WOMENA World Tour 2017

WOMENA World Tour 2017

Summer is fast approaching and WOMENA is hitting the road! We’ll be speaking at conferences, growing our networks sharing best practice, learning from other angel groups and ecosystems, and bringing the best ideas back to the Middle East! WOMENA will also be building bridges and raising awareness about the Middle East ecosystem through speaking engagements at tech conferences, creating buzz and hopefully attracting some new investors. Specifically, Elissa will be speaking at EBAN Annual Congress, London Tech Week, Viva Technology and Building Bridges Startup Ecosystem.

Interested to tag along? Here’s how you can:

  • Check out the interactive map to track the cities we’ll be visiting. If you’re planning on being anywhere in the vicinity, message us and we’ll see if we can meet for a cup of coffee or ecosystem exploring.
  • Have a question about the ecosystem, investment climate or angel groups in one of the cities? Message us and we’ll tell you what we’ve learned.
  • Follow us on our social media channels: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with hashtag: #WOMENAWorldTour.

See you somewhere over the rainbow!

Journey: Elissa Freiha مسيرة إليسا فريحة

Why did we start WOMENA? Take a glimpse into the #herstory of WOMENA as our cofounder and angel investor, Elissa Freiha shares their entrepreneurial journey on why they build one of the most active angel investment groups in the region.

Thank you WEORITU for featuring us and capturing our story in this beautiful video.

To learn more about angel investing, get in touch us.



Mythbusting Impact Investing

Taa’theer 2017–the annual impact and social responsibility conference–is coming up once again, and WOMENA will be joining the conversation to discuss how investors fit into the puzzle of making the world a better place.

Angel investors (at least the investors in WOMENA) in general tend to share certain characteristics. We’re risk-takers, innovation-seekers, and believers in the possibilities of technology and young people. We want to empower entrepreneurs to create jobs, disrupt industries and improve the world with their products. But there are some investors to whom the last category is very important. These individuals want to make profit + impact. They are the impact investors.

As with all buzzwords, impact investing can be surrounded by a bit of confusion. And, because impact investors in the Middle East can be a rare and elusive breed, misconceptions abound. With this short article, we hope to clarify some of the common myths that surround impact investing. 

Myth 1: Impact investing = philanthropy

Charity status is tricky in GCC countries, and there is no official classification for social enterprise business yet. In the spirit of innovation, some organizations tend to brand as businesses, but retain a not-for-profit or social enterprise model which generally blurs the lines for everyone. Here’s how we see it:

    1. Impact only: Organizations that are primarily focused on impact, with revenue stream coming from grants and donations. These are usually classified as charities and NGOs. 
    2. Impact first: These are revenue generating with various models including:
      1. Generating revenue from commerce + grants
      2. Generating revenue from commerce, but all profits reinvested into impact projects
      3. Generates revenue from commerce, but profits are split between re-investment and shareholder payout.
    3. Socially driven businesses: This type of business has a double focus: generating profit for its shareholders, and creating a positive social or environmental impact (often meeting needs in a developing market or focused on a socially driven problem). WOMENA investment AlemHealth is an example of this.

As angel investors, we are interested in funding companies that fall into the last category. Thus, we will evaluate your startup as a business, and we will expect to make a profit off of our investment. In contrast to venture philanthropy, impact investing is a much longer play, with investors seeking exits and returns similar to venture investing.

Source: EVPA

Myth 2: Impact investing = high risk & low dividends

To bust this myth, we turn to a recent report by Morgan Stanley. The report, which surveys over 10,000 equity mutual funds from 2008 – 2015, shows that sustainable investing funds have actually met or exceeded the median returns of traditional equity funds and had lower volatility. 72% of socially driven businesses surveyed offered above average profitability.

Even more interesting, is the rapid increase of impact investments. In 2012 impact investments made up, $1 of every $9 invested. In 2014, this number increased to $1 out of $6, amounting to nearly $6.57 trillion in investments.

And who is driving this increase?

You guessed it! Women & millennials!

Another Morgan Stanley report showed that 3/4th of women surveyed were interested in impact investments, and millennials were twice as likely to invest in an opportunity if there was a positive social outcome attached the business.

In summary, impact investors are on the rise, and we’re looking for profitable, high-growth companies that create a positive impact in the world around them. If that sounds like you, send us your pitch deck! If you’re interested in knowing more about this subject, don’t miss the ‘Investors Panel’ on May 16th at Ta’atheer 2017!

Meet the UAE’s Next Generation of Young Investors

WOMENA has set its sights on an even younger generation of entrepreneurs and investors that will be building the UAE’s ecosystem in the coming years, and what we’ve seen so far is pretty promising!

