Welcome Executive Women!  

Womena is happy to announce that we have a new ally in our journey to increase women’s opportunities and empowerment in the MENA region. Enter Executive Women, a magazine that serves as the perfect resource to women in business and female angel investors.

Executive Women provides a platform to highlight the achievements of inspiring women who are changing the face of business in the MENA region, including educators, humanitarian pioneers, media personalities, entrepreneurs, scientists and business leaders. In addition, Executive Women offers useful tips and coaching on business subjects such as leadership, management and career advice, as well as curated content on social events, fashion and culture. The website even offers a monthly personal development and wellness to do list.

The magazine was launched by the UAE chapter of the CEO Clubs Network Worldwide, one of the largest business networking clubs in the world. It’s accompanied by the CEO Clubs Business Women, a social club designed to provide MENA businesswomen with business opportunities, business development and support, as well as special women international delegations and networking events for ladies at all levels- from start-ups and sole traders through to director level.

Womena will be partnering with Executive Women throughout the coming year, so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events!

To learn more about Executive Women, head over to their website or contact them directly here.

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What resources are there for entrepreneurs in the Middle East?  

There has been an explosion in entrepreneurship in the Middle East in the last five years and this has corresponded with an increase in the number of organisations supporting entrepreneurship. These include incubators, coworking spaces, incubators and angel groups like WOMENA.

At WOMENA, we’ve been trying to track this growth to ensure that we know as much as possible going on in the region. To that end, we’ve created a document for Middle East-based entrepreneurs listing a variety of resources across the region. It’s very much a work in progress and there are still a lot of resources to add.

We wanted to get your thoughts though: is it useful? How can we make it more useful? What else should we include? Would you rather the resources are broken down by country than by type? We always love to hear from you so add a comment below or email us!

The Multiplier Effect from Maktoob’s Acquisition  

Maktoob was the Middle East’s first big entrepreneur success story. After Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury grinded away to make the company a success (read Christopher Schroeder’s excellent book – Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East – for a full story), they sold the company to Yahoo! for $170 million in 2009.

At WOMENA, we knew the Maktoob story well but what we didn’t know was how significant the multiplier effect on the wider ecosystem was after its acquisition. Until, that is, we came across Endevour’s fascinating report: “Multiplying Impact: Amman’s High-Growth ICT Industry”.

As the image above succinctly shows, there was a significant network effect in Jordan and across the wider Middle East following Maktoob’s sale. Toukan setup that is the Middle East’s first unicorn and has seen strong growth across the region. Some of the other well known startups that can be directly attributed to Maktoob include Nibras, Arabia Weather, Khodarji, Sukar, Marka VIP and Jabbar Internet Group.

It shows how powerful the entrepreneurship ecosystem is. If one company can have such a significant multiplier effect, imagine what the multiplier effect is of the thousands of startups that have since emerged? What’s even more exciting is that this is only the beginning! The Middle East is very much in the early stages of its entrepreneurship development and the next few years will undoubtedly be exciting.

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 a venture capitalist. 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.

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.

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, for example. The point is that each investor is different and each pitch should be too to reflect that difference.

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.

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.


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.

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.

Bayt’s Entrepreneurship in the Middle East Survey  

As we are all well aware, entrepreneurship in the Middle East has exploded in recent years and becoming an important source of growth and employment in the region. Evaluating quantitatively entrepreneurship is difficult though and Bayt, the Middle East’s leading recruiting platform, has released several studies and surveys about entrepreneurship in recent years.

In November, Bayt published the results of one of their most comprehensive surveys into entrepreneurship the Middle East has seen. Bayt’s Entrepreneurship in the Middle East Survey 2015 set out to see what the state of entrepreneurship is in the Middle East and there were some very revealing findings. The clear result of all the data is that more and more people in the Middle East are interested in entrepreneurship and are looking to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Here are Bayt’s main takeaways from the results:

  • Given a choice, 64% of respondents would prefer to have their own business
  • The top advice respondents would give to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to not be afraid of failure (38%)
  • Almost half of respondents (48%) do not have any preference when it comes to the best time to set up a business
  • 7 in 10 respondents think that entrepreneurs are ‘profit-driven’
  • 97% of respondents know at least one successful entrepreneur in their country of residence

To see the full results, click here.

