Welcome to The Hub, your spot for ecosystem and accelerator news. In this news roundup, we provide you with the latest on organizations working to support, educate and fund innovators and their ideas. We’ll highlight cohort applications, people to know in the incubator world and programs working to give resources to those who typically don’t have access elsewhere. As always, we’re focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs — such as women, people of color, and those geographically outside power centers — and organizations supporting these demographics.
If you have a piece of news or a job listing you think will fit into this roundup, email it to Skyler Rossi at [email protected].
A Familiar Pattern Emerges In MENA Tech
Startups in the Middle East and North Africa region are landing funds — as of April 28, the top 10 funding rounds totaled $306 million, according to a list published by Forbes Middle East. The largest round, $110 million, was raised by Saudi Arabia-based Tamara, which allows customers to buy items and pay later.
But women are raising questions about the gender capital cap in tech, which appears to be worsening as the region progresses. Those 10 rounds all went to companies run by men, according to the Forbes’ list.
Jessica Robinson, a sustainable finance, ESG and responsible investment advisor at Moxie Futures, a group working to include more women in venture capital funding, pointed this out in a Linkedin post last week. “This is not due to the lack of female entrepreneurs in the region,” she wrote. “With so many working tirelessly to change this dynamic – what more can be done?”
Fadi Ghandour, Wamda Capital chairman and CEO, talked up the big rounds during a Bloomberg News interview last month. “That’s unprecedented even on a global basis,” he said during the interview.
“MENA still isn’t seeing VC activity at the same levels of leading global ecosystems – countries like the US, UK, Germany, China, etc. or in regions such as the EU, ASEAN, etc.,” said Jamil Wyne, the former founder of Wamda Research Lab and an innovation and entrepreneur specialist at The World Bank Group, who spent six years living and working in the MENA region researching entrepreneurship development there. “However, the funding levels are clearly growing, and the field of investors is also expanding.”
It seems the coronavirus pandemic has catalyzed entrepreneurship in the region. Ghandour said during the Bloomberg interview that the entrepreneurship ecosystem grew at the rate expected over the next 10 years in the last few months, especially the fintech sector.
“Everything that is digital is effectively exploding on the very early stage, and the companies that have been growing over the past two or three years, have gone to the next level, so lots of new money, and lots of new startups,” he said.
A few years ago, investors from outside the region funding MENA entrepreneurs were rare, Wyne said. These rounds indicate many are seeing opportunity now. “Countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others are on more radars globally as locations for finding good companies,” he said. “As we’re seeing non-MENA investors get involved, this suggests that at least some VC’s from abroad are not seeing these deals as a one-off, but in fact have an intentional strategy for the region in place.”
RELATED: Egypt’s Startups on the Rise
The Middle East’s gender gap remains the world’s largest, according to a 2020 World Economic Forum report. It scored the lowest on its Gender Gap Index, which tracks progress on gaps between women and men on health, education, economy and politics.
“The economic gender gap runs deep,” the report states. “MENA labour markets are generally characterized by low female participation and discrimination against women, with dire consequences on economic growth, social cohesion and social mobility.”
The World Economic Forum predicts it will take 150 years to close the gap, which is 15 years shorter than the previous year. Time will tell whether the surge in tech entrepreneurship changes the picture.
“Because VC and tech globally tend to have significant gender equity challenges, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that these numbers/cases from MENA are simply part of a global trend,” Wyne said. “Be that as it may, in countries like the U.S., VC’s are falling under increased scrutiny to promote inclusion, and if MENA wants to keep pace with global patterns, tackling lingering gender equity issues is a part of that process as well.”
Younger Generation Seeks Purpose
Generation Z is more likely to be driven by having a purpose than any other generation when deciding to start a business, according to a report produced by Xero, a Wellington, New Zealand-based accounting software platform for small businesses. The company surveyed 1,200 small business owners in the U.S. about their motivations for becoming an entrepreneur.
