Bossladies Breakfast

WOMENA Bossladies Breakfast

Are you a founder? Are you a female? Well then, you are a bosslady! Join us for a breakfast of champions.

As a part of our new focus on female entrepreneurs, WOMENA will be hosting an exclusive breakfast for female founders of tech startups, and you are invited to apply.

Meet and mingle with other female entrepreneurs that are building great tech companies. Join the discussion and let us know the challenges you face, and what WOMENA can do to support and empower female founders in the Middle East.

As this is a sit-down breakfast with limited places, WOMENA will be curating a group that best reflects the various industries and company stages in the region. Once you apply, you’ll be placed on our #BossLady list, and will be considered for this event as well as shortlisted for future events and programs we plan to launch. We especially encourage founders flying in for GITEX to apply, as we want to hear from founders throughout the Middle East!


  • Date: Thursday, October 5th, 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM
  • Venue: Sum of Us Restaurant, GF Burj al Salam, Trade Centre, Dubai, UAE
  • Hashtag: #BossladiesBreakfast

Sign up now to be included in the list. We look forward to seeing you there!

Recap: Fierce Founders in a Man’s World

On August 23rd, Blooming Founder’s Lu Li joined WOMENA founder Elissa Freiha, in a frank conversation about gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the tech world, and how female founders can keep safe and strong.

The impetus for the conversation was the recent rash of stories and lawsuits coming from female founders in Silicon Valley, which brought to light the detrimental effect the ‘bro-grammer’ culture has on female entrepreneurs.

Some of the tech founders and investors that have shared their experiences

How does the MENA region compare? 

During the webinar, statistics from WOMENA’s research showcased that MENA was actively making strong progress towards empowering its female entrepreneurs, outpacing the US and the EU on the percentage of funded companies with a female on the founding team. We also discussed how cultural differences in the MENA region in regards to male/female interactions, actually worked towards creating safer spaces for female entrepreneurs to seek funding.


The percentage of female founders between the US, EU & MENA. (Data gathered from inc.comTechCrunch, European Commission, StartupDNA, Arabnet. No data is available for female investors in MENA.)

Tips and Tricks

Elissa and Lu Li shared some practical solutions they have learned while raising and building companies as female founders:

  • Don’t be afraid to walk away. If an investor makes you feel uncomfortable during the fundraising process, taking his money will only be the beginning of your problems. Have enough confidence in yourself and your company to turn down funding that comes with any terms that make you uncomfortable.
  • Don’t be afraid to call out sexist behavior when you see it. When something makes you uncomfortable, call it out and clarify directly (and diplomatically) as to the what the person meant by that comment.
  • Use your advisors and mentors to help advise or accompany you to meetings if you feel you need some backup.

Watch the video recording below:

WOMENA plans to continue to develop programs and initiatives to support female entrepreneurs in the coming year. If you are a female entrepreneur and would like to stay updated on these upcoming programs, please register here.

World Entrepreneurs’ Day: MENA Founders and Investors Share Their Top Business Advice

MENA founders and investors business adviceIf it takes a village to raise a child, then it will take the entire Middle East tech ecosystem to raise a successful startup. And as a young and emerging startup ecosystem, there will be crucial growing pains for first-time entrepreneurs and high risks for tech investors in the MENA region.

Yet with great risk comes big rewards, MENA is home to 3,000 active startups where the top 100 companies together raised over $1.42 BN in funding. With the acquisition of the Arab e-commerce by online retailer behemoth Amazon and Careem’s financial deal with Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing, we are moving the needle forward in the positive direction of becoming a global entrepreneurial hub.

As we celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation today on World’s Entrepreneurs’ Day, we highlight some of the region’s successful entrepreneurs and angel investors. We ask them what entrepreneurship means to them and their best piece of business advice for up and coming entrepreneurs.

