Gaza Sky Geeks  

It’s easy to think of entrepreneurship only happening in the hubs of Silicon Valley and the like. But entrepreneurship happens all around the world even in the unlikeliest of places. Gaza Sky Geeks is just one such (incredible) example.

Set up by Mercy Corps in 2011, Gaza Sky Geeks is the only accelerator in the Gaza Strip. It promotes entrepreneurship and innovation across Gaza and provides economic opportunities for a place where youth unemployment is 60%. They’ve brought some leading investors and entrepreneurs to Gaza, including 500 Startups Cofounder Dave McClure last month.

Their startups face significant challenges and headwinds. With only six hours of electricity (and hence Internet) a day and the blockade of basic goods and services entering the territory, it puts into perspective the challenges we face outside of such restrictions.

As this TechCrunch article explains, Gaza Sky Geeks can also be seen as a model for other accelerators in some ways, even the most established ones in Silicon Valley. 41% of the founders on the accelerator programme are women, which you are very unlikely to see in Silicon Valley.

If you’re interested in mentoring or helping the Gaza Sky Geeks startups practice their pitches, please contact us and we would be delighted to put you in contact with the Gaza Sky Geeks team.

WOMENA Announced as National Lead for GBAN  

We are delighted to announce that WOMENA has been selected as National Lead for the UAE for the Global Business Angels Network (GBAN)!

GBAN is a newly formed global community of angel groups. Coordinated by the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), the mission of GBAN is to bring greater public awareness and engagement to the role that business angels play in helping new firms start and scale. GBAN works with policy makers, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial support organisations to promote angel investing to as many people as possible.

We are looking forward to working with the other GBAN members in reaching new angel investors both in the UAE and around the world.

If you want to join GBAN, it’s a very simple application and there is no cost to an angel group. Click here for more info.

Why MENA?  

The Middle East. Such a misunderstood and misrepresented area of the world. If you live outside the Middle East, chances are you probably have a negative view of the region. There are also some incredible stories and examples of enterprising and innovative initiatives across the region. If you’re looking for some good news coming out of the region, an excellent place to start is Baraka Bits, a relatively new startup that highlights good news from the Middle East. 

So why MENA? There are many answers to this question but this blog post will focus on entrepreneurship. Why should you become an angel investor in the Middle East?

A Huge, Untapped Market

The Middle East is huge. Stretching all the way from Morocco to the Gulf, the Middle East encompasses a very large area and population. What constitutes the Middle East is a contentious subject but there are at least 350 million people in an area as expansive as the United States. With so many people, most of whom speak the same language, entrepreneurs have a large market right on their doorstep. Consider this stat: 5% of the world’s population is Arab but only 1% of online content is in Arabic. 

A Growing Market

Every year, the population of the Middle East increases by 7 million people and the total population will almost double by 2050. This translates to millions of young people entering a job market with serious issues of underemployment and unemployment. To plug this employment shortfall, startups and SMEs have a significant role to play in creating jobs and opportunities for young people.

Social Media Engagement

The Middle East has some of the highest levels of social media engagement in the world with a technology savvy generation entering the workforce today. Smartphone penetration is above the global average and social media is widely considered to have played a role in the Arab Spring. On some measures, the Middle East is world leading: Saudi Arabia is a vociferous consumer of YouTube content with the highest per capita consumption in the world and second only to the United States in absolute terms.

Strategic Geographic Location

The Middle East has a very strategic location in the centre of both the developed (Europe) and developing (Asia and Africa) worlds. It quite literally connects the worlds together. Already some of the world’s leading airlines – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways – have tapped into the Gulf’s geographic significance, boosted by the simple fact that 90% of the world’s population is within an eight hour flight of the Gulf. Entrepreneurs too can tap into the region’s geographic significance and are within easy reach of new markets. If you’re an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and have to meet potential customers outside of North America, chances are you have a long flight ahead of you. There is no such problem for MENA-based entrepreneurs.

