MENA meets Stockholm at #sthlmtech. (Images via Aurore Belfrage)
When talking to investors, corporates and media in the west about working in MENA they tend to be curious and keen to hear more about the growing opportunities, players and market structures.
Ironically when talking to people in the region about my excitement about the growing tech opportunities, they often ask the same question - why?
Khalas - the tech startup opportunities in the Middle East are real. Yes, the ecosystems are nascent, startups sometimes immature and investors less experienced with this new asset class, but I have been overwhelmed by the talent, ambition, savviness and the innovation I have seen during my last two years of touring MENA and Turkey.
The tour 'Saluting the Naive and Crazy' visited nine startup hubs – Istanbul, Dubai, Amman, Tunis, Erbil/Iraq, Doha, Cairo, Riyadh and Beirut. We had the great pleasure of discussing growth, innovation, customer acquisition, fund raising and world domination in an informal setting with the superstar talents and investors of the region. It started as a corporate sponsored road show to inspire and entertain resulted in a portfolio of angel investments, advisory positions and governmental assignments. Eating aubergine will always be a main priority, but the investment potential of MENA is undoubtedly a strong pull.
Sharing is caring, as they say, so the only decent thing to do was to share the MENA opportunities with investors and startups in Stockholm. It’s thrilling to see Dany and Amir Farha from BECO Capital, and Numan Numan and Ali Karabey from 212/Istanbul with woolly sweaters, furry hats and red noses brave the crisp early Swedish winter.
In reality, Stockholm is hot right now. Capital is in abundance. It has amazing early stage startups and a great ecosystem that has grown out of both the millennium bubble and great tech businesses like Spotify, Klarna, TrueCaller, Skype, TradeDoubler, KING.com/Candy Crush, Mojang/Minecraft, and more.
Intercontinental selfie (clockwise L-R): Aurore Belfrage, Amir Farha, cofounder & managing partner at BECO Capital; Ali Karabey, partner at 212; Numan Numan, managing director at 212, Dany Farha, cofounder & CEO at BECO Capital.
Once a month in Stockholm we all meet up to hear the latest news, chit chat, discuss the last month’s fundraising and valuations and take the pulse of the growing tech scene. Recently Stockholm was all about the Middle East and Turkey.
The 1,000+ people in the audience were unusually keen and curious to hear about the markets, the type of innovation is coming out of the region and how we can build bridges. The reality is that the US is the Holy Grail for the majority of Swedish startups, but the market is saturated and super competitive.
Our message was: don’t forget Turkey’s 75 million inhabitant with 35 million on Facebook and smartphones, and credit card penetration that is the same as the UK’s. Don’t forget Egypt. Don’t forget Saudi Arabia or the UAE, the Levant and North Africa. Need I say more? Innovation is borderless and markets are becoming increasingly global with regional opportunities for any global-by-default startups to grow – and I mean really grow.
Yalla - the genuine interest BECO and 212 encountered when discussing MENA with investors, institutions and startups in Stockholm shows that there are real opportunities. So let’s invite European startups and investors to explore and set up shop in MENA. It’s a longterm play, you have to actually believe in the opportunity and it has to be been win-win.
The equivalent Swedish lingo is Hej Hej, Tack Tack, Puss Puss (Hi Hi, thanks thanks, kiss kiss).