Taking On The World: Dubai-Headquartered Global Ventures Is On A Mission To Impact Millions Of Lives
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It is perhaps a nod to the times we live in today that we often see both individuals and entities describe themselves with nomenclatures and notions that are often not an entirely truthful depiction of who they are, or what they do. For instance, there are people who have no qualms in emblazoning themselves as “thought leaders” on a social media platform, even though they don’t have anything of real value to share in terms of insights. Or consider those companies that talk a big game and make use of all the right buzzwords when they pitch themselves, but are, in fact, quite badly run, and are probably one step away from closure. Indeed, this affliction of claiming to be one thing while being something else entirely is something I’ve often felt to be quite widespread in the MENA startup ecosystem, which is why I’m always impressed whenever I come across an entrepreneur or enterprise in the region that behave exactly as how they brand themselves to be. And this is one of the reasons why the Dubai-headquartered venture capital (VC) firm, Global Ventures, has, ever since its launch, always stayed on my radar.
Led by General Partners Noor Sweid and Basil Moftah, this enterprise proudly declares on its website that its vision is global, and its focus is growth- and Global Ventures has been clearly exhibiting its premise by supporting entrepreneurs in emerging markets that are working to “change the world.” This has been especially evident in its investments in 2020- be it with its participation in the US$3.5 million seed round of Riyadh-based fintech startup Lean Technologies, or with the $10 million Series A round it co-led in the Lagos-headquartered healthtech company Helium Health, Global Ventures has stayed true to the paradigm with which it was launched, putting its weight behind enterprises whose offerings are envisioning better futures for communities around the globe. “The ethos by which we work and support founders is simple,” Sweid says. “If we believe that we can add value to their journey, and that their vision supports a better version of the world, we are excited to partner with them.”
As someone who had, in a 2019 interview for Entrepreneur Middle East, laid bare her ambition of wanting to play a part in the development of entrepreneurial ventures that become globally renowned players, Sweid is clearly sticking to the fervor with which she launched Global Ventures in the first place. And she has seemingly managed to surround herself at the company with people possessing that same blend of passion and purpose as well. Of course, it helps that she and Moftah are setting the tone at the topboth of them can boast of having close ties to the entrepreneurial realm.
Sweid’s career, for instance, has seen her do everything from scaling her family business (interior decorating firm Depa) and leading its IPO, to launching and growing a startup (yoga and pilates studio ZenYoga) and eventually selling it to a private equity firm, and onward to then taking on critical roles in the region’s investment space- she was the Chief Investment Officer at Dubai Future Foundation, as well as a Founding Partner at growth stage VC firm, Leap Ventures. Meanwhile, Moftah –an ex-President of Intellectual Property and Science at Thomson Reuters- is perhaps best known in the region for being a founding member of Reuters Venture Capital (the same company’s $400 million corporate venture arm), as well as for leading its acquisition of MENA business intelligence provider Zawya in 2012.
Basil Moftah and Noor Sweid, General Partners, Global Ventures
Source: Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik
Given their respective career trajectories, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Sweid and Moftah have made sure Global Ventures is filled with people who reflect their entrepreneurial zeal with their own claims to fame within the startup landscape. Operating Partner Said Murad, for instance, was formerly the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Amman-based startup, Jamalon. The co-founder of Dubai-headquartered social enterprise, Companies Creating Change (c3), Medea Nocentini (who was previously the Chief Strategy Officer at The AW Rostamani Group), functions as the COO of Global Ventures. Amal Enan, who was previously the Executive Director of the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, is the company’s Managing Director for the North Africa and Levant regions.
Leading the enterprise’s fintech arm is Eslam Darwish (the co-founder and CEO of Cairo-based “innovation architects” Just.Innovate), while its healthtech arm is spearheaded by Sajjad Kamal (the co-founder and former CTO of radiology digitization startup AlemHealth). Rounding off Global Ventures’ senior leadership team is its Operating Director, Vishal Sharma (who was formerly the Head of Digital Strategy and Venture Investments at Abu Dhabi-headquartered NMC Healthcare), as well as Principal Sacha Haider (who used to work as an Associate at American investment firm Colony Capital’s arm in Mexico City).
The number of personnel listed above should give an indication of how Global Ventures has grown since launching more than three years ago. “We were three when the firm was founded in 2018,” Moftah remembers. “We are now a family of more than 20 members.” The company has seen geographic growth as well, he says- Global Ventures now has a presence in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Europe, and North America. At this point, a note must be made about the diversity that’s resplendent in the team at Global Ventures- and it’s not just from the perspective of gender, Sweid points out.
“If diversity is an imperative in successful organizations, then inclusion is the only way to get there,” she says. “We pride ourselves on our diversity of thought, not just gender: our team is diverse in the number of nationalities (14), the age, the background, and the location. We are incredibly proud of our teams in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and our remote staff in the UK, Canada, and Tunisia. The diversity of thought, experiences, age, and gender creates incredibly unique conversations when considering investments, risk, and strategies. It fosters a learning culture where everybody’s experiences are welcome and considered in decision-making and value creation for founders.”
