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Follow The Leader: Samer Toukan, CEO, FundedByMe MENA "Financing startups and SMEs is about bringing to life revolutionary and life-changing concepts. 'Investing in something you believe in,' and 'funding the future' are key drivers of these type of investments."

By Tamara Pupic

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FundedByMe MENA

Having lived in the GCC for nearly two decades, Samer Toukan, CEO of FundedByMe MENA, is well-attuned to the needs of the regional markets- that seems to have served him well in his decision to lead the MENA operations of one of Europe's largest operational crowdfunding networks. Toukan joined forces with FundedByMe, a Sweden-headquartered equity crowdfunding platform, in January last year to become "the MENA region's go-to portal for vigilance, reliability, quality, and professional integrity."

One way of reaching this goal is by ensuring transparency and compliance which, Toukan explains, are important for the nascent crowdfunding sector from reputational and operational standpoints. "In my opinion, this ultimately translates to business success and profitability," he says. "We have, therefore, invested a considerable amount of time, effort and resources to automate our entire processes and put in place robust checkpoints to protect client and stakeholder interests, to the best of our abilities."

FundedByMe MENA is the first equity crowdfunding platform fully regulated and licensed by the Dubai Financial Standards Authority (DFSA). "During our soft launch phase, we have completed a "test fundraising campaign,' which was a necessary step to ensure full system integration with our Swedish partners, who are system providers; our UK partners, who are payment processing and clearing providers; and our local partners, who ensure compliance and operations," Toukan says.

Related: Follow The Leader: Samer Hamadeh, Founder, Akiba Dori, Tokyopolitan, And Stereo Arcade

His ultimate goal for Funded- ByMe MENA is it to become the region's market leader in equity-based crowdfunding activity by 2020. "This is a very interesting market for us because the players are few, and the potential is huge," Toukan says. And here is some proof- global crowdfunding is expected to raise over US$300 billion by 2025, which will be a dramatic increase from a $34 billion volume in 2017, with Toukan noting that within this framework, the MENA region still remains a relatively untapped market, mainly due to a lack of awareness being a key barrier for retail investors "Many potential investors still see venture capital as reserved to angel investors and venture partners, but we aim to build awareness and democratize funding by providing access to asset classes formerly unavailable to individual and retail investors," Toukan says. "Financing startups and SMEs is about bringing to life revolutionary and lifechanging concepts. "Investing in something you believe in,' and "funding the future' are key drivers of these type of investments. Participating in what may have the potential to disrupt an industry, and to deliver a massive return to early investors, is a strong emotional driver to invest on our platform. However, investing in startups and SMEs is risky. To venture means to anticipate risk and danger. The higher the expected return, the higher the risk. To address the higher risks, it is crucial to diversify investment, and this means further portioning the amount available for investment. FundedByMe MENA offers just that. Also, our thorough onboarding and due-diligence procedure aims to mitigate this danger (risk and scam) by validating, as much as possible, the information and documentation provided for our campaigns and hope to help investors balance risks with profit probability."

FundedByMe MENA is about to launch its first campaign in Dubai, focusing on earlygrowth stage companies with robust business and revenue models seeking capital to accelerate viable growth and expansion plans. When it comes to its own business model, FundedByMe MENA's revenues are generated mainly from commissions earned on funds raised for successfully closed campaigns, Toukan says. Talking about challenges his young business has been faced with so far, he points out to the lack of equity crowdfundingknowledgeable talent, at both executive and operational levels, in the MENA region. "Attracting and developing such talent is key for the evolution of crowdfunding in the region," he says. "Retention is therefore a catalyst for success. I believe that conventional remuneration packages are not sustainable in general, and in our industry in specific. We need to be more creative in our pay, reward, and recognition structures to be able to prevail. Profit sharing is something we are looking into at this stage."

In the end, we talk about the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Toukan opines that it holds a huge opportunity to evolve and prosper. "There are many great initiatives, honest intentions, and substantial resources invested in the development of such an ecosystem in both government and private sectors, however, what I see missing is connecting the many brilliant dots that scatter the entrepreneurial scene," Toukan says. "I also see that while banks and venture capital are more or less organized and have developed a robust framework to channel funding to "few' high-potential ventures, angel and retail investors still remain fragmented, and may be missing out on "many' opportunities. Therefore, I see FundedByMe MENA as a potential platform to help consolidate their capital and provide them with reliable deal-flows of a new asset class they may not have access to otherwise."

Tips For Entrepreneurs By Samer Toukan, CEO, FundedByMe MENA

"Nobody knows the real value you bring, or the real value of your business, better than you. Make sure you do not take your audience for granted. They are intelligent folk!"
"Make sure your message reaches your audience in simple, straightforward, and clear terms. Too much ado leads to lost interest and lost opportunities."
"Under promise, and over deliver."
"Be on top of your game. Be curious to seek, listen, and learn."
"No concept, no business, and no person is invincible. We need each other to grow, consolidate, and sustain success."

Related: 'Trep Talk: Top Investors From The MENA Region Share Tips On What To Include In Your Pitch Deck

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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