More women-led funds 'will boost female entrepreneurship in the UAE'

The Emirates is seeing more female representation in boardrooms, experts say

Nearly half of women business owners in the UAE face challenges in raising capital, according to a recent survey. Getty
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A growth in the number of women-led venture funds will further boost female entrepreneurship in the UAE, which has risen in recent years, according to industry experts.

While more women holding top positions, especially in the public sector, there is a need to offer women more networking opportunities to help them scale their careers and push the private sector to bolster female participation at the boardroom level, the experts said during an online panel on Monday.

“We have evolved a lot … I see a lot of opportunities created for women, especially in the recent years,” Zahra El Zayat, chief commercial officer at evision, the media and entertainment arm of e& life, told the panel.

“Women have a voice that is loud and clear in boardrooms, in investment committees and in funding rounds.”

In October, e& launched a $250 million venture capital fund as part of its new investment unit, e& capital, to support the technology start-up ecosystem.

Ms El Zayat said diversity and inclusion of women are crucial parameters that e& capital considers before investing in any start-up.

However, she said there could be an unconscious bias.

“We rarely see VCs are run by females and that is unfortunate … we receive a lot of pitches related to start-ups but not many women are looking for funding. They are not having the right networking opportunities of knowing the person who knows the right person to connect them for business or funding,” Ms El Zayat said.

The online panel focusing on venture funding in the UAE and the role of women, was hosted by the Atlantic Council’s WIn Fellowship.

The WIn Fellowship, a collaboration between the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, is supported by the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi Global Market is its UAE in-country partner.

“We just have to create more women-only funds, incubators, programmes and I think that is happening,” Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the US, told the panel.

“I know funding in general is hard, even for young men now, it is not just a challenge for women … we have to create the right ecosystem and just allow more encouragement, more risk taking and more incentivising for women [to motivate them to] enter that space,” Mr Al Otaiba said.

In May, Abdulla bin Touq, Minister of Economy, said that women-led start-ups and businesses would play an important role in driving the UAE's economic growth.

The government has passed laws and policies over the past 15 years to enhance women's contribution to society and the nation's sustainable economic development, reflecting its commitment to women's empowerment across economic, social and work spheres, Mr bin Touq said during an event in Dubai.

“The government is way ahead in supporting and encouraging female participation compared to the private sector,” Huda Al-Lawati, founder and chief executive of Gulf Co-operation Council-centric fund Aliph Capital, said.

While talking about challenges faced by women, Ms Al-Lawati said the education system “has historically not encouraged people to take risks, it encouraged people to be safe”.

“In Europe and the US, youngsters are running corporates at home … [they have a] very good understanding about what entrepreneurship means, what it takes, [and] also the responsibility that comes with it.”

Nearly half of women business owners in the UAE face challenges in raising capital, with eight out of 10 tapping into their personal savings, according to Visa’s Women SMB Digitalisation Index.

More than half of the female entrepreneurs surveyed also faced stereotypes such as being considered less capable of making tough decisions.

The index, which assesses businesses using several indicators, found that companies owned by women in the UAE scored highly on digital marketing, online presence and customer engagement.

“The UAE is a regional leader in gender equality according to the global gender gap report,” said Amjad Ahmad, chairman of empowerME Atlantic Council.

“While this progress is noteworthy, it also emphasises up on the need to promote further representation and opportunities for women in venture capital and entrepreneurship … we must foster more women in venture capital and equity to fund more women-led start-ups and businesses.”

Updated: July 18, 2023, 2:24 PM