Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play woos Gulf banks for deals with its fintech start-ups

Global accelerator seeking to expand into other sectors beyond fintech with Abu Dhabi as its regional base

Abu Dhabi, April 17, 2018: (L) Richard Teng, CEO, Financial services Regulatory Authority of ADGM  (R) Omeed Mehrinfar, Managing Partner, Plug & Play MiddleEast gestures during the media conference at the ADGM Square in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar for the National / Story by Deena Kamel
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Plug and Play, Silicon Valley’s tech accelerator that counts Google and Dropbox among its investments, is seeking to attract Gulf banks to work with its FinTech start-ups in Abu Dhabi and considering expansion into sectors from healthcare to smart cities.

The FinTech accelerator programme, in partnership with Abu Dhabi Global Market, will host a corporate event on May 3, when senior executives of at least 18 financial institutions, from credit card companies to investment banks, will hear Plug and Play's pitch, Omeed Mehrinfar, managing partner of Plug and Play Middle East, told The National. Leaders from other sectors that it's looking to expand into will also be present.

“By way of this multi-corporate FinTech hub, we’re not only looking to serve the financial institutions and government entities in the UAE, we’re also looking to service banks and governments in Bahrain, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait,” Mr Mehrinfar said in an interview in Abu Dhabi.  “We want to pull that traffic.”

Plug and Play, which says it is the biggest accelerator in the world, opened its office in ADGM after signing a partnership in October with the international finance center to bring its FinTech start-ups to the capital to work. FinTech start-ups are emerging in the Arabian Gulf after governments launched initiatives to boost their growth. The Dubai International Financial Centre, the emirate's financial free zone, launched a US$100 million (Dh367.7m) fund in November to support the sector.

Plug and Play is also exploring potential accelerator programmes beyond FinTech across areas it typically invests in, including retail, automotive, logistics, energy and Internet of Things to serve the Middle East, Mr Mehrinfar told reporters in a press conference in Abu Dhabi, declining to specify the sectors being considered for the region. ADGM will be the base for expanding into these sectors. 
"We have massive operations across 13 other verticals and ADGM has pre-existing relationships with ministries and private sector companies-- foreign, local and regional--that operate in these sectors in the ADGM eco-system," he said. "We want to leverage those relationships to expand."


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The Middle East needs investments, new ideas, business models and technology across many of these sectors, Richard Teng, chief executive of financial services regulatory authority of ADGM, said.

“We want them [Plug and Play] to be extremely successful in the region as well," said Mr Teng.

Plug and Play has set up fintech partnerships in Paris with BNP Paribas last year and in Frankfurt with TechQuartier this year.

The three-month FinTech accelerator program will start on Sept. 16 after the final selection of start-ups are made on August 15 and end on December 12. The first batch will feature seven to eight start-ups followed by a bigger batch of 10 to 12 in the second year, Mr Mehrinfar said.

To be considered for the FinTech accelerator program, start-ups must have a product ready for the market, an existing corporate-client base and either revenue or funding, he said. The entrepreneurs should also be ready to take on the work-load of a pilot test that features in the program. Typically, the criteria requires start-ups to have funding of $10 million to $20m.