Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you WOMENA.
McDougall: I'm a Business Development Associate and Project Manager at WOMENA, an angel investment platform for women to invest in startups in the Middle East. I went to New York University Abu Dhabi where I had an introduction to the burgeoning Middle East entrepreneurship ecosystem. I worked at a couple of startups while studying and loved the passion and excitement surrounding the work. What most interested me most though was the financial side of the ecosystem and venture capital.
I was searching for opportunities at a venture capital firm or angel group when a colleague told me about an angel group a friend of his was setting up in the UAE, which was my first introduction to WOMENA. That one conversation led me to meet the WOMENA Cofounders - Elissa Freiha and Chantalle Dumonceaux - who later offered me a position at WOMENA. I joined in September 2014 and haven't looked back!
Q: Tell us about WOMENA: Who created it and why was it created? What programs and services does it offer and who does it serve?
McDougall: Ms. Elissa Freiha and Ms. Chantalle Dumonceaux are the two WOMENA Co-founders and came up with the idea in 2013 after realizing the huge gap in the market in the Middle East. The Middle East is somewhat unique in the world in that women have considerable control over household finances but there was no avenue for them to invest this money in startups. Hence, WOMENA was born to serve this interest and large sector of society that had been ignored.
Our services are geared towards angel investors, both experienced and novice, with a strong educational component. We try to make the investment process as simple and hassle-free as possible for our angel investor members. We source the deals and conduct thorough due diligence into every one of them. Once every two months four of the startups that have gone through our intensive selection process are invited to pitch to our members who have the opportunity to ask them any questions they may have. We facilitate the investment into the startup through our corporate structure as well to aid our members in their portfolio management.
Our newest program is our Angel Series workshops. Covering all bases of angel investing, participants will finish the series of workshops with the foundational knowledge to become angel investors or seek angel investment as an entrepreneur. We think education is a critical component to building up the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem, which is why the workshops are open to everyone.
Q: In your view, what unique challenges women entrepreneurs from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region face in creating and running a business?
Women entrepreneurs in MENA face the same issues as women entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. However, the cultural barriers women face to start their own business is unique to MENA women entrepreneurs. Women face different expectations than men in the Middle East and those expectations often don't create space for women to setup and start their own business.
I think though this has begun to change. At WOMENA, we see more and more women entrepreneurs with excellent businesses. In fact, almost 50% of the startups that have pitched to WOMENA's members have at least one female cofounder. When only 18% of funded startups in 2014 (http://techcrunch.com/2015/05/26/female-founders-on-an-upward-trend-according-to-crunchbase/#.0jgqknx:XLKi ) had one female founder in the United States, we think this is a very positive sign for the Middle East and the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
With more and more women entrepreneurs in the Middle East, I think this will only encourage more women to enter business and we'll see a positive cycle emerge.
Q: How can we increase the number of women entrepreneurs in the MENA region?
McDougall: There are so many amazing women entrepreneurs in the Middle East but we don't know their stories. We all need to do more to share and promote these entrepreneurship journeys to show to other budding women entrepreneurs out there that they can take that first step and be a success.
There are few mentorship programs and networks for women in the Middle East and I would like to see more emerge in the region. As has been seen around the world, these are a powerful tool to support and promote women in business and entrepreneurship.
Q: Finally, in your opinion, what is the importance of women in entrepreneurship and investment availability in the socio-economic development of the MENA region?
McDougall: Women are critical to entrepreneurship and investment, both within and outside the Middle East. Startups and entrepreneurship are inherently equalizing in nature; over the past few decades, people around the world have benefited from what startups have done and the world has become increasingly interconnected as a result. This can only happen though if everyone, including women, is actively involved and encouraged to participate.
The number of government initiatives in the region to encourage entrepreneurship and investment shows the value placed on entrepreneurship and investment in the Middle East. Governments see entrepreneurship as a way to boost socio-economic development. As women, entrepreneurship and investment are closely linked, so to are women and socio-economic development.