Startup Acceleration in the Gulf
Table of Contents
Key Personnel & Management Plan
Accelerate MENA is a partnership between the Equal Innovation, a US-based innovation and entrepreneurship organization, with several universities, research organizations and non-profits across the Middle East and Gulf Region. Accelerate MENA aims to enhance the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems across the region by engaging the best and brightest young minds in the region to become innovators and entrepreneurs, and to connect them with the resources and leaders they need to be impactful and successful.
Accelerate MENA will directly conduct activities to strengthen angel and early stage investor networks in Bahrain (pop. 1.3 million); Egypt (pop. 82 million); Jordan (pop. 6.5 million); Lebanon (pop. 4.5 million); Turkey (pop. 75 million); Kuwait (pop. 4 million); UAE (pop. 9 million); Qatar (pop. 2.1 million).
Accelerate MENA will take a two-step approach towards develop these angel and early stage investor networks. In the first stage, Accelerate MENA will leverage existing relationships with angel investors in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan to engage them in the GIST network, Accelerate MENA events, and to build a network of angel investors, based on their connections, in Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. Many of these countries have set up government-backed venture funds and have put in place a policy and financing framework that is attractive to the trained investors.
Accelerate MENA will also work closely with partner organizations in each country, including groups such as the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Qatar Foundation and Kuwait National Fund for SME Development to leverage their work with local angel investors and high net-worth families. In most of the Accelerate MENA countries, the national government, along with leading families, have tried to engage private investors to build a local startup ecosystem. Accelerate MENA will collaborate with these local efforts and bring two important new steps to the process.
First, it will bring global best practices in angel investing and startup management through the GIST network and provide formal and in-formal training to investors about startups. Secondly, it will be able to leverage the network of seven countries to identify the most interesting opportunities for each angel investor. Within the GCC for example, an investor can invest in a startup across the seven countries. This will expand our pool of investment opportunities significantly. Accelerate MENA will thus source and train angel investors, and then deploy their capital throughout the region in a way that is more efficient and scalable than previous efforts.
The development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the greatest priorities of the countries in the Middle East in which Accelerate MENA seeks to work. For those countries of the GCC region, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the diversification of their economy away from energy towards more locally owned businesses and private-sector jobs is a priority for which they have allocated billions of dollars. For other nations, such as Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is viewed as a critical driver of economic growth, job creation, participation in the global economy and overall stability. Those nations seek to replicate the experience of India and China to create large manufacturing and technology hubs, but also to leverage their proximity and relationships to Europe and the United States as an advantage to their own startups.
Unfortunately, many of these efforts have stalled, or made marginal progress, over the last few years. There are several reasons for this. The first is a fundamental misunderstanding of the “Silicon Valley model” that they seek to replicate. Each country may be able to annually identify and support a few smart, innovative entrepreneurs, but in the long term the successful creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is predicated on volume. The regions of the world that are consistently most successful in building technology and innovative companies are those regions that have legions of startup companies consistently starting (and failing) on a year to year basis. Not only are there a lot of startup companies, but there is a vibrant network of professionals to support startups, including lawyers, consultants, public relations, manufacturing, mentors, investors and government officials that are focused on helping startups to succeed. This is what we seek to create through Accelerate MENA.
The creation of this entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a “culture of innovation and entrepreneurship” will involve several important steps. The first is the identification of institutional partners – companies, universities and associations, that will anchor the ecosystem and support efforts to launch and invest in startups. The second will be the training of young innovators in science and technology to develop their ideas and launch them into high-growth startups. This is covered by Accelerate MENA through its boot camps, workshops, faculty training and startup events.
The second step is to develop a pool of potential angel investors. This group often serves multiple purposes in an ecosystem. They often start as judges for innovation competitions, and mentors to individual entrepreneurs and startups. They use this experience to “kick the tires” with startups before investing. And upon investing in the startup, these individuals often join the Board of Directors and connect the startup with key partners – customers, vendors, lawyers, public relations, contract manufacturers, accountants and subject experts. In the Middle East region, this type of angel investor rarely exists. There is no shortage of investors in the region, particularly in the wealthy nations of Qatar, the Emirates and Kuwait. However, these investors lack two important qualities of angel investors. First, they do not have much experience with hands-on experience, and secondly, they are lacking opportunities to engage with local startups.
