Women-owned Middle Eastern startups gaining momentum


The Middle East startup sector is witnessing tremendous upscaling. Innovative Startups in the Middle East continue to witness a rapid growth trajectory. They are creating an ecosystem where fostering technology innovation is a rule rather than an exception.

“The startup scene in the Middle East is rapidly growing given favorable government regulations, diverse talent availability and competitive local business operations. The UAE and Saudi Arabia continue to lead the region in terms of attracting investment for startups.” says Anastasia Kopijevski, Founder, Skaya Art Agency, a Dubai based art agency.

She says, “The landscape for creative and art-related startups is still nascent. However, there are promising signs with the most successful ones adopting technology-based solutions.”

“There is a remarkable ecosystem supporting startups in the Middle East region, especially in the UAE. Multiple government entities facilitating processes related to licenses, company formation, support system, incubators, technology solutions, and networking groups are in place to help and support startups,” say Basma Chaieri, Founder of Etika Jewels, an UAE brand.

Somaiah Al Dabbagh, Founder of Maeya, opines that, “The Middle East’s startup ecosystem is expanding rapidly with more support for entrepreneurs, a growing number of incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, and funding options.”

Exuding confidence that the Middle East has great potential to become a leading hub for innovation and entrepreneurship she says, “There’s a focus on partnerships between startups and established corporations, and a rise in the number of female-led startups.”

Deena Habib, Co-Founder, Yspot

Echoing the same sentiments Deena Habib, Co-Founder, Yspot, says, “The past years have witnessed a new wave of innovative startups in the Middle East from fintech, e-commerce, health-tech, ed-tech, to software, and we don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”

Women Entrepreneurship
Diversity and inclusion are becoming pervasive in the Middle East start-up ecosystem. “The Middle East is gradually becoming a thriving ecosystem for women entrepreneurs with increasing dedicated businesswomen networks to learn from and the growing recognition of women’s importance to the economy,” says Anastasia Kopijevski.

Anastasia Kopijevski , however, says “Nevertheless, there is more room for progress in some countries than others due to the slow elimination of gender stereotypes and a lack of female role models.”

“From my observations and experiences, I believe that women entrepreneurs are making significant strides in the region. More and more women are breaking into traditionally male-dominated industries, and we are seeing a growing number of women-led businesses in the region,” says Maeya’s Somaiah Al Dabbagh.

As a matter of fact, according to the Economist, in the Arab world today, one in three tech startups is founded by women, a far higher percentage than in Silicon Valley

Basma Chaieri, Founder of Etika Jewels

Giving fillip to women’s entrepreneurship
Digitization is providing a fillip to women’s entrepreneurship in Middle East. “The digital economy opens new doors for women seeking more flexible working conditions,” says Basma Chaieri.

“Women are entrepreneurial by nature and we have come a long way for our skills and talents to be recognised in the region. However, there is still some disparity in the region’s startup ecosystem when it comes to funding women-owned businesses,” says Deena Habib of Yspot.

“According to a report from entrepreneurship platform Wamda, while MENA startups minted new unicorns and raised a total of $2.87 billion in 2021, female-founded startups raised just $34.6 million, or 1.2 percent of the region’s startup funding that year,” adds Deena Habib.

Though the Middle East region is doing all that is essential embraces more and more to gender equality, women entrepreneurs still have limited access to funding. “Data from Wamda shows that MENA startups founded by women raised only 1.2% of the region’s venture capital funding,” says Basma Chaieri of Etika.

In order to promote women’s entrepreneurship, the industry needs to increase access to capital, create more opportunities for mentorship and networking, and prioritize diversity and inclusivity. These steps will help to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for women entrepreneurs to thrive in.

“Facilitating access to funding and capital is required for female entrepreneurs to be able to build and grow healthy businesses,” says Basma Chaieri.

“The industry has much work to do in developing access to capital, accelerating changes in cultural perceptions and increasing the number of women in investment and leadership positions. Traditional mindsets are still prevalent in the region and must be countered to increase women’s education levels, labor force participation and financial literacy to fuel entrepreneurship initiatives,” says Anastasia Kopijevski.

Anastasia Kopijevski, Founder of Skaya Art Agency

Advice for budding women entrepreneurs
Women ledears have some pieces of advice for budding women entrepreneurs. Anastasia Kopijevski says, “Always believe in yourself and build a strong support network with individuals that align with your values. This will take you far in your journey.”

“Embrace failure, learn constantly, stay focused and take calculated risks. Recognize that you can grow with every opportunity and be ready to adapt to changing times. Celebrate your success as they are a testament to your vision and can help boost your confidence and motivate your entire team.”

“Remember, being a female entrepreneur can be challenging, but with determination, hard work, and the right mindset, you can achieve great success.”

“Having self-belief is both the most important step and biggest challenge to achieving success. You will encounter bumps in the road but you must be willing to persist through difficult times and believe you can make it through,” says Deena Habib.

“Finally, do not be afraid to ask for help. Seeking outside perspectives and asking for other peoples’ input is critical to sustaining your business. There are more people out there willing to help than you think.”

Somaiah Al Dabbagh, Founder of Maeya

“As a woman who runs her own business, I encourage other women to accept fear as a normal feeling that can often signal progress and success,” says Somaiah Al Dabbagh. “It’s important to recognize and confront your fears, while keeping in mind the potential benefits of taking risks, such as developing personally and professionally, achieving financial security, and making a positive difference. These advantages can serve as motivation and inspiration to press on in spite of fear.”

“You are in the right place at the right time to start your adventure. Don’t ever think that your gender will be a limitation, says Basma Chaieri of Etika Jewels. “Put in the hard work and the consistency.  Invest in networking and surround yourself with the right people.”

Middle East is providing beneficial business environment for women entrepreneurs.  Accessibility, inclusive policies are making it a preferred avenue for women-led businesses. However, women entrepreneurship in Middle East still has a long way to go.

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