Updated Investment Process  

We’re always refining our processes to best serve our members, partners and entrepreneurs and that extends to our investment process. We’ve previously discussed that on our blog here but check out our updated investment process below.

Application Cycle

WOMENA has one pitch meeting every other month. Applications to pitch are open and ongoing.


Initial Application: In order to be considered for an investment, interested entrepreneurs must fill out an application form here.

Initial Review: WOMENA staff will review the company’s application and supporting documents. If we believe that the company is a good fit, the entrepreneur will be contacted by the WOMENA team via email to set up an initial screening.

Initial Screening: During the initial screening, a conversation will be had between the entrepreneur and the WOMENA team to further discuss the company and the business plan, including the current status and future plans of the company. If there is continued interest after this meeting, the company will be scheduled to pitch at a WOMENA pitch meeting.

Pitch Preparation: Once the company has been approved to pitch, the entrepreneur will be asked to prepare materials for the pitch according to WOMENA templates. Upon submission of materials, a WOMENA team member will review them and schedule a call to offer edits and presentation coaching. WOMENA members will be provided with an overview of each company scheduled to present at the dinner.

Initial Due Diligence: During the pitch preparation stage, the company will also submit materials and answer questions for initial due diligence. Various aspects of the business will be assessed including market size/opportunity, competition, competitive advantage, financial projections and team members. It is crucial that entrepreneurs are in contact with the WOMENA team at this point to answer any questions in order to move the process along quickly.

Pitch Meeting: At the pitch meeting, the entrepreneur has 8 minutes to pitch to our entire membership, followed by 10 minutes of questions and answers. At the conclusion of the pitch, members will have the chance to privately discuss the company with other members and initial due diligence findings will be shared. Investors will then be asked to indicate their interest in the company on a survey. Those who indicate interest will receive a follow up call from WOMENA to confirm their continued interest. Three interested investors are required in order for WOMENA to follow up with the company.

Follow-Up: No more than two weeks after the pitch, WOMENA will schedule a conference call with the WOMENA team, interested investors and the entrepreneur. On this call, investors will have the chance to further discuss with the entrepreneur and to notify the WOMENA team of any additional due diligence questions they would like answered in the report. At the conclusion of this call, if there is at least one investor still interested in the company, WOMENA will produce a due diligence report.

Further Due Diligence and Commitments: At this stage, the WOMENA team will continued in depth due diligence on the company. Investors will then be provided with a complete due diligence report for their review. Upon review of the document, interested investors will make a hard commitment to invest in the company. The valuation and proposed terms will then be negotiated.

Funding and Monitoring: Once investors have committed and all parties are satisfied with the terms of the investment, investors will transfer their investment to WOMENA SPC, the entity that will then invest in the company. A copy of the agreement will be given to investors for their records. It is expected that entrepreneurs will continue contact with WOMENA via regular reporting and updates. WOMENA and investors in the company will also be available to access for their network and related resources.

Deloitte Report on Women Investors  

We know women investors have a very important role to play in investment. We wouldn’t be here otherwise. So it’s always a satisfying feeling when we read a report from one of the world’s top financial institutions confirming this. Deloitte recently published the report: “Women investors: a critical and growing factor for success in the wealth management industry”. The report concludes that women investors present a significant opportunity for wealth management firms but specific capabilities will need to be developed.

Deloitte highlights some remarkable and revealing statistics to back up their arguments. Women control $20 trillion of the world’s wealth and two-thirds of women in the United States, the UK, China, Hong Kong and Singapore are the primary decision makers over household assets. Simply staggering numbers that extend to the UAE as well.

Deloitte recommends three changes to the way wealth management firms work for female investors:

  1. Serve the needs of the woman investor with financial education being particularly important
  2. Provide the deserved investor experience to ensure women feel the added value of financial advisors
  3. Cater to the investment preferences of women who are more likely to favour investments with a social impact

At WOMENA our angel investment platform is as flexible as possible for these very three reasons. Education is at the heart of what we do with our monthly workshops and personalised education syllabus for each member and the majority of the startups that have pitched to our members have a social impact.