Introducing Our New Partners  

As you may have gathered from our Year in Review post, it’s been a busy year for WOMENA and that extends to partnerships! We believe the development of partnerships with other organisations in the entrepreneurship ecosystem is very important. We want entrepreneurs and investors we speak with to benefit as much as possible from the exciting entrepreneurship ecosystem and our partners all provide excellent resources and programmes for precisely that.

We’ve profiled our partners previously, which you can find here, here and here. So without further ado, meet our new partners!

Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority conserves and promotes the heritage of Abu Dhabi with a variety of programmes and events throughout the year. They are keen to promote entrepreneurship within the emirate and will support startups’ expansions into the UAE.

Dubai Business Women Council (DBWC) is the official organisation for women professionals and entrepreneurs in Dubai. They host business events across the year, designed to promote women’s involvement in business and entrepreneurship.

e7/Promise of a Generation is a year long programme for women aged between 18 and 25 to develop and implement projects that benefit their community with five participants from each emirate.

Iliad Partners is a Dubai-based venture capital firm that invests in seed stage and Series A startups that are globally minded.

in5 is WOMENA’s ecosystem partner and run an excellent coworking space for entrepreneurs in Dubai. They support entrepreneurs in various ways from licensing to acceleration.

MAGNiTT connects entrepreneurs to investors, mentors and cofounders.

Meera Kaul Foundation works to eradicate gender inequality in all walks of life through education, programmes, seminars and conferences.

Oqal is Saudi Arabia’s first and only angel group with branches in the Eastern Province, Riyadh and Jeddah.

MENA Exits  

It’s an exciting time to be working in the Middle East entrepreneurship ecosystem. 10 years ago uttering the world ‘startup’ may have been met with a quizzical look. Today, there’s a real buzz and excitement from all those working in entrepreneurship (and many outside too) and the explosion in the number of startups is evidence of this.

While the increase in the number of startups across the Middle East has been very welcome, how has this translated to exits? The first ‘big’ exit, and arguably the catalyst for the growth in entrepreneurship in the Middle East, was the sale of Maktoob, the first bilingual Arabic and English email provider, to Yahoo! for $164m in 2009.

It was not until this year that this acquisition was matched in financial terms. First, Rocket Internet acquired Kuwait’s Talabat, the online food delivery service, for $170m in February. Only a few months later though, this was blown out of the water in terms of size with Delivery Hero’s acquisition of Turkey’s Yemeksepti, another online food delivery service. While you may not have heard of Yemeksepti, you are probably a lot more likely to know the name under which it operates in the GCC: Foodonclick.

In the preceding years, there were numerous smaller acquisitions in a variety of sectors, including (but not limited to):

  • Tiger Global Management bought Cobone, a daily deals website, for around $40 million
  • Thomson Reuters bought Zawya, the business information portal, for an estimated $40 million
  • PAYFORT acquired White Payments, an online payments solution, for an undisclosed amount
  • SAS Holding acquired Glowork, a Saudi company that connects women with jobs, for $16 million
  • OLX bought Dubizzle, the classified listings website, for an undisclosed amount
  • Japan’s Cookpad bought Shahiya, an Arabic recipe website, for $13.5 million

What’s interesting to see as well is the number of late-stage startups acquiring other early-stage startups to further expand. For example, Careem acquired Taxiii in Morocco and Souq acquired Sukar. Exits have not been limited to global investment management firms, private equity firms or the like. If anything, Middle East based firms have been more active than non-MENA firms with startup acquisition.

We’re also seeing an increasing number of large and later stage rounds in the region. Just last month, Careem, the car-hailing app, raised a $60 million Series C round. Fetchr was the recipient of New Enterprise Associates’ first investment in the Middle East as part of its $11 million Series A round and last year Souq raised a $75 million round.  

So what does this mean for MENA? Well it proves that the entrepreneurship path can lead to big rewards for founders, their employees and investors. There’s a clear uptick in both exits and large rounds across the Middle East and we only see that trend continuing. For angel investors, the trend is particularly welcome news. With greater exit opportunities for startups, the chance of seeing a return on their investment increases.

Interview with Kate Dyer, Cofounder of Dish  

If you’ve ever attended one of our Pitch Meetings, you’ll know how fantastic the food is. That’s all down to the amazing Dish Catering & Events, one of the Middle East’s leading caterers. We don’t have a Pitch Meeting go by without someone sending us an email afterwards how much they loved the catering!