Christopher Queitsch, CEO and Co-founder at

  • Entrepreneurship means being able to do something every day you love. It does not even have to mean starting a company. We even have many intrapreneurs at working on internal projects. It means creating something from nothing, building something from scratch.
  • Business Advice: Don’t start any business without first having customers lined up. Focus on sales and customers early on pays dividends in the future. But also – just do it, don’t let little details hold you back.

Elissa Freiha, Angel Investor and Co-founder at WOMENA

  • Entrepreneurship is a stubborn desire to create. To build a solution that we hope will make the world better.
  • Business Advice: ALWAYS write everything down, date everything, and have a legal paper trail for every decision and change. Also – Don’t raise money if you don’t need it: keep that equity as much as possible because too many cooks can ruin a supper.

Gaurav Dhar, Angel Investor, Mentor, and Co-founder at Stukk

  • Entrepreneurship means the ability to create businesses with like-minded people at every level imaginable. No matter if you are a seasoned expert in your field doing something completely new or a person who is in the midst of their college years looking to solve a problem on a regional or global level. It truly is an exciting and unknown blank canvas. You create everything from scratch and can be your own boss and create an ecosystem of your own to nurture and grow with jobs, CSR and more!
  • Business Advice: The entrepreneurship sword is double-edged. Success and failure are not far apart, especially in the early days of laying your foundation which has to be solid. Be disciplined, be relentless and surround yourself with people who are better than you in every way possible. Never stop learning or advancing forward. Remember what inspired you to start and always remain hungry to grow and do more.

Shaheeda Abdul Kader, Angel Investor, Operations, Express Print Publishers LLC

  • Entrepreneurship, to me, is about Giving and Never Giving Up. My father is my role model. As a young man, building his companies, he did not scrutinize the Addressable Market Size or estimate how many Multiples he will return to his investors. He capitalized on the opportunities presented to him because he wanted to Give, his family a better life. It is not only about passion, or creating something or leading an organization. Some of his ventures failed, while others were roaring successes. He never gave up and never hesitated to start or invest in a new venture. Therefore, Entrepreneurship is an Ode to the Human Spirit.
  • Business Advice: Be cautiously optimistic. Know that it’s just as important to learn how to Close a business as it is to open one. I know it is counter-intuitive to talk about entrepreneurship and closing businesses. If 90% of Startups will fail, it behooves us to prepare a soft landing for the founders. Young entrepreneurs should be aware of the closing costs and so should have some safety fund in case of such unfortunate events. In UAE, if the company is an onshore establishment, along with government fees, closing costs may include sizeable payments to the local sponsors as well.

We would love to hear what your best business advice are, join the conversation over on Twitter. Tweet to us @womenaco with hashtag #TwentyFirstAugust.

Catch 22: How The Booming VC Culture is Holding Back MENA Innovation

Womena - Breaking that Catch 22
It is a highly-recommended investment strategy internationally, for the benefit of both the investor and the entrepreneur, to invest in companies you understand. But in the MENA region, this has resulted in a cycle of not taking bets on (very rare) locally bred innovation yet lamenting their absence.

This begs the question of: how can we break out of a cycle of investing in tech transfer companies rather than true innovation if we won’t invest in technologies we don’t understand? How can we keep those rare innovative companies from moving abroad because the local investors don’t get the technology?

To begin with, the onus lies on the entrepreneur to simplify her language and be able to explain her technology and its benefits in 2-3 sentences. If the entrepreneur is not able to do that, then the advanced technology is moot. Granted, simplification is the hardest part of writing a pitch deck.

From an investor’s standpoint, there are 3 ways she can approach a new technology before declining because she genuinely does not understand the technology:

  1. Self-educate: When a new technology comes knocking on your door, instead of saying, “I don’t have the knowledge”, try to understand and do some research. And by research, I mean scientific journals and not news articles / thought papers.
  2. Use your network: Building a network of engineers and scientists who live abroad has been critical for Womena. Being able to call upon these individuals to evaluate technologies rather than rely on pure business, private-equity-type acumen is crucial.
  3. Try the product / ask for a demo: Innovative technologies are only great if they improve efficiency, scalability, user experience, security, etc. If you try the product and can’t tell the difference between the traditional and innovative, then maybe it’s not worth your time. But if the difference is great, then give it a chance! No entrepreneur has come up with the perfect technology in their first iteration.

