#WhereisWOMENA? In Dublin for the AngelSummit Europe! brings together the region’s most notable angels, VCs, community leaders and corporate innovators for panels and workshops to discuss startup and angel investing from every perspective. Here at WOMENA, we love syndication and can never turn down an opportunity for a good exchange of knowledge and experience, which is why this year, WOMENA will be an official partner with AngelSummit Europe.  

Conference speakers will include superstar angels and startup gurus such as 500 Startups Dave McClure, EBAN’s Candace Johnson and Startup Grind’s Derek Anderson. We’ll be sending our own Elissa Freiha to speak on the second day of the conferenceat 11am on the topic of investing across borders. Elissa presented at last year’s AngelSummit in Madrid, and enjoyed it so much she jumped at the chance to participate again in 2016.

In Elissa’s words, here are some reasons why angels should take advantage of the opportunity to attend this AngelSummit. “Whilst the angel scene is the US is quite well promoted and documented, the European and Middle Eastern scenes are still developing and event like this is critical for knowledge sharing and cross ecosystem network building in a time when it is still very needed.”

To learn more about the Angel Summit Agenda, check out their website here. Last minute tickets can be snagged at this link (for a 50% discount, use the promo code WOMENA). Note: Tickets will not be sold at the door. Registration will close on Tuesday, June 7th at 2 pm IST.

To follow the chatter over twitter, catch us at Twitter: @womena_co or the official event: @StartupAngelsCo with the #AngelSummit hashtag. Also, follow our other upcoming travel adventures with hashtag #WhereisWOMENA. Who knows, we just might be at the city near you!

Our Partnership with TechWadi  

Over the next few months, we will be highlighting some of our partnerships with excellent organisations dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Our first partner feature will be on TechWadi, a organisation on the other side of the world in Silicon Valley but a partner that has done so much for entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Chaired by Dr. Ossama Hassanein, Chairman of Rising Tide Fund, TechWadi is the Arab Diaspora network of Silicon Valley, bringing together the experts and leaders in Tech to help entrepreneurs in MENA thrive and grow in Silicon Valley.

TechWadi has built a network of strategic mentors, experts and investors from numerous backgrounds to support Middle East-based entrepreneurs. Assigned mentors coach entrepreneurs in business practices; counsel on business expansion opportunities; provide access to strategic partners, investors, or clients; and act as a sounding-board for new ideas and challenges. TechWadi is hoping to double their number of members in 2015, focusing on the untapped resource of GCC female angel investors, an area where WOMENA is supporting TechWadi.

TechWadi launched their Sprint Acceleration Program this year which is a 3 month acceleration program that targets tech companies in the Middle East looking for growth in the US. Coaches work with companies on setting milestones that they aim to achieve in the US and customize a program to help them achieve these milestones. As well as all the benefits that come with being in the global heart of entrepreneurship, TechWadi provides the startups with coaching, mentorship, positioning for fundraising and cloud services to the tune of $100,000.

The program aims at bringing 8-10 startups to Silicon Valley in 2015. It truly is an extraordinary opportunity for Middle East-based startups and WOMENA would certainly encourage any entrepreneurs to consider applying for this year’s program. You can access the application here.

We are thrilled to be partnered with TechWadi and are excited for future collaboration with them. If you’re interested in becoming involved with TechWadi, make sure you apply for membership or sponsorship! Our two co-founders – Chantalle Dumonceaux and Elissa Freiha – are both TechWadi members and can speak to the value of a TechWadi membership.

Elissa Featured in Arabian Business 100 Most Powerful Arab Women  

Earlier in March, Arabian Business released the highly anticipated “100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015”. This is an annual publication and really shows the excellent female talent across the Middle East. We were honoured that Arabian Business selected Cofounder Elissa Freiha as number 77 on this year’s list amidst so many incredible women.

It’s hard to know where to begin at extolling the achievements of so many incredible women. From Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi to the Saudi businesswoman Lubna Olayan, their achievements are endless and have had a huge and lasting impact on the region. It is exciting to see so many women involved in such a broad range of industries in the Middle East and we are looking forward to seeing what these women, and the millions of other women in the region, do over the next year.

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.

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.

Elissa’s Keynote at SME Beyond Borders Conference  

Our Co-Founder Elissa Freiha was invited to give a keynote address at the SME Beyond Borders Conference in Dubai last year. She joined top executives from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Raiffeisen Bank in a session titled “Finance Beyond Borders – An International Solution”. To an audience composed of investors, government officials and senior management, Elissa addressed the issues facing both investors and startups in the Middle East, namely finance and education, both of which are key to WOMENA’s mission.

In entrepreneurship, it’s all about the dream.

In business, it’s all about the money and the deals.

In success, it’s all about the drive.

There is, however, one more thing they all need to be about in order to secure sustainability: Differentiation.

Differentiation is one of those challenges we all need to face:

How will you stand out from the crowd?

In a world where ideas are a dirham a dozen, where anyone can learn what you do in about half the time with a quick Google search on their browser – How will you be noticed by consumers and investors alike?

How can you guarantee that you will stay ahead of the game?

Differentiation is the one challenge that inspires innovation. It is what will make your dream come true, bring deals to the table, and drive you further than you ever imagined.

How many of dream of progress?

How many of you dream of making the world a better place? How many of you dream of having or are convinced that you have the next disruptive technology or initiative that will directly contribute to the amelioration of quality of life for millions of people on the planet?

Right, that last one is a bit far out.

But they do say dream BIG, Right?

