First Middle East women-only angel investor group makes impact in startup community

WOMENA co-founder Elissa Freiha
WOMENA co-founder Elissa Freiha | WOMENA

Two investors are challenging stereotypes against women in the Middle East by creating the first women-only angel group in the Middle East, WOMENA.

In a little over six months since opening, Chantalle Dumonceaux and Elissa Freiha have helped female investors successfully invest in two projects, and made a mark in the startup community.

“There’s a common negative stereotype that women in the Middle East are oppressed,” said Freiha. “We thought that men would not receive us in the best way, because we are women. But that hasn’t been the case. We haven’t met anyone that thinks we are not capable. If anything our gender worked in our favor. The men are sick of being in a room full of males.”

Since its launch, Dubai-based WOMENA has received more than 300 applications from entrepreneurs, 13 of which have presented their projects to the angel investors. They have successfully facilitated the investment in two startups. Melltoo Marketplace provides a peer-to-peer mobile marketplace for used and second hand items in the Middle East. The second, AlemHealth, connects hospitals in developing countries with hospitals in developed nations to help provide proper diagnosis and treatment.

According to a report published by the Boston Consulting Group, Middle Eastern women control approximately $80 billion in personal wealth. Most of them are in the Gulf countries, and make decisions that impact $500 billion in cash and assets. Some are successful entrepreneurs, managers or owners of family business, while others have inherited the wealth from families.

Despite perceived challenges in finding the financiers, and acceptance in the male-dominated investment community, Dumonceaux and Freiha have created a strong network of working and non-working women in the Middle East.

“You don’t see a lot of coverage of these women on the cover of a magazine,” said Freiha. “We weren’t sure what kind of women we were going to meet, but we were able to target an incredibly rich database of motivated and inspired women.”

WOMENA provides a platform where female investors can be comfortable with investing decisions. Launched in November 2014, it hosts monthly meetings for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to prospective investors. Their aim is to provide a solid base for these women to properly invest in the right project by assisting with due diligence, and providing educational seminars on how to be an angel investor. Their next meeting, to be held at the end of June will focus on startups with social impact.