Finally, I place a large responsibility on MENA governments and their schools to encourage / invest in local know-how that can both generate and evaluate new technologies. Research and development (R&D) is as important as importing international innovation. It is not coincidence that the nation that spent ~$500 billion on R&D in 2015 with the federal government being the second highest source of R&D spending is one of the top innovating economies in the world. It is not coincidence that companies formed by Stanford entrepreneurs generate world revenues of $2.7 trillion annually and have created 5.4 million jobs since the 1930s. It is not coincidence that startup companies created out of the UCSD reported more than $31.6 billion in annual sales in 2012-2013. WOMENA went on a world tour this summer and most startups sourced out of Europe had at least one government grant to develop their product.

While the UAE’s investment in accelerators / incubators and Lebanon’s circular 331 pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into venture capital is commendable, governments are better positioned to support scientists with limited resources. Innovation starts with science then moves to commercialization and venture capital. Needless to say, venture capital to some extent also acts as R&D spending as entrepreneurs continuously build, refine and improve their products. This means an investor should not expect a complete product before investing.

When government, private sector and venture capital come together to invest in local know-how, the economy will be armed with individuals who are able to BUILD, UNDERSTAND and INVEST IN new technologies. R&D will always bring the invested money back in multiples – for the government it’s economic growth and for investors it’s ROI. We just need to break that cycle!

Webinar: Fierce Founders in a Man’s World

Womena Webinar Lu Li Elissa Freiha

The last few months have been rocky for female founders and investors in Silicon Valley, with a number of harassment allegations being levied against prominent VC partners. The Elephant in the Valley project conducted a survey of over 200 Silicon-Valley based female founders and engineers and discovered that up to 90% had witnessed sexist behavior at work, 60% reported unwanted advances from male colleagues and 66% had been excluded from networking opportunities because of their gender.

Although this report was focused on Silicon Valley, the findings helped to highlight the unique and often invisible challenges that female founders face in MENA and around the world while fundraising and running a company as a minority in a male-dominated field. Recognizing the challenges and having a conversation is the first step to creating a more welcoming and safe ecosystem for female founders.

WOMENA will be hosting a candid conversation via webinar with Lu Li founder of Blooming Founders and WOMENA co-founder Elissa Freiha, to discuss how women can safely navigate the challenges of a female founder.

Join the conversation on August 23rd, from 7:00 – 8:00PM. Reserve your spot by registering here.

Have specific questions you would like the speakers to address or a personal experience you would like to anonymously share? We’d love to hear your side of the story and welcome voices from both sides of the gender divide. Follow the conversations on Twitter: @womenaco with hashtag #WomenaWebinar.

Special thanks to our ecosystem partners, Entrepreneur Middle East and Blooming Founders.

Gearing up for GITEX!

Since it’s early beginnings in 1981, GITEX has been MENA’s leading technology and innovation conference. In a nod to the powerful role that startups play in creating innovation, last year GITEX launched the GITEX Startup movement, which gathered hundreds of startups from around the world. As one of the movement’s first partners, WOMENA hosted panels on angel investing and the role of women in technology, met some kick-ass founders, syndicated with fellow investors, rode the world’s largest VR rollercoaster, and got a sneak peek at some world-changing technology.

This year’s second edition of GITEX on October 8-12th , we’re looking forward to partnering, along with the local angel community for the second edition, with GITEX Startup relaunching as GITEX Future Stars. The conference offers investors meetings with over 700 startups, an LP summit and exclusive investor events, where angels, LPs and VCs will have the chance to meet, share ideas and conspire to snag the best investment deals from emerging markets.

