What do MENA venture capitalists look for when funding startups

What do MENA venture capitalists look for when funding startups

For startups and entrepreneurs attending the 7th annual Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF), the insights regarding what venture capitalists (VCs) look for in emerging businesses provided a treasure trove of actionable knowledge. Through various panel discussions and talks with world-renowned industry leaders, light was cast on the path to successful funding, providing expert advice on how to secure capital as well as the need for guidance, mentorship, and strategic partnerships. 

What are VCs looking for?
A discussion titled “Intent to Investment: What are VCs Looking For?” featuring key players in the funding industry, namely, Abdullah Mutawi, Co-founder and Chairman of Dubai Angel Investors; Walid Mansour, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP); and Yamen S. Al-Hajjar, Managing Partner of Olive Tree Capital, provided attendees with a unique glimpse into the minds of venture capitalists and valuable advice on how to navigate the evolving startup ecosystem and secure funding.

Mutawi’s journey in the investment landscape, spanning early-stage startups to the growth phase, provides startups with a roadmap to navigate the complex world of funding. His network of 105 angel investors speaks volumes about the collaborative approach he advocates. For startups, he offers a pearl of wisdom from his 12-year angel investing journey, “The MENA region’s investment ecosystem is very young, and there is a lot to learn. There will be challenges and teething issues, but there is also a great deal to look forward to.”

Walid Mansour, with a history woven through the dot-com boom, the rise of telecoms, and the digital age of AI, imparted invaluable advice for startups at different stages of growth. His perspective, shaped by witnessing transformative technological shifts, resonates with startups navigating the rapidly evolving industry.

For those seeking funding, Mansour’s advice is clear: “As VCs, we need to provide proper guidance to ensure that our investments have the best chance of succeeding. We invest in companies that either create an opportunity or solve an existing problem.” Startups, according to Mansour, should focus not just on presenting innovative solutions but on demonstrating a clear market need. His emphasis on guidance echoes the need for startups to seek strategic partnerships with investors who contribute beyond financial support.

Yamen S. Al-Hajjar, with a global tech focus, provided startups with an important reminder that team composition is vital in attracting funding. Al-Hajjar’s advice was clear-cut: “Be very selective and consistent with your talent acquisition; your team can have a big influence on your funding.” This resonated with the idea that investors not only back ideas but also the capable teams behind those ideas.

The advantages of ventures building and ventures capital
The Founders Stage witnessed another panel “The Path Better Taken: The Advantages of Ventures Building and Ventures Capital,” where Ryan Adams, Managing Partner of Raha Beach Ventures; Hasan Zainal, Founder & Managing Partner of Arzan VC; Sami Khoreibi, Founder of Wisewell; and Kushal Shah, MD of e& Ventures, shared valuable industry perspectives.

Adams emphasised that beyond funding ventures, it was equally important to actively mentor founders in building AI-based companies. Hasan Zainal, with a decade of investing experience, discussed the need for the right pairing of startups with investors, stressing the role of vision and support.

Sami Khoreibi, focusing on sustainability, highlighted the challenges in the venture builder model, especially regarding the Capitalisation Table, which is used to track securities, number of shares, convertible notes, warrants, and equity ownership grants. Kushal Shah, investing in disruptive ideas, stressed the need for thorough assessment of founders and startups.

Your vision is your compass
On the Creative Stage, a talk with Amr Mansi, Co-founder of Shark Tank Egypt titled “Your Vision is Your Compass.” Amr Mansi’s diverse career spanning sports, business, and venture building has left a lasting impact on Egypt’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, and he stated that creating impact was the core driver behind everything that he does. His commitment to this concept is evident in his various ventures, from the successful El Gouna International Squash Open to organising the esteemed El Gouna Film Festival, and more recently his escapades with Shark Tank Egypt.

 

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