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.