Here’s some highlights we’re looking forward to:

  • Checking out the Asian Startup scene. As emerging markets, Asia and MENA have similar challenges and transferrable solutions. We’ll hear from entrepreneurs achieving some of Asia’s largest exits and some of Asia’s best performing VCs.
  • Having conversations with founders who are working at the edge of the newest developments in AI, ICOs, blockchain and genetic engineering.
  • Represent some #bosslady firepower, with panels on investing and entrepreneurship by some fierce female angels, VCs and founders. (Don’t miss Elissa’s panel on day two!)

To snag your early bird tickets, sign up here.

Why I Like Metrics

E-commerce has been the latest big thing in the region with successes and acquisitions. For the many new daily entrants out there, the business model innovation you bring to the table will determine how successful you will be (unless you’ve somehow developed a teleportation technology to replace shipping, then I will sell my house and invest in you). This is very generic advice we hear every day and in order to genuinely understand what that means, entrepreneurs and investors really need to understand the underlying metrics.

The most common misconception we see amongst e-commerce entrepreneurs is confusing between Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV), Revenue and Gross Profits. A simple Google search will bring up many articles explaining the jargon. The Right Way to Calculate Revenue and Margins by Mahesh Vellanki explains it very well. Being able to distinguish these is fundamental, not because I’m OCD or I want to audit financial statements as a hobby. It is because this is how one understands and explains business model innovation.

Let’s go back to e-commerce. The basic attractiveness of e-commerce as a business is minimizing capital costs and maximizing profit margins. It starts with not having retail stores and, the more you innovate, the more you cut down on capital costs. Because I come from a consulting background, here’s a simplified spectrum to spice up your life.Gross Merchandise VolumeBetween the brick and mortar shop and the hands-off marketplaces/classifieds, there are 50 shades of business models (more or less). The way you translate these models to numbers will tell an investor and, most importantly an entrepreneur, if the business is innovative in a way that makes sense:

  1.  A brick and mortar shop, say a D&G designer clothes store, will sell a t-shirt in its shop. Selling that shirt is their revenue and their cost of sales are design, manufacturing, warehousing, etc. This is why they tend to have lower economies of scale than marketplaces (they don’t normally follow the hockey stick growth).
  2.  A convenience online marketplace will sell the same D&G clothes but will package them with everything else you bought from other retailers and send them in one package at the same time (like Souq). They are not designing and manufacturing any of these products themselves. The cash flowing in from the sales is not all revenue. A portion of it is GMV and the revenues are the commissions or markups on the sales. The cost of sales are what they spend in-house to get this product to the customer such as putting this item on their website, temporary warehousing, packaging, and delivery. The innovation here is that as the company grows, their expenses grow at a slower rate (they have economies of scale).
  3.  A hands-off marketplace is taking this one step further and leaving it up to sellers to upload their products, price them, sell them, package them and deliver them. Like classifieds. So the cost of sales here are brought down even more to remove the packaging, temporary warehousing, and shipping. The economies of scale are larger. The gross margins should get higher.

Obviously, this is simplified but this is really meant to emphasize why it is important that entrepreneurs and investors get their understanding of metrics right. From an entrepreneur’s personal point of view, it is important to understand if there are ways they can gain more scale and, from an investor’s point of view, they need to understand why this specific entrepreneur’s business model is more unique than that other e-commerce business they saw 10 minutes ago.

For an early startup, GMV is important and a high GMV means they have good usership or engagement or both. Using GMV as revenue, however, is flawed and bloats metrics in ways that are misleading. It could tell an entrepreneur that they are making money when they are not. Acquiring users, when they are not. Achieving economies of scale, when they are not. Competing, when they are not.

Call me boring, but this distinction is important and, frankly, thrilling to break down! Give it a shot.

WOMENA World Tour 2017

WOMENA World Tour 2017

Summer is fast approaching and WOMENA is hitting the road! We’ll be speaking at conferences, growing our networks sharing best practice, learning from other angel groups and ecosystems, and bringing the best ideas back to the Middle East! WOMENA will also be building bridges and raising awareness about the Middle East ecosystem through speaking engagements at tech conferences, creating buzz and hopefully attracting some new investors. Specifically, Elissa will be speaking at EBAN Annual Congress, London Tech Week, Viva Technology and Building Bridges Startup Ecosystem.

