WOMENA Featured in Arabian Business Arabic  

In January, Elissa was interviewed for Arabian Business and spoke about the role of women in entrepreneurship and the barriers they face. Below is a translation of the article and the original Arabic can be seen on our press page.

Women play the most important role in entrepreneurship

Elissa Freiha believes that the journey of one thousand miles starts with a step. She also believes that the real secret behind success is trust, optimism, perseverance and personality. So, she took the lead and founded WOMENA, an angel group, with her American partner Chantalle. She wants to create a bridge between women who are working in investment and women business leaders. Elissa grew up in Paris and studied there in addition to studying in Madrid, Spain. She concentrated on international communications, political communications and marketing.

Arabian Business met Elissa Freiha and interviewed her about her personality, her business and her support of women, in particular Emirati women.

Her father’s daughter

Elissa Freiha considers herself very lucky due to her family. She has the full support of her father Mr. Bassam Freiha, the CEO of Dar Assayad since 1943, the veteran diplomat and the philanthropist through The Said and Hassiba Freiha & Sons Foundation. She says that she is her father’s daughter when it comes to diplomacy, success and creativity in life and business.

The conversation with Elissa seemed to be transparent and disclosed her tactful, courteous, good and honest personality. She reinforced an important point: she’s always seeking to discover new things otherwise she feels bored. She likes being practical and is full of enthusiasm about converting ideas to tangible reality. The following is the interview text with Elissa Freiha.

How do you see the UAE government’s support of working women and in particular businesswomen?

I can say that supporting and encouraging women to work in the UAE is an awesome and great thing. It has a clear effect, promotes business and makes business more successful. Women have been key to the government’s strategy of development and distinction because of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, God Bless Him, as well as the president, His Royal Highness Sheikh Khalifa Zayed Al-Nahyan and the mother of the UAE, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak. The UAE is the first Arab country where women have reached the highest positions. Actually, this extensive support has been a great contribution to founding many companies and businesses.

She added that Her Royal Highness Sheikha Fatima exerted great efforts to position women as full partners in building the UAE, the society and the country’s renaissance. This started through her efforts to persuade men and every sheikh of the tribes of the importance of women’s education, leading a great campaign for literacy, securing women’s enrollment at all levels of education, science and knowledge.

Elissa Freiha also believes the initiatives and generosity of Her Royal Highness Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan the wife of His Royal Highness Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, have had a great impact on what women in the UAE can do now and the development in their lives.

Why did you choose to study public relations and marketing over other academic possibilities?

I was sure that I would found my own company one day. I knew that to achieve this goal I had to learn, research and develop. I started learning the principles of marketing and persuasion, their role in creating job opportunities and how to sell new ideas and marketing it to persuade customers to buy your product. I started by studying the principles of international communication, political communication and combining this with marketing and public relations until I reached a point where I could achieve my goals. From the beginning, I was thinking of my future but I did not know which academic specialization I was going to choose at the start. I have always travelled to many different countries, specifically the USA, Spain, Britain, France and all the Arab and Golf countries. I believe Arab women can’t prove herself without culture and education.

What are the fundamentals you based your company on to serve and assist women?

Our work mainly concentrates on creating strategic plans to enhance the participation of women in the labour market and on encouraging them to capitalize, manage and drive businesses to success. We also assist women in controlling their financial resources, taking the right business decisions and developing their financial skills.

The role of women will remain indispensable in the private sector and entrepreneurship. So, we are working to support women overcome whatever difficulties they may face in her professional development. In our region, there are a large number of women who have substantial financial resources. However, they invest it through their father, husband or brother, that is to say, the support of men. What I want to say here is that it’s essential to keep control of your own finances by expressing your own ideas. With this approach, the investing process is not only about money but also investing the potential energy and ideas of women.

What is your advice to woman who wants to get into business and entrepreneurship world?

