepreneurs, who want to hog the startup space, are owner and founder, Nesrine Salah of Eshraqatee – a product offering to ensure members of “our community in their golden years” have access to personal healthcare and hygiene services, in the home with specialist trained care providers. Nesrine Salah is looking for investment partners to help her expand and grow this business.
Casey Cole from the HR Dept offers outsourced strategic HR services to SMEs. People are core to any business and arguably the most costly resource investment. It just makes sense to invest in supporting this investment and ensure the right internal support systems in place to support your business growth. A baby sitter app to match hard working families with quality child minders for those times where, as a parent, you need to be in two places at once.
“A global relocation app to help families move between countries and continents and connecting you with the insider knowledge to get settled was another of the ideas we will be helping develop for testing in the market,” informs Pearson.
“Women-able is an entrepreneurship programme that consistently delivers outstanding economic impact in the local economy by empowering women-led SMEs. Many programmes for entrepreneurs focus on winning investment or offer a business course with academic experts. Women-able focuses on practical business skills and building your confidence to start and run a successful business. Our next intake will open for application on July 30, for a September start date,” said Pearson.
“Entrepreneurship is also about execution and execution is about understanding first your context and where you’re operating,” says Genny Ghanimeh, founder, and CEO of Pi Slice & Mind Cloud Academy. Mind Cloud focuses on the region not only from business skills and markets perspectives but also from cultural and societal perspectives, which is something that western programmes cannot give to students from the region.