Strategizing Impact: Dr. Danny Ramadan, Investment Director, Qatar Science & Technology Park
Qatar Science & Technology Park Investment Director Dr. Danny Ramadan is all about the long-term game when it comes to making Qatar a hub for tech innovation.
Since its launch in 2009, Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) has reached several significant milestones in its mission to position Qatar as a premier hub and international destination for technology development, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Some of these include investing QAR4.3 billion in research and development activities by international companies registered at QSTP, becoming home to more than 50 companies, including 20 multinational corporations, and incubating 22 tech startups, among other notable efforts. Given all these achievements, it makes it hard to decide how one should refer to QSTP: is it a free zone, an accelerator and incubator, or an investor? Actually, it’s all of that, and much more.
As part of Qatar Foundation (QF), QSTP offers a free zone and technology park that hosts global tech companies, while also mentoring and supporting promising tech ventures and entrepreneurs. Located within QF’s Education City, it is also well-connected to QF’s partner universities, research centers and policy institutes. Fostering an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs every step of the way is one of the entity’s main goals, and it does this by offering a range of educational, acceleration, and incubation support programs.
In addition, QSTP also has two major funding programs- the first is the Product Development Fund, which is a grant for local startups to develop products and services for the Qatari market and fills an important gap in enabling access to early-stage funds for tech entrepreneurs and SMEs. Next, for equity transactions, is the Tech Venture Fund, a strategic venture capital fund designed to support early-stage tech ventures. With the Fund, entrepreneurs -whether local, regional, or global- can source seed stage funding and follow-on capital for their enterprises. Leading such efforts for QSTP is its Investment Director Danny Ramadan, Ph.D., whose role is dedicated to sourcing, structuring, and closing investment opportunities.
Combining a background in physical sciences with early-stage investment and portfolio management, Ramadan has been with QSTP since its launch. He has worked with global research centers, SMEs, and multinational corporations, in support of the entity’s portfolio of applied technology development programs. As part of his current role, Ramadan manages the Tech Venture Fund, which is interlinked with Qatar Foundation’s vision and mission, as well as its numerous centers for science, education, and policy. “The beauty of running a strategic venture capital fund is that we have the opportunity to link seemingly disparate elements to capture value,” he says. “And this work is a reflection of what we call the Multiversity, where a number of what may appear to be separate elements work collectively for synergistic impact.”
Source: Qatar Science & Technology Park
According to the QSTP website, the Tech Venture Fund can participate in seed rounds of up to US$500,000. In the instance of priced rounds such as Series A or Series B, the Fund can commit up to $1 million and $3 million respectively once a lead institutional investor has committed to the round. QSTP’s support is thus clearly an impactful one for any kind of enterprise, and when asked what drives the fund’s investments, Ramadan replies that he and his team continually align their investment strategy to Qatar Foundation’s mission.
“One of the key principles is recognizing that this is a fairly young innovation ecosystem, and so we need to ensure that founders -whether first-time founders and even seasoned entrepreneurs- pass their experience and knowledge to those aspiring to start a technology business,” Ramadan explains. “In doing so, and in conjunction with a wider suite of innovation programs, we can continually lower the barriers to entry for a tech startup in the region.”
And the growth trajectories of the startups after QSTP supports them is something that is especially gratifying for Ramadan and his team. “When we invest, we see our portfolio businesses begin to grow and from there reach a point where they are attractive to other regional or international funds, it begins to validate the Fund thesis. Like all funds, we endeavor to capture the best opportunities we can.” So, what kind of entrepreneur stands out for the fund? Ramadan’s first pointer: “You need a clear ability to execute, not just think about an idea. Anyone can have an idea, but executing an idea requires a different skillset.”
Source: Qatar Science & Technology Park
Tangentially to that, he adds that understanding there is a real customer need in a sizable market is an aspect that founders shouldn’t skip out on. Finally, he emphasizes the importance of attracting an all-star team to realize the startup’s vision. “The people that they attract should share their mentality of wanting to scale from day one, and I think when you put these factors together at a very early stage, you are really setting yourself up for an element of success,” he declares.
Moreover, to be eligible for funds from QSTP, Ramadan states that having a full-time dedicated team is important, as is having a product or solution that the market actually wants, and one that’s been validated through pilot customers or early revenue. Additionally, startups need to have a scalable business model and a clear advantage over others in the space. It’s also worth noting QSTP’s inclusiveness, not only to Qatar-based startups, but also to entrepreneurs across the world who wish to have access to Qatar’s market. Indeed, the Tech Venture Fund is open to supporting international tech-based startups that are looking to expand in Qatar and in the region, as well as add value to the Qatar ecosystem. “Our mandate goes beyond borders, similar to many QF programs,” Ramadan states.