My advice is dependent on their preferred approach to business and investing. I would also advise them to get specialized training and education in the UAE and the Middle East. There are plenty of such programs. Woman in the UAE have received a tremendous cultural boost, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the UAE government has impressed the world with its support in all areas of women. Women have opened doors in all fields and can hold any decision-making position.

What are your perceptions of modern investment and the work of women in managing substantial projects?

In terms of financial growth and investment, I think we need to care more about education and development and to encourage women to manage more projects than now. In my opinion, I think large businesses are not investing enough resources in women. The UAE government has done a great job at supporting and encouraging women and, for this reason, it is crucial for women to take initiative and explore investment opportunities and managing large projects.

Can you describe the beginnings of WOMENA with your business partner?

I worked in many sectors, UNESCO being one of them. Currently, I work with my business partner, Chantalle, who supervises all logistics and creates investment strategies. She already has good experience and worked in Zurich and New York at investment frms. She holds a Bachelors degree in Economics from Colombia University. She speaks English and French fluently and this helps us reach more women.

And what was the moment you realised the potential of WOMENA?

We realised the potential to start and found our own company when Chantalle and I were on a summer vacation with my family. We had been thinking of a way to contribute to supporting women’s projects and launching our own business, as the government has many programs to assist businesswomen and female leaders with their own projects. At the time, I was already planning to return to the UAE and be near my father and sister. This is why WOMENA was founded and we wanted to support women who did not have the time to be angel investors. There are many different fields we invest in, such as healthcare, aviation and many others. Our relationships with our clients are very important so when I wake up every day, I am more enthusiastic that the day before to attract further investments.

How do you describe your relationship with your family in general and your father in particular?

I consider myself very fortunate to be part of this family because of the relationship with all my family members who gave me a strong and righteous upbringing. This has helped me in determining my priorities and choosing the course that best suits me and fulfills my ambitions with confidence, rationally and emotion, as well as making me self-reliant and giving me a sense of responsibility. My father is a big supporter of women working, contributing to economic development for future generations and building nations. He encourages me, my brother and my sister and further empowers us to improve ourselves in all fields and activities.

My father is my role model and he is very patient and diligent. He has been instrumental in my educational and business development. He is my main source of inspiration and his advice is very precious to me. My aunt, Mrs. Elham Freiha, through her work as General Manager at Dar Assayad and her political column in the Al Anwar newspaper, stimulates and pushes me to do better and preserve in business and develop continuously.

What are your favorite hobbies? How do you practice it?

By nature, I love moving and learning new things. For example, I like to try other cultures’ food. I also enjoy watching movies as well as painting wooden furniture and sometimes the walls of my home. It gives me energy and forces me to find solutions for different problems. I do my hobbies at home, where I can change the place of objects, like furniture, and sometimes disassemble and reassemble them using new pieces. I just enjoy reassembling them with high precision. I like as well rock climbing and hiking outdoors away from closed rooms.

What are your future personal ambitions?

I’d like to see our company, WOMENA, be self-sufficient and expand to various countries around the world. I would also like to work to support amibitious women capable of working alongside their male counterparts in finance and investment and push them further and develop their strengths. Likewise, I look forward to increasing awareness and promoting women’s initiatives while providing various services in the areas of investment, finance and business. I feel women have the chance to take responsibility in investing and finance and go far.

The Middle East Investment Landscape  

While WOMENA only launched late last year, we have continually been impressed at the growth of the entrepreneurial and startup ecosystem. Only a few years ago, there was very little investment in innovation and entrepreneurship but in the last couple of years, this growth has begun to explode.

We created the infographic above to highlight the Middle East investment landscape and the growth in the region but also the barriers for both investors and entrepreneurs. Possible investment funds are much more limited in size and there is a large funding gap past an investment round of $500,000 that needs to be addressed.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. As the infographic shows, the number of investments more than tripled between 2009 and 2012 and the vast majority of investors expect to invest in the region in the next couple of years.

Women have an important role to play in the Middle East investment landscape and we want WOMENA to be a great avenue for women to be involved. With case studies like Springbroad and Ellevate, there is consistent evidence that women can made a significant impact on the landscape.