Accelerate MENA will address these problems by integrating potential angel investors into its activities to support young entrepreneurs (Component 1 proposal). Accelerate MENA will work closely with its local partners and business associations to identify potential angel investors. It will then engage those individuals to take “baby steps” towards becoming startup investors. They will be invited to become judges, mentors and speakers to young innovators. As they become comfortable in this environment, we will develop short courses and events to help them become more savvy angel investors. We will use global best practices for developing angel networks, from American groups like the TiE Angels and Common Angels, as well case studies from startups worldwide to assist them.
Lastly, Accelerate MENA will solve a market failure not addressed by previous efforts by expanding the size of the market. One of the challenges that angel investors have is that there are not enough startups for them to select from – whether that’s by country or by topic. By creating similar programs across the region, we will be able to offer the opportunity to invest in a much larger group of startups, which will create further interest and demand.
ACCELERATE MENA OBJECTIVES
Equal Innovation seeks to connect the large community of investors in the Middle East into advocates and investors in high-growth startups that will create jobs and economic opportunity in the region. Accelerate MENA will work in several of the wealthiest countries in the world, including Kuwait, Qatar and the Emirates, and in two of the largest emerging markets in the world – Turkey and Egypt. This creates an opportunity to convert wealth investors from focusing solely on stocks and bonds and instead looking at innovative, high-growth technologies and research breakthroughs developed in their home countries. It will also connect the innovation and startup ecosystems of the various countries in the region to expand the investment opportunities available to angel investors.
The first step towards forming and catalyzing a network of early stage and angel investors in each country where Accelerate MENA participates is to identify the right partner organizations with which to collaborate. Angel network development cannot happen in a vacuum, and most likely will not become robust during the time frame of this GIST grant alone. Local organizations will need to manage, cultivate and engage angel investors long after the trainings, boot camps and other activities under GIST are completed. Therefore, it is critical that Accelerate MENA have the right partners. For this, Accelerate MENA has already identified several potential partner organizations. They are: United Arab Emirate (Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi); Turkey: (Startup Turkey): Lebanon (BDL Accelerate); Jordan (Oasis500 Ventures); Egypt (American University); Kuwait (Kuwait University); Bahrain (Entrepreneurship Development Institute/UNIDO), Qatar Foundation.
The second goal of this project will be a framework with which to source and recruit the investor community in country. The partner organization, along with the Equal Innovation Institute, will reach out to business organizations, chambers of commerce and work with other entrepreneurial organizations to develop target lists of potential angel investors. There will then be business networking events, such as receptions, breakfasts and conferences, with guest speakers from the United States and the region, to speak about angel investing and entrepreneurship. This will be done by leveraging the GIST network, the partners and Equal Innovation Institute’s own networks.
The third goal of the program will to create the “baby steps” by which investors will engage more actively with entrepreneurs, and to integrate these steps into local entrepreneurship programs. We will engage investors with the young innovators and entrepreneurs attending Accelerate MENA boot camps and workshops, and through local entrepreneurship programs at universities and accelerators. Investors will be invited to speak to entrepreneurs and students, to mentor them on their ideas and startups, and become judges for various local competitions. Through these experiences, we believe investors will become more familiar with the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and develop the knowledge, skills and networks they need to invest in early stage startups or join angel syndicates.
The fourth goal of the program is to formally train investors to become early-stage investors. These trainings should be done in collaboration with local partners so that they can continue upon completion of the GIST grant. These trainings will provide potential investors with the technical aspects of investing, such as term sheets, exits and dilution. But it will also cover key topics about the role of an angel investor in a startup – which includes much more than investment. The Equal Innovation Institute will utilize prominent American partners to serve as speakers, mentors, judges and experts to the investor community in the Accelerate MENA program. These leaders will be engaged in person and virtually. In the past, and for Startup Kuwait, the Equal Innovation Institute has partnered with leading American universities such as MIT, Northeastern, the University of Chicago and the University of California. It has also worked with prominent investor groups such as the National Venture Capital Association, TiE Angels, MassChallenge and others.
Fourth, the project will create a multi-national community of angel investors in the region. Due to the small size of the startup community, many angel investors are not finding investment opportunities that are excited to invest and engage in. For example, the GCC allows investors in Kuwait to invest in startups in Bahrain, but as of now, they do not have much knowledge about startups in Bahrain, and therefore, do not invest.
