Elissa Freiha, co-founder of Womena, tells Vision why investing in innovative tech entrepreneurs now will change the world
Hyperbole it is not. When Elissa Freiha says that Dubai’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is not only booming but the most “exciting, innovation-focused, optimistic ecosystem on the planet,” the proof is in the pudding – this year, US$1bn will feed tech startups in the UAE.
And Freiha is ahead of the game. As co-founder of the only institutional angel investment group for women in the Middle East, Freiha is already experiencing her clutch of seven UAE fledgling SMEs take their first steps.
Although the high-net-worth Womena angels are ‘industry agnostic’, the platform’s front-running futuristic investment is telemedicine startup, AlemHealth. It is one of seven tech startups Womena has recently invested in to claim a slice of the sector that is projected to grow to over US$28bn in 2021.
“It’s a platform that puts patients in developing countries in touch with radiologists [and other medical experts] in developed countries, for an affordable second opinion”, says Freiha, listed in Arabian Business’ 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2015 and 2016.
“They create unique machine learning algorithms that basically teach the computer to see, read and understand scans that a doctor may not be able to in rural Afghanistan, for example. This will save lives.”
Another promising and recent investment for Womena is Melltoo, a mobile marketplace for secondhand goods launched in 2014 with the unique features of real-time live messaging, in-app payments and user anonymity. It has quadrupled its valuation since Womena invested.
According to Magnitt, a website aimed at entrepreneurs, the UAE is home to 42 per cent of MENA startups. Freiha and co-founder Chantalle Dumonceaux lead their team of 40 Angels from the local region and US, to explore this market for potential investment opportunities – companies that have the potential to return 10x+ over five years – and have to date invested over Dh2m, with entry-level capital starting from US$10,000 and angels commonly holding their investment positions for five to 10 years.
Now is the perfect time to seize opportunities. “Technology is one of the only asset classes that can grow very quickly in a short space of time and give you phenomenal returns,” says Freiha, an Emirati of Lebanese and American descent born and raised in Paris.
“It’s high risk and high return. You can make anywhere from 10 to 100 times your money back within five to seven years. The average return for an angel portfolio in the region is 25 per cent, on a par with Europe and the United States.”
Growth will be exponential in the lead up to Expo 2020, she says. Indeed, the up-and-coming Expo 2020, themed ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, that encourages thriving regional accelerators and incubators to drive an innovative and sustainable future, perfectly encompassing Freiha’s spirit.
“I want to change the world for the better. All innovative tech entrepreneurs share that same desire. I feed off their excitement and enthusiasm,” she says.