To read the full report from Deloitte, click here.

The MENA Funding Ecosystem  

As we discussed at length recently in our Why MENA blogpost, the MENA region is a very exciting area to be working with a lot of potential. That was only reinforced for us at our recent visit to the Web Summit where we spoke to numerous investors and entrepreneurs from around the world.

That’s not to say the entrepreneurship ecosystem is perfect – far from it! Funding is a serious issue for startups to overcome and we think Hasan Haider, the Founder of Tenmou and Venture Partner at 500 Startups, hit the nail on the head with this fantastic blog post. We encourage you to read it to get an idea of what needs to be done to improve the funding ecosystem in MENA.

If you want to explore the funding ecosystem in the Middle East, we encourage you to sign up for the 500 Startups’ Premoney conference on 9th December in Bahrain. Bringing together investors from around the Middle East and the world, the conference will delve into the issues the region faces and how to solve them.

#TBT To WOMENA’s second investment-Alem Health  

We are excited to announce our second investment of $151,000 in AlemHealth! AlemHealth is a cutting edge telemedicine company that is already transforming lives in the developing world. We hope with our members’ investment they can continue to grown and help many more people.

We spoke to Aschkan Abdul Malek, the CEO of AlemHealth, about his company and WOMENA.

What was the inspiration behind Alem Health?

During my time in Afghanistan and Iraq, many of my local colleagues and employees would regularly travel abroad for all their healthcare needs, spending ruinous amounts of money for what was oftentimes unnecessary had they the right diagnosis before they left. We looked at this problem and thought there had to be a better way to get a proper diagnosis than getting on a plane. A few months later we started working on building a diagnostic telemedicine platform that can work in resource-limited environments, and a year later here we are.

Why is Alem Health important?

We make high quality medical diagnosis accessible globally at a fraction of the cost of medical tourism. Our technology addresses a market segment, developing countries, that has been ignored by large healthcare providers, and provides diagnosis at a global standard. In particular, our work has been instrumental in expanding access to high quality women’s healthcare, with nearly 80% of our current patient population female.

Where is the company now (in terms of impact, customer penetration) and how do you plan to keep this up?

We launched our MVP in January and had our first paying patients by the end of the month. Since then, we’ve grown to 8 hospitals and hundreds of patients diagnosed, and are looking to expand into multiple countries in the coming months. We’re currently rolling out our next iteration of the service, which is built for global scale and will be announced soon. In terms of impact, we’re saving lives through our diagnoses, as our urgent service is regularly used for emergency issues like stroke and trauma cases, and our routine service diagnoses no shortage of cancer cases and serious diseases. The earlier we find those, the faster we can start treating them.

How has your experience with WOMENA been? Have we helped you?

WOMENA has been instrumental to our growth, allowing us to access capital in a region where angel investment is far from established and difficult to source. They have a professional due diligence process, move quickly, and allowed us to get back to what we do best, pushing the boundaries of where high quality healthcare is available. The investment helped us go from an MVP to a polished, scalable product that we could take global.


An Angel’s First Step to Avoiding Risk  

Every entrepreneur around the globe is thinking about where they can get funding and every angel investor is wondering if the ventures they see will succeed.

Angel investing has come into the spotlight with TV shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank bringing both the pressures and very real risks of what it means to be an angel to life for viewers around the world. Our investors in MENA are faced with the same dilemmas on how to maximize their chances for success and mitigate risk.

At WOMENA, we believe dealflow, diversification and diligence are the core principals for healthy angel investing. We also understand that making sure you have a broad spectrum of potential deals is both time consuming and requires some serious knowledge. Our aim is to support our angels by sourcing and conducting due diligence to screen and provide a varied pool of suitable start-up projects.

Keeping investments diverse and staying on plan is key – the majority of all start-ups fail so an angel should never have all their eggs in one basket. While returns on angel investments vary hugely, our policy is to work to provide start-up options with strong potential for co-investment in the MENA market.

It helps to remember that entrepreneurs are caught up in the excitement. They are in the honeymoon phase and will sweet-talk you if you let them. We work to help our angels avoid unnecessary risk by sharing industry knowledge, contacts, personalized access to a pool of pre-screened entrepreneurs and due diligence so investors can fund the right opportunities in the market.

