As Arabnet CEO Omar Christidis took his last strides on the Arabnet Digital Summit stage in Dubai and shared some telling numbers, the magnitude of the two-day event was felt.“Over the past few days, we had 120 speakers and 100 investors in attendance. Hundreds of millions of dollars (worth of venture capital) walking around out there,” said Christidis.
Earlier in the day, he unveiled the much-anticipated ArabNet ‘The State of Digital Investments in MENA (2013-2016) Report’ in partnership with Dubai SME CEO Abdulbaset Al Janahi. In it, the UAE, thanks to Dubai’s expanding ecosystem, was highlighted as the MENA’s leading startup hub.“2016 was a record year for funding technology startups in the MENA. Over 30 new investment institutions were launched, and over 900 million dollars were invested in 2016 alone, greater than the value of all investments between 2013-2015 combined,” said Christidis.
Next up in MENA
Despite the focus on Dubai, a section within Day 2 of the summit stood out highlighting the MENA’s emerging markets.
Panelists Amad Almsaodi, Sharifa AlBarami and Mohammed Khudairi, shared a close look at the state of the startup ecosystems in Yemen, Oman, and Iraq, respectively.
Almsaodi, a Yemeni entrepreneur, said that businesspeople in his country are discovering opportunities to invest in startups thanks to some encouragement. His real estate search engine Aqar Map was one of several Yemeni startups named a few days ago by the World Economic Forum as one of the 100 Arab startups shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“As I was telling Yemeni businesspeople about angel investing, I shared with them a few videos about the topic that I found on Khan Academy ( a renowned online education portal, famous in the US), and told them about local events where they could meet startup founders,” said Almsaodi. He added: “One of them started a fund four months ago and he has already made four investments.”
This reveals that people who have worked for a long time in the bigger businesses in Yemen hitting premium earnings, started to invest in startups and support entrepreneurs. This reveals additional successful startup stories to rise in Yemen, as the the ecosystem grows from within.
More than money
Khudairi, who hails from Iraq and is the managing partner of Khudairi Group and cofounder of Techhub, said that early-stage startups in his country don’t just need financial investments, but also require essential mentorship, which is particularly important at this stage.“Organizations like Wamda and Astrolabs offer their mentorship because they want to see us win. Iraqi startups need more similar mentorship from the region, and eventually money (from regional investors),” he said.
Sharifa AlBarami, an Omani businesswoman who is a seed investor in startups in her role as managing director of the Oman Technology Fund, discussed areas for opportunity for startups in her country's ecosystem.
She shared some important advice with startups considering how much equity to give away to investors during early rounds. “Startups, be careful about giving up too much of your company early on to investors: 15 percent or more is too much. This can destroy your chances (for success).” She also highlighted the importance of dedicating extra media focus to the rising startups in various emerging markets, including Yemen, Iraq, and Oman.
On the sidelines of Arabnet, Egyptian serial entrepreneur and angel investor Tarek Amin, founder of Dubai Angel Investors, echoed Almsaodi’s statement about the increase of the number of angel investors in the MENA.“I believe that in 2017, we will see more angel groups and networks launching with more streamlined opportunities to invest alongside early-stage VCs. It is important to note that today angel investors provide more than just initial funding. They serve as connectors and facilitators of future business and investment opportunities,” said Amin.