October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

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Venture Capital Fund Launches in Dubai Aimed at Middle East Start-Ups

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

A new early-stage venture capital fund has set up in Dubai, looking to invest up to $1 million in technology start-ups across the Middle East and North Africa.

It joins a bevy of start-up accelerators launching in the technology space as both local and institutional investors eye a market of tech-savvy consumers where smartphone and social media penetration is high.

In its first round, Emerge Ventures, founded by Dubai-based investors Arya Bolurfrushan and Paul Kenny, plans to invest in 13 companies that are working in the advertising, mobile, payments and logistics spaces, and serving predominantly other businesses.

The firm’s first funding round, which is now closed, will aim to have invested all its cash by the end of next year, and has already bought stakes in three companies. These are: The Impact Hub, a coworking space being set up in Dubai; Lumba, an Arabic mobile gaming company; and Elevision, a digital advertising company in elevators.

Mr. Kenny wouldn’t disclose the total size of the fund, but said the firm would invest between $25,000 and $1 million in each company for up to 49% of the business, and hold the investment for a minimum of five years.

“There’s going to be huge development among SMEs, requiring capital, requiring knowledge,” says Mr. Kenny. “And there’s no one servicing it from a financing perspective.”

Mr. Kenny is the founder and chief executive of Middle East daily deals website Cobone.com and discount travel website Triperna, while Mr. Bolurfrushan is the finance chief at RAK Petroleum, an oil and gas holding company.

Both investors are under the age of 30, and plan to link global investors with companies in the Middle East. In the first funding round, called MENA Fund I, Mr. Kenny says Emerge has 6 investors from outside of the region that include private individuals and institutions wanting exposure to the emerging Middle East.

Emerge joins a wave of start-up accelerators, such as i360 Accelerator, Flat6Labs and SeedStartup, which have launched in the past few years in the Middle East across cities such as Dubai, Beirut, Amman and Cairo.

All of these accelerators have been looking to invest small amounts in entrepreneurs with astute ideas, and guide them and take their product to market.

Emerge plans to have a director on the board of each of the companies in which it invests, but will not be quite as hands on as the accelerator programmes. It will invest in a company, before it has any revenues, but wants to buy in to start-ups with a market edge or proven, albeit short track record, Mr. Kenny added.

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