How WOMENA can help you get started

While we work to provide investors with the best deal flow, a network of co-investors sharing knowledge, and take on due diligence and provide support throughout the deal lifecycle, angel investor should consider what they want to invest in, ensure they have enough capital, and cast a wide but strategic net to avoid unnecessary risk.

Many angels underestimate the value of angel groups. It is not just about launching with an exciting one-time investment. An angel is on board with all the companies they invest in for the medium if not the long term.

Working with WOMENA means that our investors have access to pre-screened up-and-coming opportunities that have the fundamentals to take off in the region. We work to pair angels with companies they can support to mitigate risk and ensure well-matched diversity in their portfolios. We make sure our angels know they are giving more than simply a lump sum but that to succeed they need to provide guidance and contacts to build a long-term relationship.

We also are convinced that believing in the company is key but it needs to be based on domain knowledge and ultimately the right amount of due diligence so the facts are all there. Angels can best support start-ups by coming in with smart money, commitment to an ongoing relationship with the entrepreneur and with the readiness to give and share knowledge. They can best mitigate risk with a strong deal flow, a diversified portfolio, and a strong community to invest with.

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.

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.

What is an Angel Investor? WOMENA Explains  

Every year, hundreds of millions of people around the world begin their journey in entrepreneurship. Whether driven by need or desire, in hopes of creating a small family business or a large global enterprise, a necessary resource for any entrepreneur to begin is capital. Many entrepreneurs start their businesses on informal funding from themselves and what we in the business refer to as “FFF: friends, families and fools.” For some, this funding is enough. However, many, especially those with high-growth potential, will require multiple stages of funding in order to grow.

As entrepreneurship continues to flourish around the world, so too do the number of individuals who choose to become early stage investors in these startups. Referred to as an angel investor or a business angel, they are individuals who are independently wealthy and seek to invest their own money in startups. As early stage investors, angels typically invest during the seed stage, when a company has most likely built a prototype [link to commonly defined terms?], but has no real traction or growth. Because most of the business plan is still unproven at this point, the risk for investors is high but the entrepreneur’s need for capital is critical- a situation that has resulted in the investors being referred to as “angels.”

Because the risk for investors at this stage is so great, most angel investors will invest smaller amounts, between $10,000 and $50,000, in multiple companies. This approach allows an investor to diversify his or her portfolio, increasing chances that one of the startups will be very successful, referred to as a “homerun.” On average, most investments in a portfolio will fail, while only 1 in 10 investments in a portfolio is likely to return 10x the investment and 2-3 investments may return 2x the investment. To further mitigate the risks of early stage investing and increase the likelihood of funding a “homerun,” many investors join an angel group to invest alongside other angels.

Besides the risk, a major attribute of angel investors that sets them apart from other types of investors is that they usually offer their investments more than just capital. Angels provide valuable resources such as strategic or managerial advice and introductions to their personal networks to help the business grow. Oftentimes, an angel will sit on the board of advisors of the company in order to stay involved and offer assistance when needed. At such an early stage, access to such resources is an invaluable asset of angel investors and can help increase the likelihood that startups will survive and grow.

As an increasing number of individuals set out to disrupt various industries with their ideas, so too does the need for investors who are willing to take the risk of investing early and who can offer mentorship and guidance to their investments. If you think angel investing is for you, contact us or apply to be part of WOMENA.

Why It’s Time to Invest in The Middle East  

The Middle East is usually seen around the world as a region of war and tumult. There are areas in the region where unfortunately that is the case, but a lot of the region is stable and experiencing rapid growth, especially in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. With a unique mix of high consumption, quality entrepreneurs, increasing technological uptake, and an underdeveloped early stage financing ecosystem, it is the right time for to see some excellent returns if they know where to look.

The Middle East has a young and technologically engaged population with one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. The culturally diverse region has 400 million potential customers sharing a common language that 4% of the world speaks, and yet there is a striking lack of mobile content serving this market, with only 1% of the world’s internet content in Arabic.