Since WOMENA started two years ago, we’ve been lucky to be a part of a growing startup ecosystem that is nowhere near to reaching its full potential yet! In order to be ready, the UAE needs both savvy entrepreneurs, as well as sophisticated investors that are willing to take risks and invest in these local startups. AND… It needs them to stay in the region. Since universities play a vital role in fostering innovation and producing tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, WOMENA is partnering with the largest local universities to provide localized content, real world experience and introduce venture investing to students.

In the US, only 7% of decision-makers at U.S. VC firms are women. WOMENA believes that here in the Middle East, we can do better. On that note, we launched the Young Investors program with the female Finance Club at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. The goal of getting more young Emirati women interested in and ready to pursue a career in venture finance was supported by OBS group.

Throughout the workshops, the students learned the basics of venture investing, practiced managing a portfolio through simulations, and assessed real startups for investment. The course ended with a cross-pitch collaboration, where students watched pitches from Zayed students that are aspiring entrepreneurs and gave them feedback from an investor point of view.

Finance major Moza Al Suwaidi commented how valuable the courses were to her as an investor and possibly a future entrepreneur,  “I really enjoyed the three workshops and gained a lot about venture capital. I was always into using financial instruments as a way of investing in theory rather than investing directly in a business. However, seeing how you’ve helped a lot of companies grow is very interesting. Also, seeing how WOMENA started motivated me to think more about opening a business in the future.”

WOMENA will be working to make taking this course an option for university students across the UAE, and continuing to see the graduates from this course placed as interns so as to get the practical experience needed.

HE Dr. Omar Bin Sulaiman, Chairman of OBS Group, expressed his commitment to supporting this initiative, “Emirati women have been key contributors to the national development. They have added significant value to UAE’s  progress and prosperity through their effective and genuine involvement in all aspects. OBS Group supports all initiatives that aim to further strengthen the achievements and empowerment of women.”

Finance students evaluate a company presented by an entrepreneur student.


ELIE SAAB Launches The Girl Of Now Initiative To Inspire The Next Generation Of Female Leaders

Girl Of Now Initiative - Elie Saab - Womena

(L-R) Farah Al Qaissieh, Muna Al Gurg, Elie Saab Jr., and Elissa Freiha

ELIE SAAB collaborated with WOMENA, a regional women’s investment platform, by hosting a high tea and inspirational talk at Ayyam Gallery as part of the Girl Of Now Initiative, an ELIE SAAB brand activation supporting women leadership, empowerment and the importance of educating the youth. This event is a first of a series of ongoing activations supporting the initiative in shedding light on female achievers of Now, by highlighting their accomplishments, regionally and globally.

The event, featuring three inspirational speakers, hosted a gathering of prominent female figures from the Middle East; all sharing their own experiences in entrepreneurship, investment, leadership and breaking stereotypes.

Elissa Freiha, founder and CEO of WOMENA, welcomed guests by sharing her own story of entrepreneurship and engaging women in the economy in a sustainable way. She expressed, “Women are the real game-changers in this region, and yet we rarely see them in the spotlight. We need to be more outspoken about our accomplishments because when we are, it’s contagious.”

Elissa was joined on stage by Retail Director of Essa Saleh Al Gurg Group and Philanthropist Muna Al Gurg, who stated that: ‘Women from different backgrounds coming together and sharing their stories enables them to inspire each other and places their skills and strengths in perspective’.

While tech entrepreneur and founder of Stutter UAE Farah Al Qaissieh emphasized on the fact that “confidence comes from within and being able to share my journey with everyone else has enabled me to find my voice and the voice of a previously unknown demographic of stutterers.”

Hosted at Ayyam Gallery, a leading arts organization in the Middle East, with the works of Samia Halaby a renowned abstract painter and an influential scholar of Palestinian art complemented the gathering being a pioneer female artist herself, dressing the walls.

About Girl Of Now Initiative
As women around the world put their knowledge to work, ELIE SAAB’s Girl Of Now Initiative is on a mission to encourage those who have built successful stories and careers, inspiring generations of young achievers to follow in their footsteps. A mission to spread awareness around the accomplishments and leanings of these ambitious and driven women. A mission to empower the female youth to go further, reach higher and perhaps become leaders of tomorrow.

The initiative serves as yet another drive within the brand’s already ongoing activities that supports potential talent, which include mentorship through the Lebanese American University’s Fashion Design Bachelor Program, involvement in PROJECT RUNWAY ME, and partnership with the Hyeres Fashion and Photography Festival. www.thelightofnow.com/goni #GirlOfNowIntiative

About Womena
WOMENA is a UAE-based organization that promotes innovation, investment and inclusion by empowering women to invest in startups.