Having closed its first fund of $50 million in early 2020, Global Ventures is now looking to expand its investment track record with the launch of its second fund. “We’ve continued to invest in spite of the challenging environments of lockdowns and restrictions, and to partner with and support our portfolio companies even through turbulent times,” Moftah says. “We’ve embedded the power of foresight into our DNA, by always thinking with a long-term focus and understanding that as patient capitalists, we see beyond the horizons of short-term disruption towards long-term opportunities.” Sweid agrees with this notion, with a nod toward the principles that govern Global Ventures’ investments.
“Our mission and strategy focus on investing in founders who are focused on global growth or regional white spaces, and partnering to enable their optimal growth path, enabling them to achieve the vision for their companies,” she says. “We view each investment and portfolio company as a partner: we are aligned on what they are trying to achieve and support them closely, working with them through our proprietary value creation framework to accelerate their growth and success, and being there [with them], through the good times and the tough times.”
Noor Sweid, General Partner, Global Ventures
Source: Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik
The veracity of these statements by Sweid and Moftah can be confirmed by simply looking at the kind of startups Global Ventures has invested in so far. The sectors they operate in may be varied, and the geographies they cover may be distant from each other, but it does seem like all of them are focused on solving problems that are, while seemingly specific to the times we live in, actually well-placed to play major roles in our collective futures as well. From an on-demand staffing platform that’s geared toward the rise of the gig economy (Ogram), to a cyber security startup making use of machine-driven technology to protect enterprises from threats in the online space (SpiderSilk), the companies that make up Global Ventures’ portfolio seem to have been selected after careful deliberation on not just the size and scale of problems they solve, but also on how they go about solving them.
“We have always been a thesis-driven and researchbased team.” Moftah explains. “To define the problem and the solution, we conduct rigorous primary and secondary research by speaking to customers, competitors, and notable players in any of the spaces that we invest in. We dive deep in order to fully and comprehensively understand the drivers of long-term value. It is in research and conversation that we scan and identify the startups and founders that are best solving the defined problem(s), and those who bring passion, experience, and an entrepreneurial mindset to what they do.”
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that’s perhaps why Moftah points toward how the startups under Global Ventures’ purview have fared amid the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. “One of 2020’s key takeaways is that the world is a complex place. More than that, however, the year clearly demonstrated the level, speed, and impact of that complexity. We are proud that our portfolio has been resilient, and [they] have all come out on top, winning and thriving, in spite of the challenges.”
While a large amount of the credit here should go to the startups themselves, one cannot discredit the value Global Ventures’ support gave to these enterprises as they grappled with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic. COO Medea Nocentini says that while the enterprise’s first and foremost priority at the time was to ensure everyone’s safety, both Global Ventures and its portfolio companies seamlessly shifted into a remote work model, and, well, got back to business.
“We conducted regular check-ins with our portfolio founders to align and advise on contingency plans, and to figure out where and how we can best support them,” Nocentini says. “Our modus operandi is always hands-on. Be it in times of economic prosperity or in times of crisis, we believe in communication and collaboration- that VC is inherently a human experience that centers around relationship-building and partnership. We’ve provided help with cash management, and, wherever necessary, advised on suitable pivoting strategies. Many of our portfolio companies were presented with hypergrowth opportunities, as a result of the accelerated pace of digital adoption induced by the pandemic. We shared our insights and advice on the best ways to capture these opportunities. We are proud of our founders and teams for their go-getter attitudes and adaptability navigating the uncharted waters of this pandemic.”
The manner in which Global Ventures’ portfolio of startups, most of whom are located in the MENA region, also serve as an indication to the growing maturity of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, notes Amal Enan, who leads the company’s investment team and activities in the North African and Levant regions. “2020 validated the region’s capacity to respond to a global crisis with innovative solutions,” Enan says. “Investments in the region’s nascent ecosystem from accelerators to research hubs and technology startups paid up, as populations searched for alternatives to accommodate for remote work, healthcare provision, education, payments, commerce, and more. The accelerated adoption underscored the importance for increased investments in tech innovations solving for fragile infrastructures, underserved markets, and leapfrogging entire sectors to new technology frontiers."
Global Ventures team
Source: Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik
"This is apparent in healthtech, edtech, and fintech where we see opportunities for diversifying and deepening offerings to address the spectrum of growing needs. Equally, agtech, mobility, software as a service (SaaS), and clean tech present fertile ground for innovating to unlock significant value unique to the region.” Moftah confirms Enan’s statement when he reveals the focus of the new fund that Global Ventures is currently working on. “Our second fund is dedicated to partnering with startups and entrepreneurs that are addressing the post-COVID-19 challenges, starting with digital health, edtech, and food and water security, but also expanding to the second wave of fintech, the future of work, and B2B commerce,” Moftah reveals. “Achieving our second fund’s objectives involves doing the work and the research that allows us to get a holistic understanding of the trends, before getting excited about any investment opportunity.”