Governments are seeing the potential of startup ecosystems and are working hard to develop them. The Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, twofour54, The Khalifa Fund, and the King Abdullah II Fund for Development are just a few examples of government initiatives to support entrepreneurship and innovation.

Banks in the Middle East are wary of lending money to small and medium sized businesses. High net worth individuals in the Middle East, on the whole, tend to have a preference for investments in tangible assets. A fear of regional instability keeps many international venture capital firms and angel investors from investing in the region. While these conditions could be seen as drawbacks, they provide significant openings for angel investors who think differently and believe in the Middle East’s potential.

And for entrepreneurs, the competitive landscape is more favorable than in Silicon Valley. A smart entrepreneur can find opportunities to “arabize” a business that has been successful in the West, or create a unique startup catering to the region’s previously ignored needs, and may find themselves to be one of the few doing it, and with the right investors, or “smart capital,” the best doing it, too.

These are just a few of the reasons why the Middle East is an attractive region for investors and why WOMENA exists. We provide our investors with a clear portal to prescreened deal flow, our own due diligence, guidance for evaluating potential investments, tailored education, and we then facilitate the investment process for our members and help our portfolio companies to grow with the combined networks of our membership and the strategic guidance of our members, our team, and the wider community. We understand that some investors are apprehensive to get involved with technology startup investments, which look entirely different than real estate or restaurant investments, and we emphasize education and guidance for our membership and the community-at-large. We want our members to be smart investors who can help their portfolio companies be a big success and we want to see the Middle East grow.

Any comments or questions are welcomed and encouraged, and please follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up-to-date with WOMENA!

Introducing Melltoo: WOMENA’s First Investment  

We are very happy to announce today that our first investment is in Melltoo, a social network that connects buyers and sellers of secondhand goods. Morrad Irsane (CEO) and Sharene Lee (COO) launched the company in Dubai in March 2014. Already they have 85,000 downloads, 25,000 active users and daily growth of 400+ users.

Melltoo was one of the first companies to present to our members and they delivered a very impressive pitch. We asked Morrad and Sharene a few questions to learn more about Melltoo.

What was the inspiration behind Melltoo?

Hyper-consumption is a global problem. Yet, it is a problem that can be alleviated if we all just resell and reuse our things. However, there isn’t an easy way to sell the little (and even big) things in our lives that we no longer need. That’s why we built Melltoo, to provide an easier and friendlier way to sell the things in our lives that we don’t use anymore.

Melltoo is different to most other classified listings because of the deep social integration with the product. Why is this important?

Melltoo is a marketplace where people can buy and sell things. Classifieds are primarily a means to advertise something and to get leads. Melltoo, with our payment and delivery services, lets users buy and sell second hand things directly through the app, without even having to leave their homes.

The deep social integration has a purpose-to build trust in the marketplace. Being able to see users’ profiles and interacting with other users builds relationships and trust, which is the key component of a successful peer to peer marketplace.

You’ve seen some very impressive growth – why do you think Gulf residents have been so quick to embrace Melltoo?

Because we are solving a problem. People here shop a lot, move a lot, and have a lot to sell. The current options for selling their things are so cumbersome that they would rather just dump them or give them away. Because Melltoo helps Gulf residnts buy and sell easily, and in doing so solves a pain point, they have been quick to embrace the platform.

What’s next for Melltoo?

We are rolling out our payment and delivery services which should further accelerate the buying and selling process. This will be implemented one product vertical at a time. The investment secured from Womena will help us get to revenue-generation after which our series A round awaits.

How’s your experience with WOMENA been?

Our experience with WOMENA has been wonderful. Seeking investment is typically a painful and time-consuming process that diverts attention away from growing our business. With WOMENA, the process has been quick and smooth. The WOMENA team, despite being highly demanding in performing due diligence, is extremely efficient and the turnaround time was under 3 weeks. This is incredible, considering all the care that was put into the process. I can honestly say that I wish all investors did things the way WOMENA does.

To learn more about Melltoo, go to their website or download the app straight to your phone from the App Store or Google Play.