Through bi-monthly pitch events, an angel investment platform and educational workshops, WOMENA has fostered a collaborative community of motivated, proactive female investors, with an interest in business and economic development. With strong ties to innovation hubs around the world; in Silicon Valley, New York and London, as well as forty signed partnerships and connections to 400 financing and entrepreneurial entities, WOMENA stands at a unique crossroads to be able to foster growth and diversity in the MENA ecosystem.

The result of WOMENA’s endeavors is more women in business, more women on boards, more funded entrepreneurs, and a stronger, more inclusive economy.

WOMENA Giveaway: STEP Conference 2017 Tickets

(Updated April 2 – Winners announced)

As many of you know, this March we started the #WomenOfMENA campaign in time for International Women’s Day, by asking for the women of MENA to show us who they are, what they are proud of, and what they have accomplished, using the hashtag #WomenOfMENA.

As we are approaching the last week of our campaign, we’ve teamed up with STEP Group to give away 2 free tickets ($299) to the upcoming STEP Conference on April 5-7.

Here’s how you can win a free ticket to join the largest interactive gathering in the MENA region:

STEP 1: Follow us on Twitter @womenaco, Instagram @womena, and like us Facebook @womenaco

STEP 2: Grab your nearest paper, pen, stylus or lipstick marker, and tell us WHO YOU ARE and WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. Tag us on your photo posted on your favorite Social Media channel with hashtag #WomenOfMENA #STEP2017.

Previous submissions will be automatically added. This giveaway will close at 11:59pm Dubai time (GMT+4) 31st March 2017. Winners will be announced on April 1.

Want to secure your spot at STEP 2017? Listen up!
Few weeks left for MENA’s Largest Interactive Gathering, STEP2017, happening on April 5, 6 & 7 at the Dubai International Marine Club. We’re happy to offer you a 30% discount on all access tickets to the 2 events, STEP Conference (April 5 & 6) followed by STEP Music (April 7th) to enjoy the amazing talks and panels by the world’s leading speakers, and listen to regions’s best artists in a 12-Hour festival.

Use this code: 30APVL7G and get your all access tickets here.

About STEP Conference 2017
STEP Conference 2017 is the largest interactive gathering in the MENA regionbringing together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors and tech & media enthusiasts, and hundreds of startups with the best of technology, digital and entertainment industries in a 2-day event loaded with talks, exhibitions and signature happenings.

STEP2017 Startup Basecamp:
#STEP2017 will witness the largest startup showcase in the MENA region in collaboration with Wamda to gather hundreds of the world’s most promising startups from all industries and funding stages.

#WomenOfMENA Ticket Giveaway Winners
Here are the winners of our #WomenOfMENA and STEP 2017 Ticket Giveaway.

Congratulations ladies!

Thank you to our Social Media Marketing partner, Market Me Famous for helping us with this campaign.

Market Me Famous

Market Me Famous is the new generation of Digital & Social Media Marketing. The team at Market Me Famous Identify and leverage insights to develop innovative multi-platform social media strategies tailored to each client’s specific needs. They cultivate and raise the voice of your brand in order to drive meaningful social engagement with your target consumer. Premium storytelling and analytics are the heartbeat of Market Me Famous.

Farewell WOMENA


Three and a half years ago Elissa and I were on a boat somewhere in the Mediterranean and under the cover of the dark night sky and a clear view of the stars unpolluted by city light, we decided to start WOMENA.

Fast forward to December 2014, we launched with our first pitch meeting, and we haven’t stopped moving since. And I’m glad we didn’t stop.

We now have 7 portfolio companies performing exceptionally well building the future in industries from digital health to blockchain and a wonderful network who jump at the opportunity to help them grow. We’ve seen over 1000 entrepreneur submissions, had 17 pitch meetings where 44 entrepreneurs have presented, and done lots of due diligence. Over 350 participants have participated in our 28 workshops on angel investment and venture capital hosted thanks to generous partners. I’ve had the chance to meet hundreds of brilliant entrepreneurs, I’m constantly learning about new industries, and meeting investors with vision for the future.

So it is with a heavy heart that I say that I will be stepping away from active management of WOMENA. We have three wonderful staff, a beautiful office, great partners, WOMENA has been growing steadily and evolving rapidly and I expect great things from the team with my co-founder Elissa at the helm as the visionary and Chief Excitement Officer, Nermine, our talented analyst, Christina, our head of business development and sponsorship, and Dulce, our admin and community manager.