The team at Global Ventures are thus making sure they are attuned to whatever is happening in the entrepreneurial space, and this extends to the VC domain as well. According to Operating Partner Said Murad, VCs today are placing a greater emphasis on being differentiated, with capital getting commoditized, and investors underlining the need for smart capital more than ever before.
“At Global Ventures, we refer to it as ‘global capital,’ due to the nature of the support we provide alongside the capital we deploy,” Murad says. “Tangible, results-oriented support goes a long way to differentiating an investor and making them the go-to partner of choice across the startup ecosystem.” Data is going to play a bigger role in investment decisions, Murad predicts, and entrepreneurs would be wise to make it a point to understand customer and client trends, efficient customer acquisition path, and the critical success factors surrounding one’s business.
“Another trend is that there is much more of a focus on sustainable growth, versus blitz scaling,” he adds. “Companies are focused, from an early stage, on demonstrating a path to sustainable growth, with positive unit economics at the center of any B2C business assessment, and strong growth coupled with low churn and growth in average contract values for B2B businesses. Investors are savvy and understand the nuances of sustainable growth- it is important to be very clear in highlighting that as something you’re going to be focused on throughout your journey.”
Such factors are integral to the processes through which Global Ventures decides on its investments, and it should be clear by now that this VC firm is looking to ride the same wave of opportunities that the entrepreneurs it supports are sailing on as well. “We are incredibly fortunate to be in a part of the world that is growing at an incredible rate: from population to opportunities,” Sweid declares. “There is an unquantifiable number of challenges to be addressed in emerging markets that provide founders an opportunity to do well and do good. As we scale as an investors, we hope that we can support the founders that are proving that the opportunity to address key issues, such as access to healthcare and education, provide superior returns to those that are marginally improving lives. In public markets, companies that focus on environmental, social, and corporate governance often command higher valuation multiples than their competitors that don’t have such an emphasis. We believe the same is true for private markets, and this has become a priority for us.”
And this ties into Sweid’s personal motivations for doing what she does at Global Ventures. “This drives me and the work we do: the ability to create jobs by funding growth, to improve financial inclusion by enabling the scaling of fintech companies, and to provide increased access to healthcare for those who are underserved by partnering with digital health companies. The opportunity to create positive change is endless, and continues with access to education, and so on. The personal motivation is that the success of these founders provides not only outsized financial returns, but truly improves millions of lives– and it is an honor and privilege to be invited on that journey,” Sweid concludes.
Global Ventures General Partner Basil Moftah’s tips for entrepreneurs pitching to investors
1/ Share openly and directly with investors “It’s not only a matter of sharing your work and progress, but also the challenges you’ve encountered and the learnings from your journey toward building a great product or service that solves a real problem.”
2/ You get what you put in “We feel excited when you are excited, so be passionate and committed.”
3/ Focus on the big picture “Your cap table should represent the people you want with you on the journey, not just sources of money.”
4/ Teams win, not individuals “A lot can be said of an entrepreneur from the people they hire. That being said, it pays off to spend additional time thinking about talent and team building.”
5/ Think big, and be ambitious “If you’re thinking about creating a hundred million dollar company, aim for the billion dollar one. Always think bigger.”
Global Ventures team
Source: Entrepreneur Middle East/Farooq Salik
Global Ventures Operating Partner Said Murad on how entrepreneurs can go about making better use of their investors in running their businesses
1/ Remain engaged, and do not hesitate to leverage your investors to support your journey “
Take full advantage of your cap table. A well networked VC, with operators heavily involved, can support growth in more ways than one. There is more to a VC than just capital, and it is important for portfolio companies to engage and leverage the skills, capabilities, and network of its investors. Additionally, a VC firm can act as a sounding board and provide unfettered and genuine feedback on any strategic matters- something founders need to benefit from. At Global Ventures, we have held several bespoke strategy workshops, matching topics to portfolio needs (whether firm strategy, merchant acquisition, sales strategy, user acquisition, and others), all of which were well received by the portfolio.”
2/ Plan and prepare, but focus on execution and generating results
“It is important to plan, but don’t boil the ocean and get into analysis paralysis- move forward and execute. Focus on delivering results, and once again, use your extended network and cap table to enable quick and efficient execution. Whether it is to grow in a specific market, or to expand geographically, plan for it in coordination with your partners, but move forward and generate results. Global Ventures places a specific emphasis on this, and has worked with several portfolio companies to scale across borders, both regionally (from the UAE to KSA, as an example) and globally (from the UAE to the US, as another example).”
3/ Use your VC’s value creation function as a gateway to a wider community of likeminded founders and entrepreneurs
“Every VC wants its founders to collaborate and build accretive value. Ensure that you are well positioned to play an active community role and benefit from economies of scale, even if there are no formal ties with other portfolio companies. A collective approach can yield positive results and will be well facilitated through the value creation function of your VC firm(s). This was evidenced heavily when the pandemic first hit in March 2020 and the Global Ventures portfolio came together, as a community, to share action plans and support each other to navigate through the complexities of a downturn.”