WOMENA’s Third Pitch Meeting  

WOMENA had its third Pitch Meeting on February 21st and despite the awful sandstorm, we had our best turnout yet. The Pitch Meeting was again held at Art Sawa Gallery in Al Quoz in Dubai as it’s such an interactive and interesting space. Crowd Analyzer and MediaWave were the two companies presenting and were well received.

Crowd Analyzer is a tool that helps companies monitor consumer trends and sentiment on social media.

MediaWave is a platform that enables consumers to download real-time digital content.

The afternoon started with a fantastic talk by Heather Henyon on how to assess a presenting entrepreneur, providing members with a ranking tool to use as they hear the pitches. Heather is the cofounder of the Women’s Angel Investment Network (WAIN), the first angel network for female investors in the Middle East, and Managing Partner of Balthazar Capital, a local microfinance investment advisory firm serving the Arab world.

The event was very special though because the BBC was there to film the BBC Middle East Business Report. The piece looked at various women’s initiatives in the UAE, including WOMENA. To see the full report, click here. We were honoured to be part of the programme.

Again, the Pitch Meeting went very well and we are very pleased with the progress of our WOMENA community. Check out pictures from the event on our Facebook page!

WOMENA Featured on BBC Middle East Report  

We were honoured to be featured by the BBC in their Middle East Business Report. The BBC team filmed our third Pitch Meeting, where Crowd Analyzer and MediaWave presented, and got to meet some of our members and see the work we are doing. The report was looking at various women’s initiatives in the UAE, including WOMENA. The report looked at Emirati women starting their own businesses, the various government initiatives to support women in the workforce but also some of the institutional barriers women face, particularly legal issues.

To see the full report, click here.

Why Become An Angel Investor in the Middle East?  

While the term angel investor may be somewhat new, the concept of supporting growth by investing in a start-up is intrinsic to the way business is done in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). There are a lot of reasons to become an angel investor, whether you are looking to fund the next big idea, want that investment thrill or believe in supporting up-and-coming entrepreneurs from the region.

We believe women in the Gulf represent the next generation of angels with an impact; one-fifth of GCC wealth is controlled by women yet they don’t see most investment opportunities. It is not for lack of interest that these women aren’t there. We know the capital is there for females to be involved in economic growth and WOMENA is about ensuring our regional female investors have the networks, platform, knowledge, and support they need to identify and fund budding entrepreneurs.

Why should you be an angel investor?

We live in region where there is demand for new ideas, concepts and services coupled with a generation of aspiring entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss and succeed at it. This means there are a myriad of untapped opportunities:

  • Experts estimate that on a cumulative basis, the level of investments made by angels over the last 30 years is double that of venture capitalists – MENA has untapped potential.
  • With the economic crisis and unrest in the region, this generation has taken business into their own hands, creating a shift toward entrepreneurship.
  • MENA is home to some of the fastest growing emerging markets and entrepreneurship is at the heart of job creation.
  • Each angel investment creates an average of four jobs – this supports job creation and in some cases nationalization.
  • 47% of surveyed entrepreneurs say that finding partners is a challenge to expansion – meaning angel investment is the missing link.
  • There are gaps in the market and MENA entrepreneurs are taking existing ideas and successful tailoring them to the local market
  • If angels keep their portfolios diverse and are diligent about funding the right companies there is real potential for return.

Think of it this way, you probably are already informally an ‘angel investor’ for a family member or a friend who needed capital to get their big idea off the ground. WOMENA can help you grow your investment portfolio through directing your capital to strong regional start-up companies who are playing a fundamental part in changing the business landscape in MENA.

Announcing our Partnership with Mompreneurs  

We are delighted to announce our partnership with Mompreneurs today! We are very much looking forward to future collaboration with an organisation that is busy promoting female entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Mompreneurs is a B2B platform that caters to female entrepreneurs in the Middle East to promote and grow their business. The website provides a platform for female entrepreneurs to connect with each other, share expertise, advice, recommendations and contacts. It is a one-stop information portal where members can access information regarding various events and exhibitions taking place in the region or find suppliers and partners in various fields. The underlying belief is that collectively, female entrepreneurs will be stronger and better able to compete in today’s business environment.