As someone who’s had a firsthand view on the growth of Qatar’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through the years, Ramadan points out that five or six years ago, there weren’t a lot of accelerators or incubators in the country. In comparison to today, the number of incubators that give a platform to first-time founders to build their businesses is continually growing year on year. Speaking specifically about QSTP, Ramadan says the entity took a grassroots approach to building the ecosystem, be it with training programs, or by launching an accelerator, an incubator, and a venture fund. “We wanted to try to own the entire innovation value chain, and contribute to the wider ecosystem,” he says.
Source: Qatar Science & Technology Park
Today, Ramadan proudly points out that the country now has a growing number of specialized accelerators for, say, fintech, or manufacturing. In addition to that, Ramadan notes that there has also been an increase in investable opportunities in Qatar. “The capacity building effort is giving fruit as founders are more comfortable and better prepared to speak with institutional funds and angel investors,” he notes. Meanwhile, compared to the lack of angel investments five years ago, now, there are angel investor networks in Qatar, Ramadan says. “This is a necessary component of cultivating these innovation platforms, and so, I think the progress is fantastic,” he adds.
But this doesn’t mean that Ramadan and his team have grown lax about their efforts to help entrepreneurs in their endeavors. Whilst Qatar today presents a much more favorable set of regulations and laws around facilitating startups, there’s still work to be done, he says. “Even when you set this fantastic framework, we have to recognize that we have a lot of first-time founders, and as first-time founders, they need some direction, and rightfully so,” Ramadan explains. “What we found is that the increasing access to mentorship is really a spot where we are spending a lot of time and effort in thinking about how we can leverage existing assets.”
For instance, as a globally renowned technology development hub and free zone, QSTP is home to several large multinational organizations across various industries, such as General Electric, Iberdrola, Microsoft, and Shell, among others. As such, Ramadan notes, “How can we leverage this expertise to help some of our startups? This happens organically, because our incubator is literally embedded in the heart of the QSTP. So, increasing access to mentorship allows businesses to not always have to learn things the hard way, is certainly something we have invested in, and continue to support.”
As we end our conversation, Ramadan shares his advice for entrepreneurs wanting their businesses to succeed. “Make sure you understand what the customer needs, and know who your customer is- that’s core,” he says. “Surround yourself with mentors who give you access and give you really good advice. On the metric side, continually think about how you can lower your acquisition costs. I think this is something that people think that should come later on, but you should be thinking about it all the time… Last, and arguably the most important, setbacks happen, right? Accept it, move on, learn from the mistakes, and you will be better off for it.
To find out more about QSTP and its range of programs, please visit: www. qstp.org.qa
THE INVESTOR’S VIEWPOINT: Q&A with Dr. Danny Ramadan, Investment Director, Qatar Science & Technology Park
What factors attribute to a successful startup pitch deck?
1. Keep it concise “Realistically, the pitch should not exceed 12 slides. If it is too long, the message gets cloudy; if it is too short, your proposition isn’t terribly clear. So, you really have to be able to explain the proposition in five minutes.”
2. Know your customer “You should be able to illustrate the unique insight that you have into a market or a target customer, and that’s key in the pitch.”
3. Know your numbers “You have to be able to explain the business model, unit economics, and what your margins are- those numbers are really key.”
4. Showcase your USP and traction “You have to be able to explain why you and your team have an unfair advantage over others, what unique insights do you really have, and what traction do you have. It’s a fantastic turn of events when the pitch illustrates that there’s traction.”
PITCH PERFECT: Dr. Danny Ramadan on the common mistakes entrepreneurs make when presenting their enterprises to investors
What mistakes do entrepreneurs often make when they approach investors to secure funds for their business?
1. Not having a well-balanced team “You can have a fantastic person on product, or you can have someone who is really great on customer, but you may miss someone with a larger vision. That vision person helps with raising the money, so really, when I think [of] a well-balanced team, [it] has the product person, the customer person and the vision and financing person.”
2. Not having a figure in mind (and the reasons to back that up) “I think it is really hard for entrepreneurs to know how much they need to raise. You see a lot of founders coming [in] with a number, because they see others in the space raising that same amount. But realistically, you should be raising to hit a particular milestone in your company, or to kind of be in lockstep with what the market is doing.”
3. Ignoring the competition “Sometimes, founders discount the agility of their competition, or even worse, they may not realize how much competition they have. So, I think it is important to always remind founders that they’re probably not the only fish in the sea.”
4. Not illustrating a sense of timing “You should be able to articulate why the timing of your startup is right, right now. What economic trends are in your favor? What new technology adoption is affording you a boost? Properly framing this helps tell a story.”