Sunday , April 23 2017

Of Wealth, Women and Business

The mutations in financial landscape across the world, in past few decades, have been an ‘evident’ phenomena. What characterises this evolution is the
undisputed role of women in global financial sector as regardless of the cultural or geographical constrains, women have proved that finances and investments which were
earlier thought to be a ‘men’s game’ are not
anymore away from women’s purview.
Apparently, the spending power of women and the amount of wealth they
control worldwide has grown significantly in last few decades and apart from just being entrepreneurs, women today represent a meaningful investor segment as well. If you look around, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has a similar scenario.
Directing their career towards the
treasured and practically under-served GCC
investor segment — Elissa Freiha and
Chantalle Dumonceaux founded Womena around two years ago. Through Womena, they created a platform, where they brought two pillars of any business set-up face-to-face — the ‘entrepreneurs’ and the ‘investors’. What is rather more interesting is the fact that Womena is the first and the largest women-only angel investment group in the region. In fact the inception of Womena has channelised many ways to help other similar
organisations in the UAE.
Soon after they formally started working, Elissa and Chantalle realised that the work they had decided to do, was actually, filling certain unidentified gaps in the market thereby creating conducive environment for start-ups and investors to incubate businesses with high-net-worth returns.
Womena has today reached international corridors. Scores of awards, mention of Womena as exemplary in global media and its fast expanding clientele speak volumes for their success.
Their clients, both investors and entrepreneurs, are a perfect mix of various nationalities adding the tinge of variety in the work they say “they love to do”.

Extracts from the
Conversation

What Womena is actaully doing and how:
Elissa- Womena actually provides Gulf-based high-net-worth women a supportive, professional network and dependable guidance to invest in new companies. Here
Womena is facilitating in the investment process, right from the sourcing to finalising point.
During this process, members learn from a collaborative high-end network of co-investors and industry leaders and get customised education from Womena in the form of a personalised syllabus, expert speakers, one-to-one workshops, and regular
follow-ups.
Chantalle- Womena in simple words sources deal flow from quality partners and pre-screened entrep- reneurs present at monthly meetings. When our entrepreneur members are interested in a company, Womena assists them with the due diligence, negotiations and term sheet creation to make the process easy. So far, our
efforts have been quite fruitful in
emanating a very positive response in the society.

Philosophy behind Womena:
Chantalle- Actually the two of us met in first year of our university studies in 2008 in Paris and have been friends since. I moved to New York and got exposed to the concept of angel investing and its constructive role in any kind of business. Today I am applying my learning to the actual practice.
This particular segment interested me more, because it is about helping people, investing in ideas and ultimately building communities and while doing all this you can still have financial and progressive returns.
So I explored this field further and found that there is a very unique market in the UAE and Middle East at large, where there are women who are both willing to invest and work on their ideas. But the problem was that no platform to facilitate them exclusively was existing.
Also I noticed that there is a gap on the technological front in the market as well. So while combining missing pieces, when we talked about them, we were convinced that this region has women who are able to invest, contribute in the economic growth of this region and help the start-ups
and entrepreneurs in a very considerable manner.
The only thing was to identify the talent and provide them the required resources. And we did exactly the same. Today we can look back with satisfaction and are also working consistently to have a better future.
Elissa – For me investment was a familiar thing. In my family, I have seen people investing in various industries and when we both thought of this idea, we actually identified the lack of knowledgeable and informed investing in the region. Therefore, we created Womena on these lines to spread maximum awareness among women.

