Online Art Marketplace Collectionair Closes Investment
In an article for Al Arabiya in April, Sultan Al Qassemi, art commentator and founder of the Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation, asserts the value of Arab art having an online presence: “If the masses won’t go to the art, take the art to the masses.”
And Collectionair -a curated platform and marketplace for fine art from emerging markets including the MENA region- is perhaps close to it, as it has just received funding support from both twofour54 and DASH Ventures. twofour54 acquired a stake in Collectionair for an undisclosed amount, and the UAE-based startup was previously part of Flat6Labs’ first cycle in 2015.
Joining Collectionair’s investors is DASH Ventures, an early-stage VC firm based in Jordan, with Managing Director Omar J. Sati saying that evaluation of the online marketplace and the closing process took just three months, with everything finalized at the end of December last year.
Sati also notes the business model of buying and selling art online has been proven through Saatchi Art and Artspace’s acquisitions, with Collectionair’s focus on sourcing art from MENA and marketing efforts from buyers, collectors and curators from Western markets counting as an “attractive differentiator.”
Another factor piquing DASH Ventures’ interest in the enterprise was the founding team, as Sati says that they balance business know-how and art expertise. “DASH Ventures has been exploring the idea of establishing an art fund to invest in works of art as an asset class for some time with a focus on emerging markets and artists. The idea supports our creative industries vertical, where we’ve already invested in projects across the region in the fields of film, theatre, and the performing arts."
"So, Collectionair came at an opportune time. In fact, DASH’s art fund is still a work in progress, and we made our first art piece acquisition last month. We hope to leverage the Collectionair platform to sell the artwork down the line to generate returns, once we feel the artist or piece has appreciated in value.”
Co-founded by Valerie Konde and Olivier Varenne, the pair launched Collectionair after observing that the sector afforded people limited access, since it’s generally private and by-invite only. “[People] often feel intimidated and lost when visiting art galleries or art fairs, and even more when asking questions about the artists, the artwork itself, or even worse, its price,” explains Konde.
Collectionair aims to change this by opening up access for all to enjoy art at affordable prices, and hopes to increase visibility for both upcoming and established artists. The online platform invites curators worldwide to showcase artists’ works through online exhibits, and allows users to buy, rent and swap pieces with other members of the site. Collectionair also guides new users interested in collecting art from the beginning to end process, while allowing experienced art collectors a chance to diversify their collections.
Konde advises startups seeking funding “to do their homework and approach investors who would be an obvious right ‘fit’ for their startups. Make sure you have built the right team to make the business succeed before you approach investors. It is important to keep in mind that, for early-stage companies, most investors invest in people first- the team is absolutely key. Be prepared and already have a solid and proven business model, and a minimum of market traction.”
After launching and building their MVP, the cofounders began testing and iterating the business model based on user interests. Having a platform that can be on par with global players was important to them, as well as building a sellable brand- and this is when they decided heavy investments were required in people, tech, and marketing aspects of the business.
When choosing investors, Konde noted that as an early-stage company, they looked at how well the investors understood their industry and whether they shared a vision to get their support as a sounding board for key decisions.
According to the founders, the capital will go towards team expansion, developing Collectionair’s base of art-sourcing partners, forming associations in sale and supply departments, and marketing efforts in a bid “to build a sustainable sales pipeline and prove our potential for growth.”
Pamella de Leon is the Startup Section Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East. She is keen on the MENA region’s entrepreneurship potential, with a specific interest to support enterprises and individuals creating an impact.