Announcing our Partnership with Mompreneurs

We are delighted to announce our partnership with Mompreneurs today! We are very much looking forward to future collaboration with an organisation that is busy promoting female entrepreneurship in the Middle East. Mompreneurs is a B2B platform that caters to female entrepreneurs in the Middle East to promote and grow their business. The website provides a platform for female entrepreneurs to connect with each other, share expertise, advice, recommendations and contacts. It is a one-stop information portal where members can access information regarding various events and exhibitions taking place in the region or find suppliers and partners in various fields. The underlying belief is that collectively, female entrepreneurs will be stronger and better able to compete in today’s business environment.

As part of their excellent work, they recently launched their Entrepreneur Rising Course in collaboration with Impact Hub, which is a two month programme to give entrepreneurs the tools for success. As part of the course, there was a Pitch Competition where WOMENA cofounder Chantalle Dumonceaux was a judge. For more information on the course, check out their video where you can get a glimpse of Chantalle giving feedback to the entrepreneurs.

We see a lot of potential collaboration with Mompreneurs and look forward to working with them!

WOMENA’s Second Pitch Meeting

On January 24th, WOMENA members met for our second Pitch Meeting at the beautiful Art Sawa Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai. Members from across the Emirates came to see two excellent companies – Apptuto and AlemHealth – present. The afternoon kicked off with an introduction to angel investing and important investment concepts. Education is critical to successful investment and our educational programme will be launching soon. Stay tuned!

AlemHealth connects hospitals in developing countries to a global network of healthcare providers raising the quality of care available to patients in the least developed countries, at prices they can afford.

Apptuto is an advanced preparation platform built for CFA Candidates designed to engage and motivate students.Members had some great questions for the entrepreneurs and were not afraid to grill them on key areas of their work. We are excited to see where these two companies progress and are currently conducting due diligence on both. All in all, an excellent event! Check out the photo album on Facebook!


How Angel Groups Work

Angel investing can be a risky and complicated process, but  for many people the potential rewards angel investing offers outweigh the risks. As angel investing becomes an increasingly larger part of early-stage funding for startups, a growing trend shows that many angel investors choose to join a member-only angel network or group. In these groups, like-minded, high-net-worth individuals pay membership fees in order to share deal flow, due diligence and investments with others. Because of the shared nature of an angel group, they tend to help mitigate some of this risk and relieve some of the burden of investing while maximizing chances of success in an investor’s portfolio. But how exactly do angel groups work?

To answer this question, we must first understand the various types of angel groups, although most of them have the same basic processes and functions:

  1. A manager-led angel network allows each individual investor to make their own investment decisions, but much of the deal flow and due diligence is handled by the network’s manager.
  2. A member-led angel network is a group where the members are responsible for the entire process: the deal flow, due diligence and their individual investment decisions.
  3. Finally, angel funds are groups where investors’ money is pooled and then investment opportunities are voted on by members and are led and overseen by a manager.

Some angel groups also offer network-specific interests such as technology startups, impact investing, or for women-only investors such as WOMENA. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the first two instances of angel groups, where the investors make their individual investment decisions.

Regardless of the type of angel network, the process for entrepreneurs to apply for funding and for members to make an investment is relatively similar. Entrepreneurs are first responsible for applying to the angel network for funding once they have determined that they fit the group’s basic criteria. Once applications are received, they are screened to determine investment potential and viability. When an application is deemed viable, initial due diligence on the company is performed by reviewing the business plan including the market opportunity and size, assumptions and financial projections.

Most angel groups meet regularly, whether quarterly, monthly or at other intervals. At these meetings, a select group of entrepreneurs that have made it through initial due diligence have the opportunity to pitch to the the entire membership. Members then have a chance to indicate their interest in the companies and ask any questions they need answered before making a commitment to invest.

In a manager-led group, the further due diligence and negotiations are then handled by the group’s staff, whereas in a member-led group, this stage is led by one of the members. In the former instance, the advantage is that it is less time consuming for the investors, as the research and communication with the entrepreneur is handled directly by the staff. In any case, the major advantage of belonging to an angel group is that members with specific knowledge and experience can be tapped to advise on any aspect of the due diligence. Proper due diligence is key to increasing the likelihood of making successful investments and having access to individuals with diverse and industry-specific knowledge to share their opinions and ideas about a potential investment is an invaluable resource.

Once the due diligence is complete and all the questions have been answered, members are then asked to make their official commitments.  Because angel groups will only consider companies with a significant number (usually three or more) of interested investors, it allows for each individual to make smaller investments while still ensuring that the round will be completely financed. In the case that it is not, the angel group can tap its network of partners and co-investors to help complete the round.