Ok, So let’s start small and work our way up:

What do you need to live? To survive?

What will make you happy?

Now, how can those two things be brought together?

Then, when you think you have your answer you ask the hardest thing of all:

What will make this endlessly inspiring so that you can do it with all the determination in the world day in and day out as all entrepreneurs know is the way?

These are questions all entrepreneurs should ask themselves. And these are the questions my best friend and I asked ourselves 18 months ago, on a summer’s night, under the moonlight, somewhere in the waters between Greece and Turkey.

What we came up with was the basic skeleton for what WOMENA is today. Thank god for that because what we first had would not have carried us, as inspired and determined as we are now, over the hurdles that we have faced and will continue to face for years. So here is the story, here is our process; here is the how and the why of WOMENA.

Firstly, we identified a global need: Financing.

Not funds, we all know there are more than enough funds. But those funds are not being used appropriately. It is the financing of ideas and businesses that is not being addressed. Because as things stand in this region, most people find financing through friends and family, government entities like the Khalifa Fund or Banks.

Secondly, we identified a regional need: Education.

Currently, investors come from friends and family who invested out of guilt or trust and didn’t necessarily think about returns or put in the time, or the due diligence that was needed. Higher returns come from higher due diligence.

The other side of education was educating the SMEs and entrepreneurs. The SMEs needed strategic investors, they don’t just need funding they need smart funding and this is something that really needs to be emphasized in the region. Most entrepreneurs fear that by having investors outside of their family and friends or outside of a bank, they must give up equity and therefore must give up decision making power. Which is not at all the case.

A massive amount of education is needs to be brought in on the sides of the entrepreneurs.

And Finally we identified our personal need: Our need to make an Impact.

The first thing that came to mind at this point was the trickle down effect of finance. Managing to spread the wealth and spread the knowledge. An average angel investment creates an average of four jobs, so you can imagine that if every single person in this room made one angel investment, the amount of impact that that would have on the community would be incredible.

So this was it. This was our basic structure that we came up with that summer night. And it was good. But it wasn’t…different.

It was how we’d achieve our dream, It was how we were going to make our deals and how we were going to maintain our drive. But there wasn’t that differentiation. So what we’ve seen is that angel groups exist everywhere, and they can exist in the UAE, and why not? But what we saw was that they were quite corporate and unattractive to a young demographic. And when you have a younger demographic like you do in a lot of the middle eastern countries certain structures can sometimes deter people from looking into a side of business that they otherwise wouldn’t have gone into. The other side of it, was the female side. Coming to the UAE and going to the few meetings that angel groups would have here I quickly saw that I was the only woman, or one of two in the entire room. This is not for lack of availability, after all 50% of the population is women, in fact, 22% of the regions wealth is controlled by women. And although women are a minority in finance and in the business world, they are NOT incapable. You find that 78% of all startups that are funded are run by men, 22% are women, Women in the work place tend to earn an average of 15% less however, women entrepreneurs tend to earn an average of 15% more than their male counterparts.

All you needed was a few people to step up, to streamline the process, and with a determined eye, build a platform. And that what we did.

Women are more interested in people development, so, we focused on the service side of it. We made an angle group that knows, every single member and every single member is interested in the amelioration of the other members. We help every company that we fund through it’s entire process, because we care about the companies that we fund and their success whether we, as individuals, were a direct investor in them or not.

Angel investing offers a great solution to the work-life balance problem. A lot of times in corporate environments you see that as women go up the ladder, they tend to drop off. That, lot of people claim, is because they tend to start families and have children and don’t have necessarily the same time. OR they don’t work in the companies that provide the right resources to allow them to balance both. Angel investing allows for that.

It allows for you to go to your daughter’s recital, it allows for you to work on your hobbies or your business idea, it also allows you to come to your meetings once a month or once a quarter and invest and meet with like-minded individuals.

What WOMENA is specifically and what we’ve created, is a women-only angel group. The investors are women because they needed this safe space, they needed to get away from the intimidating atmosphere of the corporate world and perhaps some condescension and perhaps voice their concerns, and voice their ideas in that atmosphere.

We focus on investments in the MENA region. We don’t necessarily focus on women entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurs are just as capable as male entrepreneurs, especially in the region. And since it’s such a diversified population in the UAE, we can’t specifically close ourselves off to companies just in the UAE. Members and Angel investors, tend to want to invest locally and regionally. So you have to open up your borders and you have to open yourself up to investments in Morocco, and Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon. This created a few problems for us. In that, how can you bring all your investors from one place in the world and have them invest in a bunch of other places that may have different laws, different cultural norms and different repercussions for certain actions. Well, we were able as a manager-led organization, to streamline the entire investment process for our members, we give them a stronger negotiating position and we allow them to be able to invest in these companies with greater ease and relaxation than they would otherwise.

They don’t have the headache of having to go through a lot of the paperwork and having to go between their husbands and their neighbors and their fathers and their bankers and their lawyers. They come to us, they bring who they like, and the terms are already set.

At WOMENA we really stress the idea of sharing wealth and wealth of knowledge. Our members benefit from diversification, high level deal flow, the standardized process which makes it much more efficient, and working and networking with like-minded women, all accomplished, all inspiring.

We focus on collaboration, and not competition. We focus on bringing all the different fragmented entities together so that financing is more easily accessible to SMEs and startups. We focus on investing in your dreams, we focus on investing in the deals, and we focus on investing in the driven people.

And in the end, that’s an investment in making a difference. Thank you.