500 Startups has closed $15M out of its $30M target it announced late 2014 to invest in approximately 100-150 early-stage startups in the MENA region, MENA diaspora founders and non-MENA founders targeting MENA.
500 Falcons says it will use about half of the fund and reserve the other half for follow-on investment in the top 20% of companies. The fund’s first closing came from the Qatar Science and Technology Park and the Oman Investment Fund who will be helpful to 500 Falcons to its mission to support and invest in startups and build ecosystems in the MENA region.
Hasan Haider, a Partner at 500 Startups taking care of 500 Startups MENA region said, “I look forward to 500 Startups playing a significant role in building ecosystems across the MENA region, and investing in the best founders solving real problems. I hope that our deal volume and speed will provide at least a small boost in funding activity at the earliest stages and even encourage others to do more deals as well.”
“Progression is key for entrepreneurs and they need optionality of capital sources at all stages in their startup and scaling. We’re all aligned in that we want to create more companies and help those companies grow,” Haider added. “Here’s to building world class startups from the Middle East, creating jobs, solving real problems, empowering the youth, women and anyone who wants to effect real change to better their surroundings, and generating a positive return on capital while we’re at it!”
500 Startups is also actively recruiting to have people on the ground in its key markets such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan amongst others. Along with QSTP, 500 Startups MENA will bring its Series A Program (formerly known as Distro Dojo) to the region as ‘Doha Dojo.’ Once a year, it will be working with some of the top MENA startups at the Series A level to bring them to Doha with some of the best growth hackers in the world to help build a growth mindset and support them in their growth.
Haider added that in Oman, 500 Falcons is set to work with the Oman Investment Fund through the Oman Tech Fund and will be advising and supporting the Wadi Accelerator program in Oman with knowledge transfer, capacity building and a cadre of mentors as well as the Geeks in a Wadi event.The region has long faced political and economic uncertainty, and a growing younger population that is looking to take charge and change things with their own hands. These youth have access to the same global wealth of information as anyone else. If they so choose, they’re capable of achieving the same things anyone else in the world is.
The Middle East and North Africa are among the last large regional ecosystems to rise up, and emerging markets tend to leapfrog adoption of innovations and technology at higher and higher frequencies. Being a latecomer does not mean staying behind, and the Arabic speaking world is 500 million strong – young, resourceful, wealthy and a yearning to thrive.
MENA has a massive 500 million Arabic speaking population and is a largely untapped ecosystem/market, internally and internationally. There has been a shift in fossil fuel prices and changing geopolitical forces as well as lower valuations and costs of operating a business even though there is a highly educated, competitive and vibrant talent pool.