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Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2016: Hala Fadel, Managing Partner, Leap Ventures

Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women 2016: Hala Fadel, Managing Partner, Leap Ventures

Hala Fadel, Managing Partner, Leap Ventures

Image credit: Leap Ventures
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Hala Fadel is easily one of the most recognizable faces in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the MENA region- and for good reason. Besides her roles as a Partner at Leap Ventures and the founder and Chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan Arab Region, Fadel’s presence is almost guaranteed at pretty much every startupcentric event worth its salt in the Middle East, where she can be seen doing everything from speaking on entrepreneurial paradigms to mentoring ‘treps on their fledgling business models. Given the sheer scope of the work that she does for the MENA startup ecosystem, one can’t help but ask: what’s pushing this seemingly indefatigable woman to do all that she does? “My moonshot is to see a company as big or influential as Google or Apple start from the region,” Fadel replies. “I will stay motivated until I see that happening, and I will contribute every drop of sweat towards that. There is no reason why it cannot happen- we have the talent, and the ‘world is flat’ in the digital era.”

While Fadel’s determined optimism for the MENA startup ecosystem is great by itself, it must be noted here that Fadel is also putting her money where her mouth is- her support of the region’s entrepreneurs is not just restricted to her appearances at events here. She is one of the four co-founders of Leap Ventures (her counterparts in this enterprise being Hervé Cuviliez, Henri Asseily and Noor Sweid), with the company set up as a late-stage venture capital firm for startups in this region, thereby fulfilling what was a definite need for the market here to further evolve and grow. “There was a consensus among Leap partners, even before we started Leap, that in order to get more exits from the Arab region, we need more growth capital, namely US$5-10 million tickets Series B capital,” Fadel says. “There was also a consensus that entrepreneurs welcome professional help on their journey. We decided to start Leap to fill both gaps. The Leap team is my foremost source of learning, and I think that having four partners and more is the best thing for both the partners and the entrepreneurs. It is a wealth of knowledge, and the diversity of the personalities creates a positive dynamic pushing all of us forward, all the time. I think there is, on this team, world-class knowledge and experience in every field an entrepreneur requires in the Middle East, from technology to digital marketing, from financing to business development, from team-building to strategy.”

The creation of Leap can also be seen as a reflection of the development and growth of the MENA region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem- Fadel notes three particular trends that showcase how the Arab world is today a lot more receptive to the idea of its citizens becoming entrepreneurs. “In MENA, over the past few years, there has been, first and foremost, many more entrepreneurs from many countries, and not just in Dubai,” she says. “Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have seen many cohorts of entrepreneurs emerge, with some of them creating a bridge to Dubai for business development and C-level recruiting. Second, the quality of the entrepreneurs has increased significantly, as entrepreneurship has attracted more seasoned professionals, but also because you start seeing the first wave of entrepreneurs with previous startup experience. Last, but not the least, money [has] started to flow into entrepreneurship in a way that has never been seen before in the region. [But] we are still far from optimal levels. As an example, the U.K. receives 0.2% of GDP directly invested into startups, which would translate into $120 million in direct startup investments in Lebanon in a given year, and we are at $40 million this year, despite the well-known [Lebanese] Central Bank initiative. This number would translate into $1.5 billion direct investment in startups in Saudi Arabia, and we are not even close to 10% of that.”

Related: Tips For Women In Business (From Women In Business)

Fadel also notes the need for people in the region to stop with the mythical constructs used to associate with entrepreneurs- a good dose of realism needs to be injected in the ecosystem, she thinks. “The harmful misconception about entrepreneurship in our region is that an entrepreneur is some sort of young genius who has an idea impossible to understand for the normal human being,” Fadel says. “In fact, an entrepreneur is a business person who solves an actual business problem, and the most successful ones have many years of experience behind them, and they should be able to explain their business in simple words, in less than a minute, with everybody understanding.”

Fadel uses a Leap-funded enterprise, Saudi Arabia-based digital entertainment company UTURN to make her point. “For example: What is UTURN? UTURN is the MBC of the digital world.” Fadel also notes UTURN as an example of a startup that has been able to find a genuine need in the market, and capitalize on it: “The MENA population spends 70% of their time online, and only 25% on television, yet 90% of advertising spend is done on traditional media (TV and newspapers), which means advertisers are not spending their money where their audience is. UTURN and Diwanee are two startups leading the platform agnostic digital media space, which is due to explode over the next few years.” Startup success stories are always good to hear, especially in the Middle East, and Fadel feels that people invested in the ecosystem need to help each other out, if more such tales are to come out of this region. “The best way to support each other is to share,” Fadel explains. “Entrepreneurs in our region do not share enough and are too protective of their ideas, experience and knowledge. They think that by sharing they could lose something, whereas, in fact, everyone wins, because sharing is viral, and induces others to share. Sharing will lead everyone to success, and the more success stories in the region, the easier the future path will be for everyone.”

Image credit: Shutterstock.com.

'Trep Talk

Hala Fadel on being an entrepreneur (and actually succeeding at it)

On what entrepreneurs should do before starting a business in the MENA

1. “Work round the clock, and find solutions to your own problems.”

2. “Attract the best people, and be ready to give them equity in your business to retain them.”

3. “Think big, and raise money accordingly.”

On what makes a good founding team for a startup

1. “Deep understanding of the field through experience or hard work.”

2. “Leadership and ability to attract talent.”

3. “Energy and passion.”

On the disadvantages of being an entrepreneur

“You are never in a comfort zone and experience chronic self-doubt and challenges. But for real entrepreneurs, that’s the thrill! The toughest phase as an entrepreneur, independently of age, is when you realize you are wrong and need to take action to either stop it or fix it. It is very painful, but part of the journey. It happens all the time, and still happens today.”

On work-life balance

“The concept of work-life balance frames the problem in the wrong way from the start. In an entrepreneur’s life, work has a huge time and mindshare over your personal life, and recognizing this imbalance is the best way to start. It sets expectations right for everyone. This does not mean that you cannot have a rich personal life. It just means that your presence with your family is different: there could be times where you are hugely present, since as an entrepreneur, you have flexibility with your schedule, but there could be also times where your physical presence is brought to the minimum because of work. In today’s world luckily, there are ways to stay connected with your family and children while you are away at work. This imbalance needs to stay however within certain boundaries acceptable by everyone, and I had to learn how to listen to everyone, and make sure I am here when they need me. Your family is the platform that is the basis for everything. The stability and warmth of this platform is key for any entrepreneur’s success.”

Related: Reaping The Rewards: The MENA Region's Female Entrepreneurs

Edition: October 2016

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