Success, setback, and growth: Hear from MENA’s female founders

During my first month at MAGNiTT, I received an email with feedback from a user that really stuck out to me. It simply went along the lines of female representation in the MENA ecosystem and that there wasn’t enough of it. From that day forward, I set out to find a way to address her point and put in some more effort as much as I possibly could. 

But, this highlighted a shortcoming that is prevalent in the startup ecosystem, especially in the MENA region - the little awareness and heed that is put on females as founders. 

I wanted to see what female founders had to say on their experiences, setbacks, failures, successes, and advice about being a part of this larger than life journey. 

Katia Al-Kaisi from Education House Finland

“Many women are great organisers, jugglers, have a lot of resilience, and carry exceptional social-emotional skills. Merits that make a great startup founder. With all respect and support to 'traditional' female-led businesses, I would really encourage more women to venture into the startup world and not be scared of it. The world is and the future is being coded for us, we should ensure diversity in building that future.”

 At the core of it all, we are human, with a purpose and a drive to accomplish all of our life's pursuits and build a happy world around us while at it. Did you know that between the years of 2011 and 2020 there have been over 150 deals done in startups founded by female founders? Our data charts highlight funding over the years and can be specified by gender, industry, and country. 

Nour Jabra from Nooreed

“Being a female entrepreneur in the MENA region is challenging, but it really depends on the field you are in, the level of expertise you bring to the table, and the country you are working in. I believe if you are passionate, assertive, and have strong business prowess, you will do well. Being a woman is something you should be proud of, it is important to not let any doubt interfere with the great work you are looking to do. Business is business, and as long as you focus on creating value, it doesn't matter what your gender is!”

Our gender should not determine or set us apart. Instead, we should feel empowered, not as women or men, but as human beings, that have exponential growth and power inside of them. We celebrate humankind in every endeavor while disrupting societal ideals. 

According to research conducted by MAGNiTT on 436 MENA-based startups in efforts to understand founder demographics, 27% of all founders were female (143), of which 91% have a bachelor’s degree, 37% obtained a master’s degree, 10% completed their MBA’s, and only 3% have completed their studies, obtaining their PhD’s.

Priscilla Elora Sharuk from MYKI

“Being a female founder is a whirlwind and a continuous learning process. Are there struggles? Yes. But are they worth it? Absolutely.

“Being a woman is a real asset; with great confidence in her business and in herself, a woman can master great success and add value to her team, shareholders, and brand at large. Attracting more women to the startup scene is one of the biggest opportunities to create true positive change. My message to women is this: I urge you to share your successes, but more importantly, share your failures. That’s how you and those around you grow."

We should find the strength to come together and empower each other, even with our failures and setbacks. I find that often the ecosystem highlights all of the funding announcements, the six-figure rounds closed, the acquisitions, and the success’, but rarely do we highlight the failures that ultimately shape a person and their journey and allow them to reach those six-figure rounds and more. So, lets us start empowering each other and be more open about our journey and not fear the stigma behind the failure. 

Nancy Mourad from Kluly

“My story with entrepreneurship as a woman is not a story about women in entrepreneurship, as much as it is about the overall perception of whether a woman can succeed or not, whether she should be looked at as a brain that can advance in the career and innovation spaces or not, a person who can lead our world from any perspective and any industry.

"Are women still influenced in their career by the historical perception a woman has had in a patriarchal society? For sure. Do I let it affect me? Not a second. You build the perception that you want people to have about you and your whole gender. It is our responsibility to do that. And we certainly can not adopt a victim role.

"You have to learn to build a shield against bias; and little by little, with every success story we achieve as women, you help reinforce a positive narrative that women ARE built for that, women are built for success, in fact, that women are a loss not to be invested in.”

We hope to see a tomorrow where there is more empowerment - and not just based on gender, race, or another demographic, but based on skills, hard work, failures, and successes. An amalgamation of the good and bad of what life is.

I started this article with the aim of highlighting women and their words, which I hope I did, and I’m sure that there will be future discussions on this, with much more being said.

But I also wanted to end with, we are all equally a part of a tough journey that is soul-filling, tiring, and inspiring at the same time - the only way we can succeed is with the support of one another unconditionally! 

Do female-led businesses receive fair access to investment opportunities? Vitality CEO and Founder, Amanda Perry shares her thoughts on the matter.

Pakistani startups saw $18M invested in H1 2020, with the overall number of deals increasing by 13% to 17 deals from H1 2019, illustrating the potential of Pakistan to become the next big South Asian entrepreneurial hotspot. Discover more trends in our H1 2020 Pakistan Venture Investment Report.