By Chantalle Dumonceaux
With the region’s start-up scene going from strength to strength, investors have never been more prominent nor more vital. With more and more new businesses looking for funding, and investors looking to put more money into the GCC.
Chantalle Dumonceaux, co-founder of WOMENA – an angel group for women in the Middle East – says that 2015 succeeded in exploiting the talents of female entrepreneurs.
“Since we launched in November 2014, we have seen over 450 inbound start-up entrepreneurs in the MENA region, of which 20 presented and two received funding,” she says.
“Of the 20 presenters, half had a female founder, and of our two portfolio companies, 50 percent have a woman on the founding team. I am also delighted to see regional governments investing intelligently in innovation, entrepreneurship, and inclusion of women in the economy.”
In 2016 Dumonceaux expects an uptick in notable acquisitions: “As investors see these precedents of success, they will shift a portion of their portfolio to angel and venture investment, thus, funding entities at different stages will become more abundant.
“As trust and transparency grows in the economy, more international investors have expressed interest in the region and this will continue to increase.
“MENA has a population of 350 million people with high digital penetration and for the most part, a common language. Yet, there is a lack of start-ups catering to this population, which presents a major opportunity for international and domestic investors.”
Dumonceaux explains that WOMENA established the Middle East Angel Investors Network (MAIN) in 2015 with three fellow networks – Tenmou from Bahrain, Oqal from Saudi Arabia, and Cairo Angels from Egypt – in order to bring together fragmented investors and funding entities.
“A start-up can die a slow death, bleeding money and taking time away from building their precious business for repetitive meetings due to investors who don’t communicate with each other, working alone and inefficiently.
“We think that by sharing knowledge and bringing together the fragmented funding entities we can help to streamline the funding process,” she says.
Talking about WOMENA’s forcus for 2016, Dumonceaux says the group is industry agnostic and looks for companies with strong and balanced founding teams, working in a large underserved market, with a valuation that reflects a minimum 10x return within five years.
She adds: “We will focus on start-ups that take a basic business model and optimise it with scalable technology and localised marketing, and benefit from being based in the region, or cannot develop as well or better in a different geography.
“I predict the highest growth in e-commerce start-ups and Arabic content producers, followed by localised Software as a Service (SaaS) and Internet of Things (IoT) start-ups.”
In line with that, she concludes with a few pieces of advice for entrepreneurs: “Focus on building a company that creates value and smart investors will want to fund it,” she says.
“Have a strong and balanced management team, and remain flexible. Markets will change, the product will change, and the customer will change, and a good team can change with them quickly.
“Learn. Before getting on the entrepreneurial rollercoaster, take the time to understand the markets, understand your customer, and understand your competition. From this, develop a clear and rational thesis of how you can build a better start-up.”