Dr. Abdul Malik Al Jaber recently visited King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia where he was encouraged by the initiatives and progress of the startup community and the potential that this region holds in terms of future angel investment opportunities.
”I recently visited KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) and did a tour of the innovation center. A year ago I participated in an impressive start-up community at KAUST, but this year the evolution, progress and entrepreneurship energy that I experienced in my most recent visit was amazing. Things are definitely changing and on the right track. I am seeing real innovation and the full ecosystem in place; mentorship, boot camps, acceleration, pre-seed funding as well as seed and follow-up funding. It is really amazing! Startups are receiving the attention and investments of big companies like Aramco, Sabic, among others.
Recently we have seen an impressive ecosystem evolve in Dubai. The Future Accelerator in Dubai stands as one of the most promising initiatives. As one can tell from its name, this accelerator opens its doors to any entrepreneur who wants to put his innovation into action to shape the future of Dubai. Smart Dubai Office is looking for innovative smart solutions to make the life of Dubai residents happier and smoother, and to guarantee the best experience in the world.
A few years ago when I started with MENA Apps, the road ahead looked very long and at certain times I felt it would take a long time before we saw real initiatives. We started small initiatives in Jordan and Palestine and I participated in start-up conditions and boot camps in a few places. I did not turn down any invitation to talk about innovation and start-ups or the importance of building the ecosystem to enable the Arab world to face the challenges that we will face. Now, I often have to send my apologies as I am unable to participate in speaking opportunities and events focused onstart ups and entrepreneurship in the region, since there are so many events happening on a regular basis.
Today we have dozens of locally driven events as well as global events that have moved to the region. The region is still inexperienced both in terms of market potential, and with a 350+ million market where many are young entrepreneurs who are talented, motivated and eager to succeed. Seed Stars World, Get in the Ring, MIT, Girls in Tech and many other global players are witnessing an amazing start-up spring in the Mena region. Many international angel investors are coming to the region as well. I have personally invested in 35+ start-ups, 40% of which have female founders.
When I joined EBAN, I was the only Arab that was part of the leading European Angel Network and now we have MBAN (Mena Business Angel Network) and we are working with global partners to set up a hybrid VC/Angel fund in Mena. Currently there are angel groups in Dubai, KSA, Kuwait, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and many other places. The World Business Angel Investment Forum (WBAF) is another key platform that is becoming the bridge between Europe, the world and the Mena region. The new initiatives and work that WBAF brings every year has contributed much to the development of a vibrant and sustainable angel environment in the Mena region.
Angel investors play a key role in the success of an entrepreneurship ecosystem. They provide much more than the seed funding or follow-up funding. They provide guidance, mentorship, and more importantly, they open markets and introduce key customers. This is not a CSR exercise and should never be viewed from that angle, this is a win-win-win formula. This is the 1+1=3 formula.
“We are entering 2017
and I am one of those
people who believe
that this year will be
the turning point in the
history of this region.”
I do not want to give the impression that we have reached the top of the mountain, we are far from it. More needs to be done, for sure. The above initiatives and information should be a door opener and should encourage more players. It should pave the way for more partnerships and cooperation. We are entering 2017 and I am one of those people who believe that this year will be the turning point in the history of this region. We will witness major steps towards having MENA cities as global innovation hubs that will attract innovators from around the world. Dubai stands first in line for this, and I am confident other cities will follow suit.
The WBAF is a platform that we should use to spread the successful stories and best practices into the MENA region. The success story of Bourca Istanbul where a market was built for start-ups, should be duplicated in Dubai as well as other stock markets. The public/private partnership that WBAF has managed to successfully establish is yet another model that can be followed and duplicated in the region.
I am very optimistic and full of hope that 2017 will bear witness to many big surprises and positive developments for start-ups in the MENA region. Let us make sure that success will be felt in every MENA city.
Dr. Abdul Malik Al Jaber is President
of MBAN, Founder Of Arabreneur,
Founder of CH9 and President of