x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Angel investor’s push to give women a lift

More female role models are emerging in the Middle East’s technology sector but women remain under-represented when it comes to securing venture capital investment, says the co-founder of the Womena angel investment network, Elissa Freiha.

Ms Freiha says that just 12 per cent of funded technology start-ups in the Middle East are female-led.

“That’s quite a strange number, especially when you consider that 35 per cent of tech founders are female in the Mena region. So there’s 35 per cent availability but only 12 per cent of the funded ones are female-led. There’s quite a disconnect there.”

She adds that the number is even lower when it comes to the volume of investment, with that 12 per cent of businesses receiving just 4 per cent of the capital.

Ms Freiha says the investments made by Womena are more representative, with about 33 per cent of the companies it backs having a female member on the founding team.

“That’s something that we’re really proud of. The entire concept behind Womena was targeting gender diversity in entrepreneurship by increasing the diversity on the investor beat.

“For us, it was no good creating a fund to just target female start-ups because, institutionally, the problems are much greater than that.”

Ms Freiha says she had initially become interested in technology investment when she was setting up a family office with her brother.

“I completely fell in love with the space,” she says. “I love the human element. It’s not financial with a bunch of people behind a computer and some spreadsheets. It’s real people and passion.”

The Womena platform was not initially meant to be a female-only angel investment network, but turned into one when Ms Freiha and her co-founder found that technology events were overwhelmingly male-dominated.

“So we set this challenge for ourselves that instead of trying to convince the old boys’ club that two young women in their 20s can tell them how to invest, or that they should invest in technology, why didn’t we try to find people like us that are already in investing in technology?”

Womena co-invests alongside venture capital firms and makes investments in the range of US$35,000 to $150,000 in companies embarking on early-stage funding rounds of up to $1 million.

“One thing I am really proud of is our due diligence process is one of the most extensive in the region,” Ms Freiha says. “It is super-annoying for entrepreneurs that might not get funding. But for the ones that do, we ask them so many questions and we really put them through such a rigorous vetting process. The investors are comforted by that and the entrepreneurs really have their eyes opened.”

mfahy@thenational.ae

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