EXCLUSIVE: Global Ventures, the UAE-based venture capital firm, is raising a second fund in excess of $50m to back Middle East start-ups with global ambition.
The venture capitalist, whose original $50m fund has already been deployed, is especially looking for start-ups in digital health.
These could be both UAE-based tech start-ups with ambitions to eventually headquarter themselves in Europe or America, or British start-ups which want to expand into the Middle East and Africa market.
One successful example is Proximie, an augmented reality platform which started life in Lebanon, and which is now headquartered in London. Proximie offers a way for the best surgeons in the world to help surgeons in less developed countries advising them in real-time during operations.
Another example is Dubai-based Arrow Labs, whose workplace productivity software is used by G4S among others here in Britain.
Seattle-based $400m fund of funds Capria Ventures, whose backers include Bill Gates, Vulcan Capital, the Ford Foundation and Unitus Labs has come on board Global Ventures Fund 2.
The new fund plans to invest between $1m and $3m in Series A funding for each portfolio company and has already made its first five investments.
Noor Sweid, general partner of Global Ventures, said: “We’re looking for mission-driven founders who are solving real problems that are scalable around the world. We really look at what problem is the founder solving. Is it a small incremental problem, with an equally incremental solution, or is it something exponential? We like to work with founders who are creating solutions for hundreds of millions of people.”
Sweid said that half of the eventual Global Ventures 2 fund will be earmarked for digital healthcare in emerging markets, with the balance split between fintech, edtech and agritech sectors.
Healthcare in the Middle East and Africa is woefully underserved, said Sweid, with just 1.3 doctors per thousand people compared with four doctors per thousand in Europe and North America. The digitisation of healthcare will be crucial for the developing world, she said, just as fintech has empowered millions of unbanked people globally.
Sweid spent two years raising Global Ventures Fund 1 through a mixture of her own family money, other family offices, US venture capital firms, Abu Dhabi-based state investor Mubadala and Abu Dhabi-based sovereign fund ADQ.
Hearteningly for Sweid’s vision, Global Ventures Fund 1 was eventually split 60/40 between US and local investors, investing in 20 companies.
Emirati citizen Sweid got her MBA in Boston, Massachusetts while working as a biotech and pharma consultant. She then joined her family interior construction business Depa, which she helped float on the London Stock Exchange for $1.1bn in 2008.
At the same time, Sweid – who is a keen yogi – launched the first yoga studio in Dubai, which became the largest wellness chain in the region.
“I realised it’s a lot more difficult to start from zero to one than to run a multi-billion-dollar business,” she said ruefully.
Thinking about the difficulty she had as a woman finding capital to launch her own business led her to thinking about creating a VC for tech founders in Dubai.
The region has just the equivalent of .02 per cent of GDP available as venture capital compared with 2-3 per cent in Europe or the US.
She is especially proud that nearly one third of Global Ventures’ investments have gone to women founders.
Sweid said: “The biggest hurdle for founders of enterprise tech in the UAE is lack of access to capital.”
Dubai is unusual, she said, because half the population is aged under 30 and yet, astonishingly for such a wealthy kingdom, there is 40 per cent unemployment among the youth – which means many are starting their own businesses.
Sweid said: “Everybody is starting a company in Dubai because the population is so young. We have one of highest digital penetrations in the world and the start-up costs are low.
“By backing founders who are mission driven and solving real problems, we have used venture capital to create social change. Our portfolio companies have created 2,900 jobs in the region over the last two-and-a-half years.”