Other generations are more likely to cite flexible working hours and being your own boss as motivators to start a business, according to the report. Roughly half of each Generation Y, X and Baby Boomer respondents were motivated by this.
There was a generational divide between future outlook, too. 33% of Gen Z respondents were optimistic about the economic outlook, while only 9% of Baby Boomers said the same.
The study also found that women cite self-doubt as the largest challenge to overcome while starting a business, while men are more likely to cite risk, according to the report’s news release. Despite this, more women respondents noted they were steadfast in running a business amidst the pandemic than men — 34% of women versus 24% of men were, according to the report.
Big Names Back Indianapolis Fund
Sixty8 Capital, an Indianapolis-based firm focused on funding women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community, recently announced a $20 million venture fund for early-stage startups run by underrepresented entrepreneurs, according to a news release. Its investors include The Indiana Next Level Fund, 50 South Capital, Bank of America, Eli Lilly and Company, First Internet Bank and the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Funding will go to 25-30 pre-seed and seed-stage startups. The firm plans to initially fund $250,000 to $500,000 per company, with additional funds remaining for follow-up rounds.
$11 Million Loan Fund For Disadvantaged Project Developers in Philly
A fund to support underrepresented property developers build affordable housing is launching soon in Philadelphia, PhillyVoice reports. The city has subsidized the fund, called the Philadelphia Accelerator Fund, with an investment of about $11 million, but the group hopes to raise another $30 million by the fall. The long term goal is to raise $100 million in five years, according to the article. The fund aims to aid minority developers, who often face barriers when applying to bank loans. It was inspired by a similar one in San Francisco, it’s director Greg Heller told PhillyVoice. Developers will begin to get funding this summer.
Outdoor Recreation Accelerator In New Mexico
The Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University has been awarded a $20,000 grant by the New Mexico Economic Development Department to establish an Outdoor Recreation Sprint business accelerator, according to a university release published by the Las Cruces Bulletin. The grant was created by the department’s Outdoor Recreation Division to fund existing accelerators to help New Mexicans build their outdoor rec business and boost the state’s outdoor industry.
The six-week program, which will start in July, is open to 10 businesses in the area. The cohort will be virtual and is free. Applications will open in June, according to the announcement.
Quentin Ortega is the new director of IT Entrepreneur Network, a St. Louis organization that supports entrepreneurs in the area, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The group is managed by Lindenwood University as of last year, and Ortega will also oversee the university’s Duree Center for Entrepreneurship, according to the article. Ortega has been an entrepreneur-in-residence for years at ITEN and runs QCO consulting.
Hugh Williams recently stepped into the role of director of strategic growth and entrepreneurship at Sterling Bay, a Chicago-based real estate developer, The Chicago Sun reports. In this new position, he’ll lead Sterling Bay’s effort to invest in mid-sized, minority-run suppliers and contractors in exchange for equity. Williams is also a principal at MK Asset Management and owns and manages more than $100 million in commercial and residential buildings.
Open Position For Investor Services Manager at Social Venture Circle
Social Venture Circle, an entrepreneur and investor network, is seeking a new manager of impact investor services, according to an ad posted on its website. The position responsibilities include facilitating programs and opportunities for investor members. The position’s salary is $75,000.
Blue Ridge Community College in NC Seeks Entrepreneurs For Accelerator
Applications are open for the Mission Acceleration Business Accelerator, a program run by Blue Ridge Community College and Henderson County Chamber of Commerce in Flat Rock, North Carolina, according to its website. The five-month program includes 10 sessions where selected entrepreneurs will learn about topics such as management, insurance, purchasing and finance. For-profit, non-profit and family-owned businesses are all eligible to apply. The program costs $295. Applications are due August 23.
Applications Open For Techstars’ First Saudi Accelerator
The Riyadh Techstars Accelerator opened applications last week for the 3-month program. It’s looking for entrepreneurs looking to build startups in the Middle East and North Africa. Applications are due July 28.
READ MORE: Techstars Expands to Saudi Arabi