Earlier this month we organized a soirée in Riyadh for our Saudi investors, founders and several key local stakeholders… And we didn’t discuss tech for about 20 minutes thanks to Ali Husain of Husaak Adventures.
If you weren’t at Cairo’s Startups Without Borders summit, below are the key arguments that I presented at the panel on How to maximize diversity & inclusion in investment.
More women-led startups? It starts with parents.
62 investments out of 795… < 1%
$51M out of $3.92B… 1.3%
That’s a snapshot of investments into MENA’s women-led startups in 2022.
The gender gap in funding is a global problem. It was 2% in the US in 2021 and 1% in Europe in the same year. Although it’s a fact that founder teams with women are more likely to exit and have a higher IRR (112% vs. 48%).
So why can’t we reduce the gap?
1. Women get less VC money because there are less women founders in general (an ownership gap) – that’s a wrong assumption. IFC says that 1 in 3 of the region’s tech startups is founded by women (a higher % than in Silicon Valley).
2. Women-run businesses tend to provide only women-related products and services. Another wrong assumption.
3. Some investors lack interest and/or knowledge in a particular sector/model – and that applies when a VC doesn’t have enough women on the team who can relate to that model… A platform accelerating women’s career growth may not be fully grasped by men because we (men) don’t face the same career challenges as women.
4. Though there are women-led startups, they can’t raise because they lack certain skill sets and abilities to deliver. Low financial literacy and inability to find the right co-founder could play a role, too. However, luckily for all of us, none of these is a dead-end reason.
5. Up to 57% of STEM grads in Arab countries are women (much more than in unis in the US/Europe), though many of them end up not pursuing their careers. They stay at home either by choice or due to cultural, social or family pressures. But no one should dictate the limits of women’s roles in a society.
The change begins in our mindsets. And the mindsets of parents who need to make sure all their kids get an equal chance at anything, including founding a startup one day.
As investors, we should ask ourselves: Do we have enough women on our own teams?
Apple’s Tim Cook recently admitted there are still not enough women at the table at the world’s tech firms (including Apple).
Answering with Arzan VC in mind, my response is Yes. Arzan VC team is ~44% women representing 4 nationalities (super proud of this).
Investors need to look inwards and start at “home”: Let’s have more diversity in our structures and in decision-making roles… but only as long as these new hires fit in based on their abilities and skills; not because “we need to hire a woman, so let’s do it”. The fact that our team is so diverse only proves that the talent pool out there is equally diverse.
Next: Are we assessing female founders the same way as male founders?
At Arzan VC, we do not have mandates to invest in women-led startups. We approach each startup with the same checks & balances. So far we invested in several women-led (co-led) startups: Citron (Sara Chemmaa), Merit Incentives (Julie Barbier-Leblan), Mejuri (Noura Sakkijha), Cartlow (Nour Sleiman), Munch:on (Dana Baki) and Fatura (Salma Barkouky).
Investors should not discriminate any founder/team based on their gender, race, ethnicity or religion. We must assess them only based on their talent, skill set and ability to innovate and solve a particular problem.
I don’t believe we should force ourselves to invest more money in women-led startups just because there’s a gender gap. Creating a VC fund for women-led startups or setting up mandates on allocations – these are actions that are “forced”. And rather than forcing, we need to focus on the root causes of the gender gap: mindsets.
There are people around us who still prefer to invest in men-led startups, because they believe men are better than women, but there are also others who think the opposite. We shouldn’t think in either direction. Both are wrong. We should only discriminate by skill sets and abilities.
The low investment in females is not a failure of females – there is nothing inherently failing about any gender. If there are not enough women entrepreneurs to choose from and fund, then the issue is in the lack of support for women to become entrepreneurs in the first place.
Obviously, improving the skill sets and abilities of startup teams is something that we all need to focus on as an ecosystem. IFC organized a training/networking event in Dubai earlier this week for selected 100 female-led startups and 10+ VCs/accelerators (She WINS Arabia), and our Asia was representing Arzan VC. In the future, I wish to see every large event (like LEAP or Gitex) having a panel dedicated to female entrepreneurs – so that there’ll be attention given to female founders at large events and real synergies can happen; rather than organising just standalone female-focused events.
If we allow our minds to think outside the gender/cultural/ethnic differences and if we improve access to mentoring and networking for all – then something good will happen.
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read)
Investors should only discriminate by skill sets and abilities. Creating a VC fund for women-led startups or setting up mandates on allocations are forced actions. Rather than forcing, we need to focus on the root causes of the gender gap. Let’s work on changing mindsets - ours and of all parents who need to make sure all their kids will get an equal chance at anything, including founding a startup one day.
Paymennt.com got acquired by Hala. Both are our Fund II companies. Mabrouk guys!
+$3.5M for Gameball
Gameball closed a seed round of $3.5M – we participated along with 500 Global, P1 Ventures, Launch Africa, SEEDRA Ventures and others.
TruKKer and Zid are part of the Saudi Unicorns Programme by Blossom Accelerator, which will help regional start-ups achieve billion-dollar market values.
Mejuri opened its 18th store – in Montreal.
Goodbye to screenshots
Nearpay customers can now receive their receipt instantly through NFC.
- Growth Lead at Retailo (Riyadh)
- Technical Lead at Zid (Egypt)
- Partnerships Manager at Qoyod (Riyadh)
- Product Sales Manager at Merit Incentives (Dubai)
- Digital Marketing Director at Cartlow (Cairo)
- SaaS Sales Specialist at Repzo (Amman)
- UX Copy Writer at Money Fellows (Cairo)
Happy national days to our dear Kuwait 🇰🇼
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