On April 17th, one of the most anticipated demo days in the Middle East took place: the one hosted by TechStars Dubai Accelerator in partnership with GINCO Investments.
Now, in its second year, the accelerator programme and demo day were held in the brand new AREA 2071, the international innovation ecosystem space launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, located in Emirates Towers.
The 10 startups that underwent rigorous training, mentoring and growth hacking from world-class mentors during the 13-week acceleration programme, managed to raise $13.8 million in the 3 months of the programme, with “impressive partnership tie-ups with some of the leading companies across many industries, extensive customer acquisition and promising potential for continued growth among the companies” said Vijay Tirathrai, Managing Director at TechStars Dubai.
With such a strong support network and a global presence, it is not surprising that the programme attracts entrepreneurs from a wide variety of backgrounds, industries and geographies. We spoke with Gary Sheynkman, Investment Partner at GINCO Investments, who works closely with the accelerator programme, to understand how they are together leading the space and bringing tech startups from across the world to Dubai.
Speaking about the accelerator programme, Gary states, “The mandate is to attract global tech startups. We do not have a set mandate to be from the region. Last year, the cohort was a third from the region, a third from the United States, and a third from Europe – and it's about the same this year.”
TechStars goes through hundreds of applications, with interest from around the world as the programme offered in Dubai is at par with those provided in other countries. Their unparalleled worldwide support network includes over 1,500,000 investors, mentors and entrepreneurs, as well as more than 1,600 accelerated startups globally, which makes it an attractive choice for founders looking to boost their startups.
The differentiating factor, according to Gary, is the attention that startups get as part of the TechStars accelerator cohort. “In addition to a solid quality of workshops and curriculum, we have the deepest pool of mentors who are actual executives in the field, and sit with our startups to help them. We call it the Mentor Madness, where we scheduled five hundred and fifty one-on-one mentorship sessions between mentors and our CEOs over a two and a half week period at the beginning of the programme; making sure that every founder knows everyone that we know. That's a lot of one-on-one meetings. So instead of bringing in random people to meet with different companies, we have all of our mentors meet with all of our companies as quickly as possible.”
Moreover, one of the key advantages of TechStars is that they provide their startups with access to the international alumni community. They have online social engagement channels specifically for TechStars alumni, along with access to co-working spaces across the world. So, no matter where they travel to, they can interact and meet the network. Corporate partners of TechStars also have the same benefits, albeit in a closed social network forum.
Giving insights into the selection process, Gary mentions:
“I think talent comes from everywhere in the world but we want founders with ambitions to build large international companies. Ultimately that’s what makes investments profitable.”
“Generally we look for strong founders that are experts in their space; who have a deep understanding of the problem that they're solving. Whether they come from the industry where they become an expert, or they're an academic in a specific field, or they just run into a problem in the general business so much that it bothers them and then they want to solve it. We look for that edge in founders, which will make them execute their idea.” Some of the best ideas and largest businesses, like Facebook and Google, are built through these factors.
Good founders are also good human beings who are willing to learn. “Are they coachable, will they make a good manager, can they recruit people — can they articulate their vision in a way that will get other people to join them?” These are some of the questions TechStars and GINCO Investments ask when selecting their cohorts.
“We also look for qualities of strong, humble leadership that translates into their ability to hire. The CEO has just three jobs: raise sufficient funds for the company, keep the money in the bank, and recruit amazing people who are able to execute. Those three aspects are the foundation to build a great business” says Gary.
With TechStars’ and GINCO Investments’ global mandate, there is always the possibility that startups get accelerated in Dubai, but decide to continue operations elsewhere with the acquired skills and expertise. Gary mentions that the primary goal for the partnership is “for them to build really strong businesses. If they have made the connections and do not need to have an office here, that's fine. We don't require them to stay. Of course, we would be happy for founders if they stayed in Dubai and would support them if they wanted to do that.” TechStars Dubai helps its cohorts with visas, set-up, legal advice, connections, and other aspects of their business and life in the city.
As for the second cohort that pitched on the Demo Day held recently, Gary expects more startups to stay in the city and set up shop compared to their first batch, only 10 per cent of which stayed in the country.
While this percentage might seem low, as an accelerator and a country, we can only attract international startups and make it easy for them to stay back. The decision to set up in the country is entirely up to them, as they know what's best for their business and growth. Many who come from abroad have a solution to a problem in their country, along with the knowledge to navigate the market. Forcing them to stay would not be right.
TechStars respects and supports their decision no matter which way they decide to go, which attracts many tech startups to the accelerator in the city. Ultimately, when they see the potential of the country, some might decide to stay, and those who go away might come back when the time is right for their business to grow in the UAE.