So what does this mean for angel investors?

When you consider all of these facets of the Middle East, it is clear that there is a massive opportunity for angel investors. Angel investors have already seen multimillion dollar exits with more to come. Internet giant Yahoo bought Maktoob for $165 million in 2009 and Rocket Internet Group acquired Talabat for $170 million in 2015. The leading ecommerce site in the region – – is rumoured to have entered the famed unicorn territory with a valuation of over $1 billion. It is not a question of if the Middle East has a multimillion dollar startup waiting in the wings but when?

Wamda’s Exploring Trends and Challenges to Scale for Startups in MENA  

There is little research into the Middle East entrepreneurship ecosystem but what does exist can be very insightful and interesting. Our partner Wamda is the preeminent source of research and literature into the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem and regularly releases new research.

Their most recent publication – Country Insights: Exploring Trends and Challenges to Scale for Startups in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE – is an excellent read and we highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this space. Based on a survey with close to 500 responses from entrepreneurs, it examines what issues and challenges entrepreneurs have while they try to scale their business.

There were a lot of interesting insights and data points but of particular interest to the WOMENA team were:

  • 28% of UAE startup founders are women, which was the best of the four countries studied
  • Only 11% of Lebanese startups and 23% of UAE startups have VC backing  
  • Over 30% of Jordan and Egypt startups have received angel investment
  • 35% of companies with a mentor have received angel investment compared to 13% who have not, with this difference particularly pronounced in the UAE and Jordan

This was just the tip of the iceberg for the data but we’d love to hear your thoughts. Why do you think Lebanese startups have less VC funding? How important do you think having a mentor is? Either comment here or shoot an email to [email protected] to share your thoughts.

The publication shows rapid developments happening across the region. While there were one or two developments a year in the four countries prior to 2012, the number of developments has exploded in the past two to three years. This can only be a good omen for entrepreneurship in the region. With 2016 fast approaching, we already can’t wait to see what happens next year!

PS. Thanks Wamda for adding WOMENA as a funding source!

AlemHealth wins Seedstars Dubai  

We love to see our two portfolio companies – AlemHealth and Melltoo – continue to grow and achieve great success. So we were thrilled when we saw AlemHealth win Seedstars Dubai!

Seedstars Dubai is one of a series of pitching competitions across the world organised by Seedstars World. With over 3000 applicants from across the world and only one winner, it is of the most prestigious and competitive pitch competitions in the world. Getting even this far is a considerable success and to win is a fantastic achievement.  

AlemHealth will now go to Lausanne, Switzerland for the final of Seedstars where they have a chance to win $500,000 of equity prizes. We wish you luck AlemHealth!

How an Entrepreneur Should Approach a Pitch  

Strong pitching skills are critical to a startup’s success. To receive investment at any stage of the funding lifecycle, a startup will usually need to pitch many times, be it to WOMENA members or to an incubator. Entrepreneurs may find themselves pitching their company hundreds of times over the company’s lifetime. Hence, it’s important an entrepreneur hones these pitching skills early on for the best chance of success. While the pitching process may seem mystifying and intimidating at first, there are a few simple things an entrepreneur can do to boost their chances of success.

  1. Check out successful pitches online

There are a plethora of websites out there with advice on what to include in a pitch and videos of startups pitching at demo days around the world. These give you a really good idea of what you need to do and you can pick and choose the best parts from each pitch you watch. Do this before you prepare your own pitch, particularly if it’s your first time.

2. Refine your pitch to the audience

Every pitch is different but most entrepreneurs give the same pitch to each investor. Entrepreneurs pitching to the WOMENA members might want to highlight how their company is targeting women while an investor with a background in social impact investing will want to hear what social impact your company will have. The point is that each investor is different and each pitch should be too to reflect that difference.