As part of their excellent work, they recently launched their Entrepreneur Rising Course in collaboration with Impact Hub, which is a two month programme to give entrepreneurs the tools for success. As part of the course, there was a Pitch Competition where WOMENA cofounder Chantalle Dumonceaux was a judge. For more information on the course, check out their video where you can get a glimpse of Chantalle giving feedback to the entrepreneurs.

We see a lot of potential collaboration with Mompreneurs and look forward to working with them!

WOMENA’s Second Pitch Meeting  

On January 24th, WOMENA members met for our second Pitch Meeting at the beautiful Art Sawa Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai. Members from across the Emirates came to see two excellent companies – Apptuto and AlemHealth – present. The afternoon kicked off with an introduction to angel investing and important investment concepts. Education is critical to successful investment and our educational programme will be launching soon. Stay tuned!

AlemHealth connects hospitals in developing countries to a global network of healthcare providers raising the quality of care available to patients in the least developed countries, at prices they can afford.

Apptuto is an advanced preparation platform built for CFA Candidates designed to engage and motivate students.Members had some great questions for the entrepreneurs and were not afraid to grill them on key areas of their work. We are excited to see where these two companies progress and are currently conducting due diligence on both. All in all, an excellent event! Check out the photo album on Facebook!


How Angel Groups Work  

Angel investing can be a risky and complicated process, but  for many people the potential rewards angel investing offers outweigh the risks. As angel investing becomes an increasingly larger part of early-stage funding for startups, a growing trend shows that many angel investors choose to join a member-only angel network or group. In these groups, like-minded, high-net-worth individuals pay membership fees in order to share deal flow, due diligence and investments with others. Because of the shared nature of an angel group, they tend to help mitigate some of this risk and relieve some of the burden of investing while maximizing chances of success in an investor’s portfolio. But how exactly do angel groups work?

To answer this question, we must first understand the various types of angel groups, although most of them have the same basic processes and functions:

  1. A manager-led angel network allows each individual investor to make their own investment decisions, but much of the deal flow and due diligence is handled by the network’s manager.
  2. A member-led angel network is a group where the members are responsible for the entire process: the deal flow, due diligence and their individual investment decisions.
  3. Finally, angel funds are groups where investors’ money is pooled and then investment opportunities are voted on by members and are led and overseen by a manager.

Some angel groups also offer network-specific interests such as technology startups, impact investing, or for women-only investors such as WOMENA. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the first two instances of angel groups, where the investors make their individual investment decisions.

Regardless of the type of angel network, the process for entrepreneurs to apply for funding and for members to make an investment is relatively similar. Entrepreneurs are first responsible for applying to the angel network for funding once they have determined that they fit the group’s basic criteria. Once applications are received, they are screened to determine investment potential and viability. When an application is deemed viable, initial due diligence on the company is performed by reviewing the business plan including the market opportunity and size, assumptions and financial projections.

Most angel groups meet regularly, whether quarterly, monthly or at other intervals. At these meetings, a select group of entrepreneurs that have made it through initial due diligence have the opportunity to pitch to the the entire membership. Members then have a chance to indicate their interest in the companies and ask any questions they need answered before making a commitment to invest.

In a manager-led group, the further due diligence and negotiations are then handled by the group’s staff, whereas in a member-led group, this stage is led by one of the members. In the former instance, the advantage is that it is less time consuming for the investors, as the research and communication with the entrepreneur is handled directly by the staff. In any case, the major advantage of belonging to an angel group is that members with specific knowledge and experience can be tapped to advise on any aspect of the due diligence. Proper due diligence is key to increasing the likelihood of making successful investments and having access to individuals with diverse and industry-specific knowledge to share their opinions and ideas about a potential investment is an invaluable resource.

