By all accounts, the Dubai – and regional – startup ecosystems have made great strides in recent years. Alvaro Abella, Managing Partner at BECO Capital, reported during Wamda's Mix N'Mentor in Dubai last month, that the most prominent theme he’d picked up on at Mix N’ Mentor was that people were focused on fundraising, which is “fantastic news for the ecosystem in general.”
Similarly, now that startups are getting more traction than ever – a trend also reported by LMTD’s Will Hutson and Khaled Talhouni from Wamda Capital – the question remains of what to do next. This question extends to where to look for funding (Abella says entrepreneurs should “talk to angel networks,” rather than being “too focused on speaking to VCs”), as well as how to get the word out (a topic touched on by both Patrick Thiriet, Chief Strategy Officer for the Choueiri Group and Facebook’s Jonathan Labin).
Hutson brought another important challenge to the discussion, namely the difficulty some startups are still having with “credibility;” or, in other words, being taken seriously by businesses with which they want to partner. People in the region continue to need education about the rewards of partnering professionally with startups – in addition to the well-publicized risks.
While the ecosystem is developing quickly, there still remain some “white spaces,” as Labin calls them, sectors in which entrepreneurs have perhaps more opportunity for development than elsewhere. “There’s still room in gaming,” says the Facebook executive. “I haven’t seen a lot of great [gaming] apps that are localized for this part of the world.”
For Talhouni, there’s also room for growth in ecommerce, despite the leaps and bounds ecommerce startups have made over just the past year. “There are a lot of opportunities around ecommerce and everything around ecommerce [structure, optimization, payment solutions, etc.],” says the VC. “It’s now approaching $6-7 billion” as an industry.
Labin also emphasized the cross-sector opportunity for all MENA startups. “I also still think there’s room for regional startups to go global. MENA as a region is big… but there’s also the rest of the world…. I’d love to see startups from this part of the world thinking that their solutions are global.”
Check out more from the mentors – and the event’s most tuned-in entrepreneurs – in the video above.