3. Keep it short and snappy

An investor might hear dozens of pitches over the course of the week. If an entrepreneur doesn’t hack it right from the start, the rest of the pitch is going to be an unnecessary uphill battle. Immediately, tell them who you are, what the problem is and how your company will solve it. If your pitch is more than 10 minutes long, then you’re entering dangerous territory – the investor’s attention is probably waning (if it hasn’t already gone completely) and you need to wrap up quickly to keep that attention.

4. Back up what you’re saying with numbers

Numbers are an excellent and simple way to show the strength of your business and/or market. They’re easily digestible and can provide considerable insight. Make sure you know relevant statistics, you can back them up (i.e. you don’t make them up on the spot) and understand what these numbers mean. It’s very easy to state an incorrect stat but it’s so much harder to recover once you’ve been caught out.

5. Practice!

The idiom practice makes perfect really does hold true when it comes to pitching. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be pitching to investors. Practice with friends, colleagues, advisors … anyone really. Get feedback too! The people you practice with could have some very useful advice.

6. Look the part

Startup founders’ dress is often associated with jeans, hoodies and T-shirts à la Mark Zuckerberg. While that might be the standard dress at work, it might come off poorly to a potential investor who doesn’t have a similar tech background. Notice too how Mark Zuckerberg has smartened up in recent years? There’s a reason behind that. You want to look respectable and show the investor you mean business. This doesn’t mean wear a suit and tie: that would probably look a little odd unless you’re pitching to a very formal investor or investment company.

Our Eighth Pitch Meeting  

As the oppressive summer heat begins to dissipate, WOMENA welcomed its members back for our eight Pitch Meeting on September 30th after the summer break. It was our first Pitch Meeting since June and we were eagerly anticipating the resumption of our monthly Pitch Meetings. The event was held at the excellent in5 in Dubai and we look forward to returning there in the future.

The meeting started off with WOMENA Co-Founders speaking on how to maximise WOMENA membership. It covered a lot of topics and was well received by the audience.

Following that, our two presenting companies for September – Pavilion 33 and Yaqut – presented.

Pavilion 33 is a curated marketplace for fine art from emerging art scenes, starting with the Middle East and Africa. They were part of the first class of graduating companies from Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi.

Yaqut is a gamified and ad-subsidized eBookstore based in Jordan and has become the most popular and fastest growing in key MENA markets.

We were very pleased with how the event went with over 50 people were in attendance and it was great to see so many new faces.

Our next Pitch Meetings will be on October 26th and November 23rd. Ennota, ioGrow and UserTalk will Pitch in October and Kanari and KinTrans will pitch in November. These Pitch Meetings are by invitation only; if you would like to attend one (or both!), please email us at [email protected]!

Excellent graphic from BECO Capital  

We recently came across this fantastic graphic from BECO Capital and had to share it! We love the periodic table theme – takes us back to high school chemistry lessons! Make sure you expand the image to see the whole image!

The table covers every form of investor out in the Middle East and really gives you a great perspective of the explosion in investment and entrepreneurship. From angel groups like WOMENA to venture capital firms like BECO Capital, there is so much going on and it’s hard to keep up. Hopefully this graphic will give people a perspective and introduce them to a few new organisations working in the Middle East. We certainly learned of a few new names!

PS. Thanks for the shoutout BECO Capital!

WOMENA’s First Entrepreneur Webinar!  

WOMENA is hosting its first webinar for entrepreneurs on October 13th at 1pm (GST)! It is open to everyone and will be of particular value to any startup considering applying to receive investment from WOMENA’s members.

During the webinar, you will find out more about about:

  • What WOMENA does
  • What WOMENA’s investment process and criteria are
  • What WOMENA looks for in startups

The WOMENA team will also explain how you can be considered to pitch to the WOMENA angels in January, February or March 2016. You can sign up here and if you know of any other entrepreneurs who might be interested, please pass on the invitation!

So if you want to be any one of the companies who have pitched to WOMENA’s members before – like the 14 above – make sure you sign up!

We look forward to seeing you on October 13th!