I’ll be in and out of the UAE for the next few months working on an exciting project – stay tuned for more details – and then will be heading off back to my corner of the world (San Francisco, not Hollywoodland). I am excited to be moving to the heart of technological innovation and hope to bring back what I learn to the benefit of WOMENA, its portfolio companies, and the MENA startup ecosystem.

I’ll remain an advisor to WOMENA so will pop in now and again, and am endlessly dedicated to our portfolio companies and will see to it I enhance their success wherever I can. And I’m so proud of WOMENA, which has taken a life of its own and can outlive me. That’s what every founder wants for their company, isn’t it?

Signing off for now,

Chantalle Dumonceaux


Why I Marched

By Elissa Freiha, Cofounder of WOMENA

I am often asked where I come from, what culture I connect with, and it tends to lead to a very messy, long-winded answer. In short, I am Arab-American by blood and was born and raised in France, and for the sake of this article I will elaborate on the lineage of women that I come from and the culture that they have instilled in me.

My American side consists of my mother who has five sisters, two daughters, a niece and a mother of her own. My Arab side consists of my two aunts and seven cousins. In France, I was raised by two darling and dramatic women. And all these women represent dancers, engineers, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, mothers, writers, film makers, realtors and activists – and one of them is arguably one of the most influential Middle Eastern socio-political writers of her generation. All this to say that whilst growing up, I got a front row seat to the forming of an Arab-American alliance of ladies and despite geopolitical tensions and my parents’ divorce; the decades-old cross-culture sisterhood is still going strong.

Furthermore, since my co-founder and I have started WOMENA, we have seen that openness and support first hand. Our team of five women represent 8 cultures and those values have become pillars of our brand.

Through all of this, I have learned that women across the world have been forging bonds of unity since forever, and it is this bond that has allowed for the progressive plight of equal rights to surge through the modern era.

So when the multi-cultural people of the United States decided to march to reaffirm women’s rights in their country, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to take part and show solidarity. I gave into the feminist F.O.M.O (Fear Of Missing Out) and flew to Washington DC to take part in the flagship March with 500,000 others- double the expected turnout. It was 48 hours of mayhem, and it was more satisfying than I can express. More so, it stands as a testament to the universal value of equality that this march was able to expand so fast from one city to 673 cities around the world with over 3 million participants.

In retrospect, when I am now asked where I come from and what culture I connect with, I like to say that it is a Third Culture, a WOMENA culture, a culture of conviction that is always ready to march ahead for the fundamental values of feminism that bind us together.

WOMENA Angel Group Invests in Blockchain Rewards Platform Loyyal

Loyyal a blockchain-based loyalty and rewards platform - Sean Dennis

Just over three months after WOMENA invested in Bayzat and Souqalmal, the Dubai-based angel group kicked off 2017 by investing in the latest funding round of Loyyal, a blockchain-based loyalty and rewards platform.

Loyyal leverages blockchain and smart contract technology to provide a network for incentivising commercial and non-commercial transactions. Their first application of the technology is in the loyalty and rewards industry to solve a clear commercial challenge; high fragmentation and user dissatisfaction in the current marketplace.

“They have a very strong team solving an old problem with new technology. The market for rewards programs is very big and Loyyal has already gained some traction from big potential clients,” said Elissa Freiha, Managing Director, WOMENA. “We are excited to be joining in the blockchain revolution with this investment – the 7th investment for our network. Not only is this a revolutionary model but also a product that our members and consumers around the world will surely use,” she added.

Headquartered in New York with a subsidiary in Dubai, Loyyal is one of the successful Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA) alumni who secured a pilot program with the Dubai government.

According to the announcement, Loyyal is deploying its proprietary and patent pending blockchain and smart contract infrastructure solution to re-map the way the Dubai Holding’s businesses interact with consumers and each other. The pilot will focus on The Jumeirah Group and TECOM Group, bringing together disparate loyalty schemes and separate businesses to unlock undiscovered relationship value and demonstrate the network effect opportunities of using the common ledger and distributed trust capabilities of blockchain.

Sean Dennis, Co-Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Loyyal, said “With the amount of work we are getting in the region and a very positive pipeline of interested clients, we are now opening up an office here in Dubai and will have a permanent team on the ground. We will also make sure to maintain relationships with our new DFA ‘family’ and we are very much looking forward to the future and the growth of Loyyal in the region and globally.”

This marks WOMENA’s first investment in the blockchain sector. The investment was made together with Hayaat Group and other individuals.