The Rise of VC Funds in the Middle East: A Conversation with Issa Aghabi of Access Bridge Ventures

The Rise of VC Funds in the Middle East: A Conversation with Issa Aghabi of Access Bridge Ventures 

A first-mover in the world of venture capitalists, Issa Aghabi boasts of an illustrious career of over two decades in finance. Starting at a dinner party in 2006 changed Aghabi's career trajectory when he met someone launching one of the first VC funds in the Middle East. From then on, he quickly began creating his own strong track record with founders.

Access Bridge Ventures founder, Issa Aghabi, shared with us his insights and learnings in the world of investments. Aghabi’s investment philosophy focuses on investing in early-stage startups with visionary founders who deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve. He also looks for scalable, profitable, and defensible business models that have a significant addressable market. Aghabi’s investment portfolio covers a wide range of industries, including fintech, logistics, healthcare, and mobility. 

Issa Aghabi, Founder Access Bridge Venture 

As a hands-on investor, Access Bridge has expertise in several sectors, including healthcare, education, retail, and e-commerce. They plan to add gaming to their focus areas in the near future. They believe that commercial funds are not charities and that their primary goal is to make money for their stakeholders. 

Aghabi also explained that Access Bridge Ventures receives deal flow from various sources, including its website, social media, referrals from entrepreneurs and investors, as well as from peer funds in the ecosystem. The company receives an average of 80 to 100 deals per month, and the first layer of screening is done by junior team members, investment team members, and interns. Access Bridge Ventures has a set of high-level criteria that they use to filter potential investments. For instance, a business that is raising a seed round of $10 million may be too high a price point for Access Bridge Ventures to come in at. Hence, that deal would be forced to see the exit door. 

The Bucket List 

When evaluating startups for investment, Aghabi looks for various factors, including a solid business model, a capable team, and a clear problem-solution fit. He also evaluates the market opportunity, competitive landscape, and the potential for growth. According to Aghabi, the most critical factor is the founder's vision and passion for solving the problem, as this drives the team's motivation and perseverance. 

The investment process begins by sourcing and analyzing startups that meet their investment criteria. They conduct due diligence on the founders, the business model, and the market opportunity. After successful due diligence, they negotiate terms and make the investment. Aghabi and team make sure

that the support for startups goes beyond the capital, providing them access to networks, mentorship, and resources to help them succeed. 

The Rise of VCs 

The VC industry has undergone significant changes over the years, with more emphasis on social impact, diversity, and inclusion. Aghabi believes that startups addressing social and environmental problems will continue to receive significant attention from VCs. He also predicts that the VC industry will move towards smaller and more focused funds, which could lead to increased specialization in specific industries. 

Aghabi advises entrepreneurs looking to raise capital from VCs to be passionate about the problem they are trying to solve and deeply understand their target market. Founders should also build strong networks and partnerships that can help them scale their businesses. Additionally, they should be open to feedback and criticism, as this can help them refine their ideas and business models. 

The Middle East - A Land of Opportunity 

The Middle East has traditionally been a consumer of technology, but Aghabi sees a significant shift in entrepreneurship and innovation. He attributes this to increased access to information, exposure to global solutions, and governments' investments in SME ecosystems. With continued investment and support, Aghabi is optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship and innovation in the region. 

Aghabi also notes that governments in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) have realized that their dependence on oil is not sustainable, and have begun investing in SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) ecosystems. Saudi Arabia has invested billions in creating an ecosystem, while the UAE, specifically Abu Dhabi and Dubai, have also been at the forefront of this effort. 

Aghabi's journey to the VC industry highlights the importance of passion and perseverance in pursuing one's career goals. His investment philosophy and process emphasize the need for visionary founders, scalable business models, and significant market opportunities.

The VC industry's changing landscape, with more emphasis on social impact, diversity, and inclusion, presents new opportunities for startups to address critical problems. For entrepreneurs looking to make a big wave, the ball is in your court.

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