The sails of anticipation are billowing as the Expand North Star Conference emerges on the horizon. Venture capital partners and limited partners alike are charting their course towards Dubai, a city known for its innovation and strategic significance and the streets flow with gold - or do they? Read on to find out.
With the eu.vc delegation slowly coming together for our visit to the conference (reach out if you wanna join!), we delve into a candid conversation with Daniel Keiper-Knorr, an influential figure in the venture capital landscape and a driving force behind the esteemed Speedinvest. Daniel’s extensive experience working with and in the region and unique perspectives on anything VC make him a guiding light in European venture capital—an expert whose insights will undoubtedly resonate with those seeking to harness the potential of this thriving region.
This discourse unveils a treasure trove of insights that promises to enrich the understanding of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) investment dynamics.
We have a great surprise for you! Our friend and local expert, Omar Hassan from MENA Tech Fund, have joined us to co-host this and a couple of upcoming episodes 🎆 . We're thrilled to have him on board to explore everything you need to know about investing in MENA. So let's get started! 🎙️
A Decade of Transformation: MENA's Evolution
Daniel Keiper-Knorr's journey into MENA's venture capital landscape began over a decade ago when he co-founded Speedinvest. Reflecting on the transformation of the region's innovation landscape, Daniel notes,
"The MENA region has gone through significant changes in terms of technological advancements, entrepreneurial mindset, and investment opportunities."
This evolution, driven by visionary entrepreneurs and supportive ecosystems was echoed by Omar Hassan:
The combination of a favorable tax regime, strategic location, and access to talent has propelled Dubai into the spotlight as a launchpad for startups looking to scale globally.
In the middle of this transformation, Northstar has become a focal point for investors looking to explore the burgeoning opportunities within the MENA and GCC startup ecosystems. Keiper-Knorr points out, "Initiatives like GITEX and Northstar are bringing global players to the region, fostering innovation and partnership." These platforms transcend geographic boundaries, acting as conduits for cross-border knowledge sharing and collaboration.
The MENA region's collaborative spirit also extends to government bodies that are actively invested in fostering a supportive environment for startups. Their commitment is demonstrated through policies that encourage entrepreneurship, ease regulatory processes, and provide access to funding. The harmonious collaboration between governments, startups, and investors ensures that innovation flourishes without unnecessary hindrances.
The result of these collective efforts is a vibrant ecosystem where startups find fertile ground to germinate and flourish. The MENA region has become a magnet for entrepreneurs with global ambitions, providing them with the infrastructure, resources, and connections needed to transform their ideas into impactful ventures. This ecosystem's collaborative power not only accelerates the growth of startups but also sets the stage for the region to emerge as a global hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Relationships: The Currency of MENA's Venture Ecosystem
In the dynamic and pulsating bazaars of MENA's venture ecosystem, a unique currency reigns supreme—one that cannot be measured in dollars or dirhams, but rather in the strength of relationships. Daniel Keiper-Knorr, a seasoned visionary within the domain, eloquently underscores the unassailable significance of personal connections in this thriving landscape. His resonant statement, "The MENA investment landscape thrives on the strength of lasting relationships," encapsulates a truth that has been woven into the very fabric of the region's entrepreneurial tapestry.
"The personal touch that defines the region's investment landscape is something we've seen time and again."
The bustling marketplace that is MENA's investment arena places a premium on trust, collaboration, and shared vision. Here, a handshake signifies more than a gesture—it signifies a covenant of mutual respect and commitment that propels ideas into reality.
The significance of cultivating genuine connections in this landscape cannot be overstated.
Traveling to the region frequently and being present even between fundraising cycles can be a game-changer. It shows commitment and dedication, and these relationships often pay off in the long run.
MENA's investment landscape, much like the traditional souks that have adorned the region for centuries, thrives on the authenticity of relationships. As the conference approaches, it carries the promise of bridging minds, nurturing dialogue, and fostering connections that extend beyond business transactions. Just as merchants in the bazaars of old engaged in intricate negotiations over carpets and spices, modern venture capitalists and limited partners are poised to negotiate the terrain of MENA's investment opportunities and challenges through the exchange of ideas and insights.
In many ways, Keiper-Knorr's insights mirror the wisdom of ancient traders who recognized that the value of a transaction extended beyond mere commodities; it encompassed the integrity and trustworthiness of the parties involved. As he profoundly states, "There is a certain element of luck to business, but then again much less than many people would think. Luck can only play out if you're prepared to be lucky." Much like the mosaic of cultures that converge in MENA, the venture ecosystem thrives on diversity and collaboration. In this context, personal connections become bridges that span cultural nuances, linguistic divides, and geographical distances. They form the backbone of a network that transcends borders and creates a platform for innovation to flourish.
Truly, MENA's venture landscape is one where relationships are the currency that unlocks the door to unparalleled opportunities.