Interested to tag along? Here’s how you can:

  • Check out the interactive map to track the cities we’ll be visiting. If you’re planning on being anywhere in the vicinity, message us and we’ll see if we can meet for a cup of coffee or ecosystem exploring.
  • Have a question about the ecosystem, investment climate or angel groups in one of the cities? Message us and we’ll tell you what we’ve learned.
  • Follow us on our social media channels: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with hashtag: #WOMENAWorldTour.

See you somewhere over the rainbow!

Journey: Elissa Freiha مسيرة إليسا فريحة

Why did we start WOMENA? Take a glimpse into the #herstory of WOMENA as our cofounder and angel investor, Elissa Freiha shares their entrepreneurial journey on why they build one of the most active angel investment groups in the region.

Thank you WEORITU for featuring us and capturing our story in this beautiful video.

To learn more about angel investing, get in touch us.



Mythbusting Impact Investing

Taa’theer 2017–the annual impact and social responsibility conference–is coming up once again, and WOMENA will be joining the conversation to discuss how investors fit into the puzzle of making the world a better place.

Angel investors (at least the investors in WOMENA) in general tend to share certain characteristics. We’re risk-takers, innovation-seekers, and believers in the possibilities of technology and young people. We want to empower entrepreneurs to create jobs, disrupt industries and improve the world with their products. But there are some investors to whom the last category is very important. These individuals want to make profit + impact. They are the impact investors.

As with all buzzwords, impact investing can be surrounded by a bit of confusion. And, because impact investors in the Middle East can be a rare and elusive breed, misconceptions abound. With this short article, we hope to clarify some of the common myths that surround impact investing. 

Myth 1: Impact investing = philanthropy

Charity status is tricky in GCC countries, and there is no official classification for social enterprise business yet. In the spirit of innovation, some organizations tend to brand as businesses, but retain a not-for-profit or social enterprise model which generally blurs the lines for everyone. Here’s how we see it:

    1. Impact only: Organizations that are primarily focused on impact, with revenue stream coming from grants and donations. These are usually classified as charities and NGOs. 
    2. Impact first: These are revenue generating with various models including:
      1. Generating revenue from commerce + grants
      2. Generating revenue from commerce, but all profits reinvested into impact projects
      3. Generates revenue from commerce, but profits are split between re-investment and shareholder payout.
    3. Socially driven businesses: This type of business has a double focus: generating profit for its shareholders, and creating a positive social or environmental impact (often meeting needs in a developing market or focused on a socially driven problem). WOMENA investment AlemHealth is an example of this.

As angel investors, we are interested in funding companies that fall into the last category. Thus, we will evaluate your startup as a business, and we will expect to make a profit off of our investment. In contrast to venture philanthropy, impact investing is a much longer play, with investors seeking exits and returns similar to venture investing.

Source: EVPA

Myth 2: Impact investing = high risk & low dividends

To bust this myth, we turn to a recent report by Morgan Stanley. The report, which surveys over 10,000 equity mutual funds from 2008 – 2015, shows that sustainable investing funds have actually met or exceeded the median returns of traditional equity funds and had lower volatility. 72% of socially driven businesses surveyed offered above average profitability.

Even more interesting, is the rapid increase of impact investments. In 2012 impact investments made up, $1 of every $9 invested. In 2014, this number increased to $1 out of $6, amounting to nearly $6.57 trillion in investments.

And who is driving this increase?

You guessed it! Women & millennials!

Another Morgan Stanley report showed that 3/4th of women surveyed were interested in impact investments, and millennials were twice as likely to invest in an opportunity if there was a positive social outcome attached the business.

In summary, impact investors are on the rise, and we’re looking for profitable, high-growth companies that create a positive impact in the world around them. If that sounds like you, send us your pitch deck! If you’re interested in knowing more about this subject, don’t miss the ‘Investors Panel’ on May 16th at Ta’atheer 2017!