Venture capitalists' heaven: The Middle East digital sector
Venture capital investors in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region have their eyes set on the digital sector with almost half of all such investments going to this sector, a report said.
Most ventures happened in Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon, who currently lead the region in terms of quantity of VC investments.
Numerous promising initiatives are being launched in the region to back the steadfast growth of early-stage tech and e-commerce ventures, said the report released by ArabNet.
One notable example is Berytech, which announced that $30 million will be invested in startups and SMEs starting 2014 with a focus on the creative industries and value-added sectors.
Another example is Aramex’s founder and vice chairman, Fadi Ghandour, who is raising a $75 million to $100 million fund to push forward the growth of early-stage tech and e-commerce ventures within the MENA. This fund will provide tech firms with $1 million - $3 million funds for each venture.
In downtown Cairo, Ahmed Al Alfi, founder of Sawari Ventures, the Egyptian venture capital firm, is taking a leap of faith by using his personal funds to create a centre for technology startups at one of Egypt’s most volatile flashpoints dubbed “The Greek Campus”.
Sawari Ventures’ startup accelerator Flat6Labs has graduated more than 30 companies out of six cycles in two years.
The public sector is also launching initiatives to support entrepreneurship. For example, the Central Bank of Lebanon recently announced that it has dedicated $400 million to guarantee 75 per cent of Lebanese banks equity investment in startups, incubators, accelerators, and funds.
Most of these investments are channeled into the Levant, which is emerging as a chief exporter of digital products and services, including software and mobile applications, the report said.
In Lebanon, more than 60 per cent of firms engaged in ICT pursuits are export oriented, with the majority of profits originating primarily from the Gulf region. Similarly, almost half of Jordan’s IT revenue comes from export, which has increased from $202 million in 2010, to $300 million in 2012.
The Levant has a competitive advantage in skilled workforce, and affordable labour. Lebanon, for example, has 40 per cent lower wages than the GCC, yet ranks 4th in quality of sciences and math education globally. More than 2,000 university graduates related to ICT activities join the sector every year, and the market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 12 per cent and reach a value of $570 million in 2017.
ArabNet will take the opportunity to explore diverse perspectives on entrepreneurship in the region during its upcoming ArabNet Beirut 2014. The three-day event is a festival of digital creativity, business, and development taking place from March 4 - 6.
ArabNet Beirut will feature more than 80 speakers from across the MENA region and abroad to discuss the opportunities in web and mobile for the media and entertainment industries, fashion, creative communities, food and beverage, and more.
It will also feature a Design+Code Day, on March 4, which will host workshops for developers and designers to build their skills and network. The event will include ArabNet’s signature entrepreneur competitions, the Ideathon and Startup Demo, as well as the Creative Combat, which aims to highlight emerging regional talents in digital marketing.
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