At this point, the shareholder’s agreement is signed between the investors and the company and the money is transferred. Depending on how the group operates, each individual investor signs the agreement and transfers their funds directly to the company, or the group signs the agreement on behalf of all investing members and the investors transfer their funds to the group’s intermediary bank account which then transfers the entire amount to the company.

Finally, we reach what is perhaps the most important but most forgotten part of investing– post-investment engagement. Although the investment has been made, this is an area where angel groups have the most advantage. As angel investing happens so early in a company’s lifecycle, it is important to give entrepreneurs not only capital, but technical assistance as well. This could range from advice directly from investors on aspects of the business to introductions to the investors’ networks. Investing as an angel group means that the entrepreneur has access to a much larger pool of advisors and networks, increasing the likelihood of success of the investment.

Angel investing may seem like an intimidating road to navigate on your own but angel groups offer the opportunity to get involved with guidance and support from fellow investors and managers. With statistically better and consistent deal pipelines, collective negotiating power and combined resources, networks are an excellent choice for nascent and experienced angel investors alike. To learn more about WOMENA and how you can become part of our network of angel investors, please contact us.

Women in Leadership Around the World

We recently came across this excellent graphic from SME Advisor about female leadership . It gives you a great sense of some of the strides women have made in business but also some of the hurdles. We hope WOMENA is part of the movement to give men and women an equal footing in the business world by providing women a space to invest in entrepreneurship and facilitating investment education.

While in the UAE women occupy 66% of government jobs and work on average 5.6 hours more than men a week, women occupy only 30% of senior jobs and ranked 115th in the world on the Global Gender Gap Index in 2014. Across the globe, the evidence is not much better either. 40% of companies don’t have a women on their board and only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are women.

We have definitely seen many positive steps taken by the government since we started to eliminate the gender gap, for which we applaud them. Equality isn’t going to happen overnight though, which is why we must continue to push hard.

Hia Magazine Interview with Elissa Freiha

Hia Magazine interviewed WOMENA Co-Founder Elissa Freiha. The text below is translated from the original Arabic article.

The young businesswoman, Elissa Bassam Freiha, believes that the 100-mile voyage starts with a step. She has launched WOMENA, an angel investment group and women’s empowerment network with her American partner, Chantalle.

Elissa grew up in Paris, studying there as well as studying abroad in Madrid. She specialized in International Communications, Political Communications, and Marketing. She graduated with honors from the American University in Paris with a degree in PR and Marketing. She considers herself blessed with her family, especially since she has the full support and encouragement of her father, the well-known businessman and media icon.

Hia: Why did you choose to study PR & Marketing?

Elissa: I was confident that I would, one day, own my own business, therefore I knew that the most important skills to aid in reaching this goal would be reached through education, research and development. I started learning the role of the basic principles of marketing in creating job opportunities, and how to sell and market innovation/new ideas in order to convince clients. For that reason, I started to learn the principles of international communication and political communication between peoples, and their integration with PR and Marketing.

Ever since the beginning, I had known that I wanted to pursue an academic discipline, however I did not know at the time which discipline I would choose. I frequently traveled to different parts of the world, especially the United States, Spain, the UK, France, and all of the Arab and Gulf countries because I believe that the Arab woman is in need of a strong cultural and educational basis.

Hia: What is your opinion on modern investing and the role of women in these projects?

Elissa; With regards to financial development and investment, I believe that we need to pay more attention to the education, development and promotion of women to manage projects. In my opinion, I believe that women’s investing is weak within the field of senior businesses. The UAE Government has worked to support and encourage women, and this support has contributed significantly to the establishment of many companies and businesses. It has also efficiently and effectively stimulated female business owners to break into the business field.

How would you describe your relationship with your family in general and especially your father?

I consider myself blessed with my relationship with all of my family whom encourage and support me. They played a large role in identifying my priorities and choosing the positive track that suits me and satisfies my ambition through positive interaction. They encouraged my independence leading to my personal development and subsequent success through the promotion of self-reliance and responsibility. Due to his belief in the role women play and their contribution in the economic development that would affect generations to come, my father supports the work of women and the improvement of their life. He encourages my sisters and I to experiment because we were born in a time when women’s empowerment is strong in all fields.

My father is my role model when it comes to patience and diligence in order to achieve the best in all aspects of life. He went through a lot to support me in my life, both academic and career-wise. I consider him to be my first education and my inspiration to be creative. His advice is like a light that illuminates my path, wherever I go. In addition to that my aunt, Elham Freiha gave me, through her work as the General Manager at Dar Assayad, as well as being a political columnist at Al Anwar, the incentive to persevere, to continue working and to look for more, and to aim for constant growth and development.

What does your company’s business rely on?