We had the chance to speak to Kate Dyer, the Cofounder and Stylist at Dish, who illuminated on Dish and what it’s like running a catering business.

Can you introduce yourself?

Kate Dyer – Cofounder and Stylist at Dish Catering & Events

What first brought you to Dubai?

Travel and opportunity, I was always interested in the region and I first landed here in 2005 at the ripe age of 21. I flew with Emirates for a couple of years before working in branding and marketing and then finally taking the plunge with my husband to open Dish.

Can you introduce Dish?

Dish Catering is a boutique, high end catering service with a focus on “service with personality and food that steals the show”.

Why did you found Dish?

Both Henry and myself have worked in catering and hospitality in Melbourne. We saw a real gap in the market for reliable service, exciting creative food concepts and most of all businesses run with passion and care.

What opportunities are there for caterers in the UAE?

Huge opportunities. It’s constant and growing. Just when you think it can’t get bigger, it does. Dubai is an amazing place, you just have to talk to people and show that you care about what you do and you can succeed. The events here are extravagant, luxurious and exciting. We are constantly evolving as our clients interests change and grow.

What’s been the strangest/craziest/most random catering job you’ve worked on in the UAE?

Ooh wow there’s been a few. Breakfast for 40 on hot air balloons, Eggs Benedict nonetheless, elegant luxurious sit down dinners in the desert for 500 – a sandy affair. We have also worked on gala dinners for 500 on Nurai Island, the entire operation has to go over on boats at 3am (ovens, water, gas bottles, tables – the works!…)

What are the strengths and weaknesses of setting up a business in the UAE?

Bureaucratically it’s difficult. There’s a lot of red tape and administration, hoops to jump through, especially when opening an operationally sound kitchen. On the plus side the strict guidelines in the UAE for food safely and handling means we know our kitchen is one of the best in the region, if not the world.

Do you have any advice for potential entrepreneurs looking to start a business in the UAE?

Yes be patient, find mentors, ask questions and always be on the edge of your comfort zone. If you’re not pushing yourself you’re not growing.

Is there anything you would have done differently when starting up Dish?

Yes – built a bigger kitchen! We started with a modest space but we outgrew it quickly, since we have built a kitchen 4 times the size, a 12 month process. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

How have you found being an entrepreneur and cofounder?

It’s exciting and challenging but very rewarding, Ours is also a family business, so Dish really is part of who we are.

Kerning Cultures’ Startup Series: UAE  

Kerning Cultures is a wonderful initiative to showcase the real Middle East using interactive podcasts. The aim is to portray the complexity of the region and not paint it in black and white terms, as is too frequently the case. The topics on their podcasts include philosophy, entrepreneurship, culture, history, art and technology and provide the listener with overdue complexity.

One of their first podcasts featured WOMENA Cofounder Elissa. Titled Startup Series: UAE, the participants were asked “Is Dubai the next Silicon Valley of the Middle East?”

Elissa starts off first and gave her story, her background and the starting point for WOMENA. The podcast weaves together interviews with Elissa, Baher Alhakim (the Cofounder of Medicus who is presenting at our November Pitch Meeting) and Aborz Toofani (Cofounder of Snappcard). Medicus is an intelligent platform to interpret and visualise your medical tests  Snappcard is a Dubai-based digital loyalty platform with operations across the region.

The three featured participants discussed the strengths, but also weaknesses, of the Dubai startup ecosystem. The conversation was frank and candid and while the future is bright for the Dubai startup ecosystem, the participants agreed there is still much to do.

To hear the participants thoughts, make sure you listen to the podcast. All you have to do is click the play button!

Women Entrepreneurs and Crowdfunding  

Crowdfunding is one of the most recent developments in seed and angel investing. Companies that might otherwise have struggled to receive funding from angels or venture capitalists are now able to secure funding from this new source. Hardware companies in particular have had great success on crowdfunding websites with numerous success stories from around the world.

Eureeca has emerged as the leading crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs in the Middle East and is now expanding globally. Eureeca has received approval from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority so it is now regulated under UK law.

To coincide with their Pitch Event on Wednesday, November 25th, Heather Henyon, Investment Director at Eureeca, wrote this excellent post on LinkedIn. It’s well worth a read as it really dives into how women entrepreneurs can benefit from crowdfunding.