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Fri 26 Apr 2019 06:56 PM

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Crowd pleaser: FundedByMe's Samer Toukan

FundedByMe MENA co-founder, Samer Toukan, explains why he believes there's room for one more on the UAE's crowdfunding scene

Crowd pleaser: FundedByMe's Samer Toukan

Samer Toukan is the newest entrant on the United Arab Emirates’ bustling crowdfunding block. But he says his new joint venture, FundedByMe MENA, comes with a striking difference – it’s the first equity crowdfunding platform to be regulated by the Dubai Financial Standards Authority (DFSA).

The FundedByMe network also has strong global game. Founded in Sweden in 2011, FundedByMe is one of Europe’s largest operational networks, with VCs stretching into Poland, Holland, Finland, Malaysia and Singapore.

Prior to launching in the UAE, FundedByMe had over 269,000 registered investors and successfully funded around 500 companies with more than €55 million ($61 million).

It was Toukan, who has a family home in Stockholm, who personally convinced FundedByMe to offer a licence for use of its brand and technology to create a Dubai Financial International Centre (DIFC) entity in the UAE.

The DIFC office has now been operational since January 2019. Toukan is the co-founder and majority shareholder of FundedByMe MENA, while its parent company holds a 25 percent equity share.

Toukan, a former HR director and management consultant, tells Arabian Business: “Sweden is known for having good, clean technology – it’s straight forward and user-friendly and that’s why I was attracted to them. They also have the market leadership in Northern Europe.”

The FundedByMe MENA CEO adds: “They are on an expansion wave. So my strategy is to bring the brand to the UAE and then we will roll out to the regions here. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are on our roadmap.”

FundedByMe MENA will now have full access to its parent company’s name, campaign management, technology and data protection protocols, says Toukan.

But what really sets FundedByMe MENA apart from its local competitors is its robust regulation procedures. “We have developed a 15-step due-diligence process to ensure that quality is maintained throughout the fundraising cycle.

“This highly selective process creates confidence and credibility with our investors, in the quality of our campaigns and in the source of involved funds,” says the CEO.

Open for business

With the Dubai office now open for business, FundedByMe MENA is calling for local company owners with ‘valid trade licences, ambitious business plans and clear financial projections’ to join the platform and begin their fundraising campaigns.

Investors who are in search of fresh deal flows can also now register to gain access to companies that are seeking funds, based on individual risk and diversification strategies.

Depending on the complexity of the application, the on boarding and due-diligence process takes approximately four weeks.

Toukan says: “Any company that has a business model of solving some kind of a problem fits with us. We also look for viable income streams.”

Toukan says FundedByMe MENA is generally looking at ‘bigger volume’ campaigns, which raise from $150,000 to $5million capital annually.

The CEO says: “We are bigger volume and that’s why I have chosen to be regulated. For me, it’s more about long-term preparation now that I have the long-term rights for the MENA region. I would like to keep my hub to under control and under the supervision of the DFSA.”

Seed planter

Toukan says he decided to set up his crowdfunding venture in 2019 because he sees himself as ‘someone who moves against the traffic’.

While the economic climate in the UAE may not be booming currently and is a bit more challenging, he sees now as the perfect time to start planning for the future.

“Some people might flee because they see a lack of opportunities but I think it’s the best time to start – costs are lower and the authorities are eager to give you support, so when the economy starts picking up you are ready. This is how I look at things.”

The CEO says: “If you look at the SME sector specifically, this is where the growth will happen. The buzz and momentum is there.”

Toukan says he expects the recent $3.1 billion buy out deal of local taxi app Careem to give a ‘big boost’ to the region’s fledging SME sector.

“Gradually, from an infrastructure and government support perspective, we will see a lot of funds generated over time. Currently, we are seeing billions of dollars being injected into this segment, and this is why we are here.

“Our platform just needs to provide alternative solutions for those who are not selected by the very few local venture capitalists and angel investors.”

According to Toukan, the local market is very wide and the players are very few. FundedByMe MENA will provide a bridge between smart capital and promising start-ups and SMEs, he says.

And while the CEO might spend much of his time at his family home in Stockholm, as a Palestinian-Lebanese by origin, the matter of Arab regeneration and youth engagement is close to his heart.

He admits: “We have a bigger agenda than cash transactions. We are trying to build a network of participants to enhance the ecosystem here.”

According to the entrepreneur, the regional SME ecosystem has ‘a lot of good intention’ but remains fragmented.

He says: “I don’t see that there is a lot of united effort to help SMEs and start-ups in the longer term as all the contributions are very short term.”

Toukan says he will be closely studying the Swedish startup model to see how he can transfer knowledge to the UAE ecosystem.

“The Swedish start-up support model is fantastic. I want to learn from the Swedish and Scandinavian experience and build something here that’s a little more viable and a little connected. There are a lot of dots and we need to connect them so we can create this ecosystem that everybody is taking about.”