Once the due diligence is complete and all the questions have been answered, members are then asked to make their official commitments.  Because angel groups will only consider companies with a significant number (usually three or more) of interested investors, it allows for each individual to make smaller investments while still ensuring that the round will be completely financed. In the case that it is not, the angel group can tap its network of partners and co-investors to help complete the round.

At this point, the shareholder’s agreement is signed between the investors and the company and the money is transferred. Depending on how the group operates, each individual investor signs the agreement and transfers their funds directly to the company, or the group signs the agreement on behalf of all investing members and the investors transfer their funds to the group’s intermediary bank account which then transfers the entire amount to the company.

Finally, we reach what is perhaps the most important but most forgotten part of investing- post-investment engagement. Although the investment has been made, this is an area where angel groups have the most advantage. As angel investing happens so early in a company’s lifecycle, it is important to give entrepreneurs not only capital, but technical assistance as well. This could range from advice directly from investors on aspects of the business to introductions to the investors’ networks. Investing as an angel group means that the entrepreneur has access to a much larger pool of advisors and networks, increasing the likelihood of success of the investment.

Angel investing may seem like an intimidating road to navigate on your own but angel groups offer the opportunity to get involved with guidance and support from fellow investors and managers. With statistically better and consistent deal pipelines, collective negotiating power and combined resources, networks are an excellent choice for nascent and experienced angel investors alike. To learn more about WOMENA and how you can become part of our network of angel investors, please contact us.

Women in Leadership Around the World  

We recently came across this excellent graphic from SME Advisor about female leadership . It gives you a great sense of some of the strides women have made in business but also some of the hurdles. We hope WOMENA is part of the movement to give men and women an equal footing in the business world by providing women a space to invest in entrepreneurship and facilitating investment education.

While in the UAE women occupy 66% of government jobs and work on average 5.6 hours more than men a week, women occupy only 30% of senior jobs and ranked 115th in the world on the Global Gender Gap Index in 2014. Across the globe, the evidence is not much better either. 40% of companies don’t have a women on their board and only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.

We have definitely seen many positive steps taken by the government since we started to eliminate the gender gap, for which we applaud them. Equality isn’t going to happen overnight though, which is why we must continue to push hard.

Hia Magazine Interview with Elissa Freiha  

Hia Magazine interviewed WOMENA Co-Founder Elissa Freiha. The text below is translated from the original Arabic article.

The young businesswoman, Elissa Bassam Freiha, believes that the 100-mile voyage starts with a step. She has launched WOMENA, an angel investment group and women’s empowerment network with her American partner, Chantalle.

Elissa grew up in Paris, studying there as well as studying abroad in Madrid. She specialized in International Communications, Political Communications, and Marketing. She graduated with honors from the American University in Paris with a degree in PR and Marketing. She considers herself blessed with her family, especially since she has the full support and encouragement of her father, the well-known businessman and media icon.

Hia: Why did you choose to study PR & Marketing?

Elissa: I was confident that I would, one day, own my own business, therefore I knew that the most important skills to aid in reaching this goal would be reached through education, research and development. I started learning the role of the basic principles of marketing in creating job opportunities, and how to sell and market innovation/new ideas in order to convince clients. For that reason, I started to learn the principles of international communication and political communication between peoples, and their integration with PR and Marketing.

Ever since the beginning, I had known that I wanted to pursue an academic discipline, however I did not know at the time which discipline I would choose. I frequently traveled to different parts of the world, especially the United States, Spain, the UK, France, and all of the Arab and Gulf countries because I believe that the Arab woman is in need of a strong cultural and educational basis.

Hia: What is your opinion on modern investing and the role of women in these projects?

Elissa; With regards to financial development and investment, I believe that we need to pay more attention to the education, development and promotion of women to manage projects. In my opinion, I believe that women’s investing is weak within the field of senior businesses. The UAE Government has worked to support and encourage women, and this support has contributed significantly to the establishment of many companies and businesses. It has also efficiently and effectively stimulated female business owners to break into the business field.