Importance of Local Engagement: Building Trust and Rapport in MENA & GCC
Hassan sets the tone, stating,
"Venture capital is a relational business in the MENA region. Unlike some other markets, establishing trust and rapport with potential investors is crucial here."
He touches upon a fundamental truth – that business transactions in this region are deeply influenced by the bonds of trust, respect, and familiarity. Unlike more transactional models seen in certain markets, MENA and GCC entrepreneurs and investors emphasize the value of long-term relationships and a shared understanding of business goals.
Keiper-Knorr adds to this sentiment by underlining the concept of commitment and dedication through physical presence.
"Traveling to the region frequently and being present even between fundraising cycles can be a game-changer,"
The act of physically being present, engaging with local stakeholders, and immersing oneself in the local business ecosystem conveys a genuine commitment to the region's growth. It signals to entrepreneurs and investors alike that venture capitalists are not just seeking financial gains but are invested in the region's progress and success.
The reasoning behind this philosophy becomes apparent when considering the unique cultural fabric of the MENA and GCC regions. Business interactions are often grounded in personal relationships, and trust is a currency that holds immense value. Entrepreneurs are more likely to forge partnerships with investors they know on a personal level and believe share their vision. Keiper-Knorr emphasizes, "These relationships often pay off in the long run," reinforcing the notion that patient and consistent relationship-building efforts yield fruitful results over time.
In an environment where emerging technologies and innovative ideas are abundant, establishing credibility and fostering strong relationships can provide a competitive edge. Hassan and Keiper-Knorr's insights emphasize that while financial metrics and market strategies are crucial, they must be accompanied by genuine efforts to understand the local culture, business practices, and aspirations. Success in the MENA and GCC venture capital landscape is not just about closing deals but about cultivating partnerships that can weather the ups and downs of the business journey.
Embracing Diversity: Expanding Investment Horizons
The journey of Speedinvest in the MENA region is a narrative that mirrors the captivating diversity that defines the landscape. Just as the region's cultural tapestry weaves together a rich blend of traditions and influences, Speedinvest's investments have stretched across an array of sectors, creating a mosaic of innovation and growth. From fintech to marketplaces and beyond, the firm's footprint across MENA is a testament to its commitment to exploring and nurturing potential across a multitude of industries.
As Daniel Keiper-Knorr emphasizes,
"We believe in the quality of founders and the potential that MENA offers."
These words encapsulate not just Speedinvest's ethos, but also the essence of the Expand North Star Conference's theme of exploration. The MENA region is not merely a territory; it's an uncharted frontier of opportunities waiting to be uncovered.
The Regional Ecosystem Evolution
Hassan, with his extensive experience in the region, points out the historical shift in startups' objectives. "In the past, startups might have focused on serving local markets," he observes. The early years of the MENA tech scene were marked by startups catering to the immediate needs of the local population, leveraging technology to address regional challenges and preferences. However, as the region's appetite for innovation grew, so did the aspirations of its entrepreneurs.
The turning point, as highlighted by Hassan, lies in the present era – one where global scalability is a core tenet of startup strategies. This transformation has been driven by a combination of factors, including increased connectivity, the proliferation of digital platforms, and a growing recognition of the global demand for innovative solutions. Keiper-Knorr concurs, emphasizing, "There's a clear shift towards building products that can scale globally."
At the heart of this shift is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has emerged as a focal point for startups aiming to make their mark on a global scale. The UAE's strategic positioning as a global gateway has attracted entrepreneurs and investors alike, providing them with a launchpad to catapult their ventures onto the international stage. The nation's connectivity, business-friendly policies, and infrastructure have created an environment conducive to innovation and cross-border expansion.
This evolution not only redefines the landscape for startups but also recalibrates the dynamics of venture capital. Investors like Keiper-Knorr have observed the emergence of new opportunities and novel investment targets that align with the region's newfound global outlook, citing the example of a portfolio company, which originated in Lagos, Nigeria, and later moved its operations to Dubai.
"This demonstrates how Dubai can serve as a strategic hub for global expansion,"
He says. The move underscores the global mindset of MENA startups and the potential of the region to be a launchpad for ventures targeting international markets. But don’t settle for this short recap, go deeper 👇
Watch the full interview here 👀
Expand North Star in Dubai - the ultimate startup and investor connector event.
15 - 18 October, Dubai
Discover the tech and investment opportunities fuelling growth across UAE, MENA, and APMEA regions at Expand North Star and GITEX GLOBAL, now the world’s largest tech and startup event
Join 1,400 exhibiting startups and 1,000 investors, at Dubai Harbour to scout for your next big deal, connect with other investors, meet public and private stakeholders to elevate your fund goals. Co-located with Fintech Surge and Future Blockchain Summit, and in association with GITEX GLOBAL; Expand North Star you’ll be serviced with an agenda over 4 action-packed days with a curated Meetings Programme, the invite-only Investor Forum, the Venture Studio and Accelerator Summit, and additional exclusive satellite events for fund managers in town.