Voices of Change: Women Leading Business Innovation in the MENA Region
Mita Srinivasan
10X People

Voices of Change: Women Leading Business Innovation in the MENA Region

This special feature on International Women’s Day presents a compelling story of resilience, innovation, and the quest for equality by women searching for funding in the MENA region. We spoke to four women across the entrepreneurial ecosystem to talk funding for women-led businesses.

As dawn breaks over the MENA region, a new era of women entrepreneurs and leaders are rising, challenging the norms and transforming the business landscape. In a world where their contributions have often been undervalued, these women are now leading the charge, showing resilience and innovation against the odds. We spoke to four women across the entrepreneurial ecosystem to talk funding for women-led businesses.

The Struggle for Equality

Veena Munganahalli, past Co-chair for TiE Women MENA, reflects on the current funding climate, "In 2023, despite the growing number of startups, women-founded businesses only secured a fraction of the total investment. This stark contrast highlights a significant challenge we still face in achieving gender equality in business."

Noor Haider, Senior Research Associate at MAGNiTT, added historical context, "The pandemic initially seemed like a turning point for female founders, but economic challenges have since impacted funding levels, especially for women-led businesses."

According to Haider, during the pandemic boom, MAGNiTT saw startups with at least one female founder secure more funding than in previous years. Since 2019, close to $600M has been invested across ~300 deals in startups with at least one female founder. 2021 was a record year for women-led businesses in the MENA region. She added, “However, in an economically challenging environment, we are seeing an impact on the overall funding levels in the region. Consequently, funding and deals for startups with at least one female founder have declined since last year.”

Erika Blazeviciute Doyle, founder of Drink Dry, shares her journey. In the first two years of starting Drink Dry, the company had multiple conversations with various VCs who have shown interest in investing in Drink Dry. However Doyle strongly felt that VC funding was not the right route for them in the early days.

Genia Xasis, CEO & Co-founder at Berkana VC, points out the broader implications. "There is a persistent gap and a need for action and investment in women-led businesses. Here in the MENA region we see that there is a huge potential for growth in terms of diversity.”

Catalysing Change

Despite these challenges, these women are not merely bystanders. They are actively working to shift the landscape. According to Xasis, an immediate and effective approach is for women to support each other. “This means we can make a difference right now. Every day presents an opportunity for us to uplift one another and strengthen our collective position. This belief is the guiding principle of how I choose to live.” Berkana VC is establishing a community dedicated to women investors and tech entrepreneurs.

TiE Women is supporting female entrepreneurs through mentoring and workshops, focusing on honing their pitches and connecting them with potential investors. Munganahalli added, “Members and get proper feedback, which was extremely valuable for them. We also try to bring in female founders and the ecosystem together to create open conversations where they share their journey, challenges and the ecosystem can understand better on what they really need.”

The Future of Female Entrepreneurship

These women leaders emphasize the importance of continued efforts in supporting female entrepreneurship. Haider pointed out, “While there is still a gender gap to bridge in the ecosystem, the emergence of prominent female ecosystem leaders across startups and venture capital can lead to an increase in investment for women-led businesses.”

Xasis agreed. "We need more women in decision-making roles, both as investors and entrepreneurs. This is not just about funding; it's about reshaping the future of business with a female perspective."