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Entrepreneurship Hub sessions shed light on issues impacting MENA’s female-led start-ups during Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020

Entrepreneurship Hub sessions shed light on issues impacting MENA’s female-led start-ups during Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020
  • Panel discussions titled “How to get Funded” and “Women Leveraging E-commerce for Growth” examine the role of accelerator programs, funding opportunities and e-commerce technology to support female entrepreneurs

Dubai, UAE, 17 February 2020: The Entrepreneurship Hub at the Global Women’s Forum Dubai (GWFD) 2020 played host to two dynamic panel discussions which examined the role of accelerator programs funding frameworks and e-commerce platforms to support female-led start-ups. The discussions were part of the We-Fi MENA Regional Summit, co-organized by the Dubai Women Establishment. The Summit was focused on spurring action that will accelerate women’s entrepreneurship in the region’s emerging economies.

The two-day GWFD 2020 took place at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, UAE, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai. 

The first panel discussion, entitled “How to get Funded”, was moderated by Shruti Chandrasekhar, Head of SME Ventures at the International Finance Corporation and saw the participation of investment experts from across the region including Ramez El-Serafy, CEO, Flat6Labs Egypt; Dany Farha, Co-Founder & CEO, BECO Capital UAE; and Ambar Amleh, Chief Operating Officer, Ibtikar Fund Palestine. 

Ramez El-Serafy, CEO, Flat6Labs Egypt, stressed on the importance of passion to drive start-up success at the earliest stages. “We pick teams and individuals who are passionate about their dreams and what they want to achieve. You can teach entrepreneurs virtually anything when it comes to doing business – but you can’t instill passion,” he said.

El-Serafy also touched upon the importance of incubation to reinforce founding teams, citing that the Flat6Labs accelerator program is designed to equip our entrepreneurs to continue to thrive long after they fly the nest. 

Dany Farha, Co-Founder & CEO, BECO Capital UAE, underscored the importance of a founding team’s ability to articulate their vision clearly and concisely. “When it comes to securing funding, it is imperative that the founding team can walk us through what their vision is, and how they intend to execute on that vision. If what they are doing doesn’t excite us to the point of wanting to quit our jobs and work for that start-up, then by and large it’s not something we’re going to buy in to,” shared Farha.

Ambar Amleh, Chief Operating Officer, Ibtikar Fund Palestine highlighted the importance of having women at the top levels of investment companies to encourage higher levels of participation from female-led start-ups. “Our team is primarily made up of women, and this means we are far more approachable to female entrepreneurs. They come to us much earlier for guidance on everything from their business concepts to their financials and their pitch decks,” said Amleh.

She also stressed the importance of providing amenities that cater specifically to women, including daycare and flexible working hours. 

The second panel discussion, “Women leveraging e-commerce” was moderated by Komal Mohindra and Meriem Slimaine of the World Bank Group with the participation of female entrepreneurs Hana Guellati, founder of Ma Box in Algeria; Yasmine El Mehairy, founder of Coushies in Egypt; and Lara Shahin, founder of Jeroun in Jordan. The discussion touched upon the power of e-commerce platforms to alleviate key challenges facing female entrepreneurs in MENA, including accessibility, exposure and funding. 

Due in large part to the lack of trust associated with e-commerce in the region, participants stressed the importance of social media channels – not only for marketing purposes but as a sales platform too. “Ordering through social media is king. 75% of our sales are made through Instagram, so we’ve developed standard operating practices to convert social media inquiries to purchases,” stated Yasmine El Mehairy. 

The participants also voiced their concerns with global e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Etsy, which often require vendors to set up bank accounts abroad in order to receive payments. “I would love to sell my products on Amazon, as I love the way they exhibit their products,” explained Lana Shahin, “but for a MENA-based start-up such as myself the barriers to entry are just too high,” she continued. 

On the flipside, Hana Guellati cited that she preferred to build her own e-commerce platform rather than piggyback on existing online retailers: “To highlight Algerian products, it’s important that our platform gives a voice to the handicraftsmen and women that are behind our artisan goods,” she explained.

The We-Fi MENA Regional Summit is co-organized by Dubai Women Establishment, DWE, and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, We-Fi, a ground-breaking international partnership launched in 2017 to unlock financing for women-led businesses in developing countries. We-Fi has allocated $249 million to programs that will benefit over 114,000 women-owned SMEs and mobilize $2.6 billion from the public and private sector. The initiative, which is housed in the World Bank and implemented by six multilateral development banks, is supported by 14 donors, including the UAE government, which was one of the first contributors.

Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020 is organized by Dubai Women Establishment, which is led by Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council and wife of HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
Building on its theme, ‘The Power of Influence’, Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020 was focused on highlighting how effective policies and partnerships in four key areas – GovernmentEconomy, Society, and the Future – can further women’s positive impact for a better future.

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