Fifth, through these activities, Accelerate MENA will collect a robust amount of data about the opportunities and challenges of successful innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. Accelerate MENA and its partner organizations will gain an understanding on the innovation selection process, our pedagogy, angel investor motivation and how to strengthen the ecosystem moving forward. This will be done through surveys, regular information collection and interviews.
For Accelerate MENA, we expect success in each participating country through partnerships and leveraging local expertise.
- Hosted nearly 70 networking events for business executives and high-net worth investors to learn about entrepreneurship in the Middle East and source investment opportunities.
- Pitch to 1400 business executives, entrepreneurs and investors about program
- Host over 300 practicing entrepreneurs and investors from around the region and the world
- Introduce over 100 youth innovation teams as serious investment opportunities to angel investors
- Have qualified angel investors in country with a deep understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship in their local markets.
Through the networking events and trainings, we will be able to promote the global GIST network, and use the expertise of American entrepreneurs, investors, angel networks and universities to speak and prepare local angel investors. Through our partners, we will also engage the media and social media to promote Accelerate MENA and GIST.
Finally, we believe that this can be an important way to engage US Embassies and Consulates. From our work in other locations, we know that nearly every country in the world wants to “replicate Silicon Valley”. And yet, very few utilize the knowledge and resources of their local US Embassies – instead going straight to Silicon Valley. Accelerate MENA’s model will utilize US government staff as part of the cohort of speakers, judges and mentors and have them speak to angel network events about investment policy in the United States, become angel investors in the United States, and about opportunities they are seeing in the region.
We believe that this approach is the most impactful and sustainable approach for two important reasons. First, we will be embedding a set of common concepts around innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization across a broad set of institutions in the region, which will give the investors of the region a consistent message and education about innovation. When they do actually invest, they will be able to pursue their innovative ideas throughout the region using a common language, training and by accessing partner institutions for support.
Partners & Partnership Development
For this collaborative effort to be successful, the Equal Innovation will need to quickly develop partnerships in the countries where Accelerate MENA will operate. These partner organizations will serve as our local partners, points of contact and leverage their existing networks to help Accelerate MENA source partners, local experts and sites to host events and trainings. Finalizing these partnerships and areas of joint collaboration will be critical to the early months of the program and allow us to follow the timeline proposed below. Already, the following organizations have stepped forward to be a lead partner in each country.
In the United Arab Emirate (Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi); Turkey: (Startup Turkey): Lebanon (BDL Accelerate); Jordan (Oasis500 Ventures); Egypt (American University); Kuwait (Kuwait National Fund); Bahrain (Entrepreneurship Development Institute/UNIDO), Qatar (Qatar Foundation).
Accelerate MENA will create a consistent set of events and activities in each country in order to achieve our objective of graduating young students from the program with a common set of skills and understanding about innovation. These activities will be:
- Networking Events: These events, organized in collaboration with local partners, will serve as an opportunity for potential angel investors to meet each other, learn about local startups and “wet their feet” about angel investing. These will not be content heavy or a hard push to invest in startups, but instead a chance to softly engage with the startup investment community and hear “war stories” about the entrepreneurial journey.
- Trainings: We will organize conferences, workshops and seminars to train potential angel investors in the technical and operational areas of angel investing. The topics are covered below.
- Engagement in entrepreneurial events: Accelerate MENA is planning to organize entrepreneurial events with local partners (identified above). We will embed potential angel investors in these trainings and boot camps with entrepreneurs and innovators as speakers, judges and mentors in order to breed familiarity with specific startups and the startup culture more broadly.
Delivery & Roll Out:
The partnerships will be finalized by Equal Innovation with support from the GIST network and US Embassies and Consulates. In addition, the early stages of content delivery will be completed by the Equal Innovation team – from the United States and the region. Each partner that has been identified has also identified individuals on their team that are willing to speak, mentor and assist with event logistics. We will lean on these partners in the beginning to get organized and launch.
In the next stage, Accelerate MENA will invite entrepreneurs, investors, sector-experts, business leaders and government officials from the United States and participating countries to engage with Accelerate MENA as speakers, judges, mentors, faculty and to be more involved with GIST and the GIST Network overall.
We believe that we will be able to follow the schedule outlined below to good measure. Certainly, there may be some sites that start slightly after others, but given that we have identified partner organizations, we believe that all sites can complete the core tenets of the program within the identified timeframe. If necessary, we will adjust the schedule for a specific site based on the time when a partnership is finalized and then adjust the program.