Why Dubai, why Middle East:
Elissa- Actually when Womena was conceptualised, I was in Paris and Chanttale was in New York. I was planning to move to Dubai already at that time to open a restaurant, so I always had that entrepreneurial itch and was aware that Dubai is an encouraging market and there can be no better ecosystem to start a business than here.
Also, I knew there is a gap in the market not only in entrepreneurial side but on funding side as well. There is money; there are people who want to invest it but they don’t have the right mechanism to ensure the flow of this money in the hands of the right
people.
Chantalle- The Middle East is usually seen around the world as a region of war and tumult. There are areas in the region where unfortunately that is the case, but a lot of the region is very stable and experiencing rapid growth, especially in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Hence Dubai was obviously our foremost choice to set-up teh base.
With a unique mix of high consumption, quality entrepreneurs, increasing technological uptake and an under-developed early stage financing ecosystem, it is the right time for these countries to see some excellent returns out of their investments.
The Middle East has a young and technologically engaged population with one of the highest smart-phone penetration rates in the world. The culturally diverse region has 400 million potential customers sharing a common language that 4 percent of the world speaks, and yet there is a striking lack of mobile content serving this market, with only 1 percent of the world’s internet content in
Arabic.
For entrepreneurs, the competitive
landscapehere is even more favorable than in Silicon Valley, in the US. A smart entrepreneur can find opportunities to “arabise” a business that has been successful in the West, or create a unique start-up catering to the region’s previously ignored needs, and may find themselves to be one of the few doing it, and with the right investors, or ‘smart capital’, the best doing it, too.

Building a strong foundation:
Elissa- The initial days, when we were planning about Womena, were really difficult. We had to understand what we were dealing with and for that we needed immense data.
Unfortunately, there is a stark dearth of related data in this region. Very little is known about women entrepreneurs or the women investors. This was somewhere near November 2013 and the actual concrete data on this topic only started coming in 2014.
Another thing we realised during our planning stage was that here this particular segment of investing and start-ups is volunteer based. So they were all doing their bit but there was no dedicated platform to manage things or to combine things in one usable platform.
Chantalle- The first year was actually spent searching and understanding what exactly we were doing and how we were going to do it. We talked to various other start-ups, found out what went wrong in their case and why they failed.
This gave us the necessary background and confidence to go ahead with this unique idea of Womena.

Women+ Wealth + MENA = Womena
Elissa- Interestingly, 22 percent of the GCC region’s wealth is in the hands of women. I think women need to look into investment more seriously and therefore help to contribute to their local economy in a much meaningful manner.
Many times women stay away from working or entrepreneurship because of the time constraints it would impose on their personal and family life.
However, investment and angel investing specifically, is a great way to help budding business owners to get involved in economic growth and foster their own value without the sacrifice of a social life.
Also, another thing that needs attention especially for this region is that for women, who have already achieved, it should be a priority to support each other or more precisely I should say other women. There should be a healthy competition and support in equal measure when it comes to professionals.
Chantalle- There are some reasons why the Middle East is an attractive region for investors and why Womena exists here. We provide our investors with a clear portal to pre-screen deal flow, our own due diligence, guidance for evaluating potential investments and tailored education.
We then facilitate the investment process for our members and help our portfolio companies to grow with the combined networks of our membership and the strategic guidance of our members, our team and the wider community. Once we take over, we make sure that all stages of entire process should take place in perfect order, with any scope of mistake or turbulence.
We understand that some investors are apprehensive to get involved with technology start-up investments, which look entirely different than real estate or restaurant investments. However, we emphasise up on education and able guidance for our membes and the community-at-large. It is our foremost responsibility to make them aware about the fast developing technology sector.
We want our members to be smart investors, who can help their portfolio companies be a big success and we really want to see Middle East grow and develop in all the senses.

Challenges and women in leadership:
Elissa- There is a common limit to a person’s belief in them. Women in the Gulf struggle at times to see the true value of what they can offer or even what they are capable of.
The UAE is the regional leader in women’s empowerment and has launched and supported many programmes that will help build the confidence of its population. We offer help to our members in all possible aspects – whether it is education or previous work experiences; the fact that some of the members are mothers or simply the fact that they are women.
Role models are one of the best ways to motivate women. There is an incredible number of successful and inspiring women in the world, yet we have never heard about many of them. This is because there is a taboo
culture surrounding pride.
Many of these women don’t feel the need to tell their story and gain notoriety on a public level because they fear being judged. But little girls need to see the wonder women around them only then we will have a
financial landscape which is unbiased
and open.

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