We rely on the development of strategic plans that aim to enhance women’s participation in the labor market, and encourage women to invest, manage, and help businesses succeed. We also want to elevate the family and society and help manage their existing financial resources, make sound business decisions and develop their skills. The role of women is indispensible when it comes to competitive markets. Therefore we work to support women overcome obstacles that they face and attempt to find suitable solutions to overcome them. There are many women in the Middle East that posses the financial means but invest through a father, husband or brother. We are here to advise women to keep their agency and control, to express their ideas and opinions, to overcome their fear or hesitation. This makes the investment process about more than just money. It’s also about expertise, ideas and the investment of time and energy.

How would you describe your beginning, with your partner, when launching “WOMENA” for Investing?

I’ve worked in many fields, one of which was at UNESCO, and at the moment I work with my American partner, Chantalle. Chantalle oversees the logistics and strategies when it comes to investments since she has experience working in Zurich and New York in finance. She graduated in Economics from Columbia and is fluent in both French and English. With her, we can therefore reach a wider client base of ambitious women. Our real moment of clarity came when we were on summer vacation with the family and brainstormed ways to take part in the empowerment of women while also launching our own business. I was already planning to move back to the UAE in order to be closer to my father and sister. We decided to launch WOMENA for investing and women’s empowerment, especially women who do not have enough time to dedicate their whole weeks to investment. We aim to maintain excellent relationships with all our clients and I wake up every morning excited to attract investment in SMEs and startups in the region.

What has travelling and moving from one place to another added to you, as a person?

I grew up with three different cultural backgrounds (Arab, European and American). I was born in in Paris, lived there but travelled all over the world. My family supported this to encourage my self-reliance, independence, and perseverance and, consequently, I learned a lot. I realized that there is no one-way to think about anything and every country has its own way. I learned to be open-minded and that first impressions are not important. Travelling teaches a person a lot about different people and cultures, adding to one’s own personal and professional growth. I want to meet with every member of WOMENA so I can get to know the smallest details in order to develop the most suitable strategy for them individually.

What is you favorite hobby? Why? And how do you maintain it?

I love movement, and I love to learn new things. For example, I enjoy learning about different cuisines in different cultures. I also love watching movies, as well as painting wooden furniture as well as the occasional wall. I also have a passion for putting things together, furniture, for example. This has given me the patience and ability to organize, try out, and find solutions for everything, not just furniture. Most of my hobbies I enjoy at home, changing the places of furniture, painting them, or occasionally taking them apart and putting them back together again. I also enjoy rock climbing and hiking.

What are your personal ambitions and dreams for the future?

I would like to see WOMENA up and running, independently, and expanding into countries all over the world. I would also like to keep working on empowering women in investment to reach a point where women are equal to their male counterparts. I want to push women to be independent on their path to achieving their own ambitions in life, in addition to working on increasing awareness and education when it comes to women’s issues.

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.

Ladies Who Launch

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.

WOMENA’s First Pitch Meeting!

The first WOMENA Charter Group Meeting was held on December 10th and saw three companies present to WOMENA’s charter members. Kamal Hassan, the founder of Turn8 and the i360accelerator as well as the General Partner for Fenox Venture Capital in Dubai, kicked off the proceedings as a guest speaker. He highlighted a few key elements investors but pay attention to when analysing the presenting companies. He specified the importance of diversification as well as the strength of the founding team when choosing an investment.

Bern Shen, a serial entrepreneur, TechWadi board member, and a member of the Band of Angels, then addressed our members, warmly greeting them to the world of investment and quickly reaffirmed the need for women to be invested (pun intended) in this industry.

Following our two guest speakers, the three companies – Eventtus, Feesheh and Melltoo – were invited to present to the assembled WOMENA members.

Eventtus is a one-stop events platform, helping people discover new events, buy tickets, and network with the right people to make the most out of event night

Feesheh is the first online store for musical instruments serving the Arab World

Melltoo is a social marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of secondhand goods, available as an app or online

Each presentation was followed by a Q&A from our members. The evening concluded with networking and a further chance for our members to grill the entrepreneurs on their business plans. All in all an excellent evening!

To see more pictures from the evening, check out our Facebook album!


Ladies Who Launch

On November 1st, almost 50 leading women from across the Middle East gathered in Dubai to celebrate the launch of WOMENA at our inaugural event, Ladies Who Launch. It was an afternoon enjoyed by all and set the stage for our first charter group meeting in December. We had guests travelling from as far away as Silicon Valley and Turkey to join us and all from different industry sectors and cultures.

It was excellent to see the women we’ve been in contact for many months all in one space for the first time and very energizing to see such a group of accomplished women who wanted to invest not only their finances in the region, but their wealth of knowledge.

To see more pictures check out our Facebook album!


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!