How would you describe your relationship with your family in general and especially your father?

I consider myself blessed with my relationship with all of my family whom encourage and support me. They played a large role in identifying my priorities and choosing the positive track that suits me and satisfies my ambition through positive interaction. They encouraged my independence leading to my personal development and subsequent success through the promotion of self-reliance and responsibility. Due to his belief in the role women play and their contribution in the economic development that would affect generations to come, my father supports the work of women and the improvement of their life. He encourages my sisters and I to experiment because we were born in a time when women’s empowerment is strong in all fields.

My father is my role model when it comes to patience and diligence in order to achieve the best in all aspects of life. He went through a lot to support me in my life, both academic and career-wise. I consider him to be my first education and my inspiration to be creative. His advice is like a light that illuminates my path, wherever I go. In addition to that my aunt, Elham Freiha gave me, through her work as the General Manager at Dar Assayad, as well as being a political columnist at Al Anwar, the incentive to persevere, to continue working and to look for more, and to aim for constant growth and development.

What does your company’s business rely on?

We rely on the development of strategic plans that aim to enhance women’s participation in the labor market, and encourage women to invest, manage, and help businesses succeed. We also want to elevate the family and society and help manage their existing financial resources, make sound business decisions and develop their skills. The role of women is indispensible when it comes to competitive markets. Therefore we work to support women overcome obstacles that they face and attempt to find suitable solutions to overcome them. There are many women in the Middle East that posses the financial means but invest through a father, husband or brother. We are here to advise women to keep their agency and control, to express their ideas and opinions, to overcome their fear or hesitation. This makes the investment process about more than just money. It’s also about expertise, ideas and the investment of time and energy.

How would you describe your beginning, with your partner, when launching “WOMENA” for Investing?

I’ve worked in many fields, one of which was at UNESCO, and at the moment I work with my American partner, Chantalle. Chantalle oversees the logistics and strategies when it comes to investments since she has experience working in Zurich and New York in finance. She graduated in Economics from Columbia and is fluent in both French and English. With her, we can therefore reach a wider client base of ambitious women. Our real moment of clarity came when we were on summer vacation with the family and brainstormed ways to take part in the empowerment of women while also launching our own business. I was already planning to move back to the UAE in order to be closer to my father and sister. We decided to launch WOMENA for investing and women’s empowerment, especially women who do not have enough time to dedicate their whole weeks to investment. We aim to maintain excellent relationships with all our clients and I wake up every morning excited to attract investment in SMEs and startups in the region.

What has travelling and moving from one place to another added to you, as a person?

I grew up with three different cultural backgrounds (Arab, European and American). I was born in in Paris, lived there but travelled all over the world. My family supported this to encourage my self-reliance, independence, and perseverance and, consequently, I learned a lot. I realized that there is no one-way to think about anything and every country has its own way. I learned to be open-minded and that first impressions are not important. Travelling teaches a person a lot about different people and cultures, adding to one’s own personal and professional growth. I want to meet with every member of WOMENA so I can get to know the smallest details in order to develop the most suitable strategy for them individually.

What is you favorite hobby? Why? And how do you maintain it?

I love movement, and I love to learn new things. For example, I enjoy learning about different cuisines in different cultures. I also love watching movies, as well as painting wooden furniture as well as the occasional wall. I also have a passion for putting things together, furniture, for example. This has given me the patience and ability to organize, try out, and find solutions for everything, not just furniture. Most of my hobbies I enjoy at home, changing the places of furniture, painting them, or occasionally taking them apart and putting them back together again. I also enjoy rock climbing and hiking.

What are your personal ambitions and dreams for the future?

I would like to see WOMENA up and running, independently, and expanding into countries all over the world. I would also like to keep working on empowering women in investment to reach a point where women are equal to their male counterparts. I want to push women to be independent on their path to achieving their own ambitions in life, in addition to working on increasing awareness and education when it comes to women’s issues.