“What are we bringing to the table?  We don’t only want to invest in companies and funds for the sake of investing… But what do we bring to the table?  how can we help these funds?  Can we deploy more capital? Can we help them leverage more fundraising? Can we help bring professional corporate governance to the table?”

~Issa Aghabi

We had a chance to sit with Issa Aghabi, VC Investment officer for IFC, heading the MENAP region.

Issa’s career spans over 14 years with a focus on Venture Capital in the wider TMT space.  He has successfully executed 50+ direct and indirect investment deals (from $100K to $25M per transaction), managed over $150m in MENA Venture funds and served as a BOD / LPAC member for a number of companies, providing commercial and business strategies, along with general operational, and financial support.

He is currently the Head of IFC MENA & Pakistan venture investments both from a direct (early stage and growth capital) and indirect (accelerators and fund of fund). Also worked with World Bank on developing LP programs for investments and a number of Government Fund of fund initiatives in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and  the UAE.

Previously he served as the Head of Investment at twofour54, overseeing venture and strategic partnership activities including the launch of the first UAE Accelerator.

He has consulted at Yahoo! to help shape their growth plans from both from an investment, M&A and business development perspective.

Head of business development and investment at N2V which included a few operational roles in key portfolio. Also executed a few M&A opportunities.

He is a founding member of IV Holdings / Accelerator technologies, one of the first venture funds in the Arab world. Currently branded as Silicon Badia.  Also is a Founding Member of Middle East Venture Capital Association (MEVCA)

Academically, he received his Bachelor’s Degree from John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada and an MBA Cass Business School, City University of London, UK.

He shared his insights into the Venture Capital space of the region as well as how he got started in this space over a decade ago.

Enjoy the show!

Posted on March 5, 2019

Show Notes:

  • 01:15 – Issa’s backstory

  • 01:45 – From Jordan to Canada back to the Middle East

  • 2:45 –  From dinner party to Venture Capital

  • 4:30 – Understanding how do they create startups when entrepreneurs themselves didn’t know what startups were

  • 5:00 – The catalyst for the growth of VC in the region

  • 5:45 – Looking up what Venture Capital means

  • 6:00 – The first investment portfolio Issa was involved with

  • 7:15 – TwoFour54 reaching out to Issa to grow their investment arm

  • 8:30 – What is media?

  • 9:00 – His short term consulting role at Yahoo! and developing their M&A strategy for the region

  • 10:15 – The Rocket Internet of the Middle East

  • 13:00 – Issa’s return to TwoFour54

  • 13:30 – Launching one of the first accelerators in the UAE

  • 14:00 – N2V’s model and entrepreneurs

  • 14:30 – His ad-hoc role of head of sourcing for a portfolio company

  • 15:00 – The Middle East’s own diversity of cultures and

  • 15:30 – Not knowing what IFC was

  • 16:00 – IFC – the private sector investment arm of the World Bank

  • 17:45 – Indirect founder funding through funds

  • 18:45 – Direct funding at later growth stages (Series B onwards)

  • 19:45 – Investment question to ask, “are we going to make money?”

  • 20:30 – The importance of additionally – what are they bringing to the table with their investment

  • 22:00 – Venture capital by its nature being impactful

  • 23:45 – The role of Public Private Partnerships

  • 26:30 – Case by case initiatives per country

  • 29:00 – Co-investing with funds in the ecosystem

  • 29:45 – How do you invest in funds?

  • 30:15 – Investing in people and what funds

  • 30:45 – A look at BECO and co-investing in one of their startups, Vezeeta

  • 31:30 – The evolving atmosphere of the investment ecosystem

  • 35:15 – Issa’s admiration towards hard working and successful individuals who contribute back to the ecosystem

  • 36:15 – His two work schedules (local and global)

  • 37:15 – Taking pride in Inbox Zero

  • 40:00 – Appreciation for various media from tv, podcasts and articles as well as the beach

  • 40:30 – One of the great things about Dubai is the ability to travel anywhere with a direct flight

  • 41:30 – On reading Startup Nation and the lessons learned

  • 43:00 – The importance of giving back while taking care of yourself

  • 44:15 – Putting entrepreneurship and venture related all in one place

  • 45:30 – On trusting your gut and working on self development


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