Local entrepreneurs have plenty of talent and drive, but funding and investors are not so easy to come by, industry leaders said during a key panel on investments in the MENA region during the RiseUp summit on Saturday.
"We've seen that foreign investors are finally starting to recognize the talent here, and more importantly the local investors are starting to recognize the talent," said Ahmed El Alfi, founder and partner at Sawari Ventures, an international venture capital firm. "It has been a lack of funding more than a lack of talent ... Investors are not backed up by enough people, but the talent has been there struggling."
Startups should be obsessed with growing their business and hiring great people, said Hala Fadel, the founder of MIT EF Pan-Arab, a promoter of entrepreneurship and innovation. But while many are eager to say they're doing great, the real marks of a fast-growing start-up are the many problems it faces, Fadel noted.
Startups can rethink their priorities when there is little funding for entrepreneurs, said Dave McClure, founding partner at 500 Startups, a venture capital firm and startup incubator. Entrepreneurs can run cash-flow businesses and ignore investors, and must be more revenue-centric and less growth-centric, he said.
The panel on investments followed a keynote speech by Microsoft MEA President Ali Faramawy, who said he comes to RiseUp to learn from the entrepreneurs' "ability to turn challenges into opportunity." The Microsoft team gets energized by the locals' commitment to put all their energy and money - and even their family's and friends' money - into the annual event. Faramawy told the crowd they're sending a "very important message" that the country, after two revolutions, has still much more ambition. "I think we are looking for a future that's substantially better, brighter, faster," he said, adding that a special pilot to support startups will be announced soon.