Emirates Angels Investors Association looking for friends and business in Israel
Board member Yousuf Al Mulla believes the new partnership between the UAE and Israel could benefit the entire region
With Israel and the United Arab Emirates being the two most advanced economies in the region, their partnership is set to have a ripple effect and benefit the entire region, says Yousuf Al Mulla, board member at the Emirates Angels Investors Association and co-founder and managing partner of E11 Capital, a global venture capital firm based in both the UAE and San Francisco.
The Emirates Angels Investors Association recently signed a partnership deal with Israel-based Tel Aviv Capital, which for the last six years has operated as an investment bank and co-manages a VC fund (Brilliance Ventures) that strategically invests in Israeli high-tech companies in their growth stages. Discussions between Tel Aviv Capital and the association started even before U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the UAE and Israel had agreed to establish full diplomatic terms.
“A few months ago, before the peace agreement was signed, we began exploring the possibility of cooperation between investors from the UAE and Israeli high-tech companies,” Ron Sade, managing partner of Tel Aviv Capital told CTech. “We had the honor to meet the Emirates Angels Association and to establish an amazing collaboration bringing Israeli technologies to the biggest and most reputable investors in the world.
“My personal dream is to eventually see young leaders and entrepreneurs from this region co-founding companies together,” added Sade. “For this blessed peace process to thrive and to remain sustainable and powerful, there is nothing compared to successful business with mutual interests.”
Al Mulla told CTech that the Emirates Angels Investors Association was founded this year with the aim to encourage angel investments in the region, specifically in the UAE. He noted that the association is looking to get family businesses and offices in the UAE to be more involved in early stage investments. Al Mulla has high hopes for the partnership with Tel Aviv Capital, explaining that the main goal is to bring Israeli companies and investors to the UAE and vice-versa.
“I have close friends in Israel who I went to school with and when this whole agreement was happening the first thing I told them is that if you look at the Middle East, the UAE and Israel are the most thriving ecosystems when it comes to tech and tech development. There are competitive advantages that Israel has and there are competitive advantages that UAE has and when combining that together that is where I see the magic happening and that is where I think the opportunity is,” noted Al Mulla, who holds an Global Executive MBA from INSEAD, MPA from Lee Kuan School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and a BSc in Business Administration from Marshall Business School at University of Southern California. “There are a lot of technologies, know-how, research and development that have been done in Israel for years that the UAE can benefit from and also there is a lot of new economic infrastructure that UAE has developed which we could share with Israeli partners. This is where I think the benefit is. Both our economies are the most advanced in the region especially from a tech perspective, and even infrastructure, and I think that working together is going to enhance not just the two countries but I believe the whole region and it gives opportunity for others in the region to benefit from it.”
Al Mulla said that this agreement could even hopefully turn the region into a global economic center.
“The one thing about the UAE that people don’t realize is that our market access is in the billions. This is what the UAE developed itself to be. Building the right infrastructure, having the right regulation to attract multinationals, striving companies, growth companies and startups. You need to focus not just on the UAE but also focus on the region, and use the UAE as a hub to scale up across the region whether it is India, Pakistan or even Africa. UAE can be a growth and scaling hub for Israeli tech companies and also other companies.”
Al Mulla has been in the tech ecosystem for over 15 years since building his first company. He noted that like Israel, tech companies in the UAE need to tap into a large market to scale and grow as their own market isn’t big enough.
He mentioned fintech, blockchain and AI as three sectors that are currently garnering a lot of focus in the UAE, and noted the increased need for cybersecurity during this day and age. “This year the UAE government led by his highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister, launched the UAE digital economy initiative and strategy so there is a lot of need for cybersecurity related technologies to support this,” he explained.
Agtech is also a sector with significant growth potential for Israeli companies. “The first sector that I think of is agriculture because of food security and the need to build the ecosystem in the UAE. Israel has the right tech. I actually did a lot of research when it comes to that and saw the history of how agriculture and farming developed in Israel going back to the 1920s,” said Al Mulla, who from 2012 till March 2018, was part of the executive-level of the Dubai Government, serving as the Group Chief Strategy Officer of Dubai Holding where he focused on investment strategy, innovation and digitalization.
Al Mulla said the Covid-19 pandemic brought both good and bad. “It was good because it has helped us relook at things and what we can do in order to make this ecosystem thrive even more and look at the way we invest,” he said. “We actually saw a lot of opportunities that we decided to double down on our venture building business. We actually hired more staff with regards to our digital team because we saw an opportunity that things are going to go digital and people are going to start working from home and cashless transactions are happening. For us that was a big opportunity. The dynamic of the economy was changing. Covid-19 gave us the opportunity to say that everything is going digital and we need to double down on that and that is what we did. We are currently working on three digital projects, one of them we partnered with one of the government entities here. And we are starting the fourth one now related to agtech.
“The bad side about it was initially there was huge panic everywhere,” he added. “People worried and didn’t know what to do. Startups right and left were calling us asking us what to do and what not to do. But also what Covid-19 has done is filter out the wannabe startups and entrepreneurs. Because I think only the strong will survive this current crisis.”
Al Mulla believes that the agreement between the UAE and Israel has a particular good chance of succeeding due to the support it has from the public in both countries.
“In my view what is going to make this more successful is not just that the leadership and government is signing the agreement but that people are behind it. The people are all excited and are all willing to have a new Middle East,” he said. “I think we are kind of tired of conflict. For me, since I was born until today I have seen a lot of conflicts in the region and I think that this can provide a lot of opportunity and a lot of economic prosperity across the region.
“The two most advanced economies in the region are uniting, partnering and working together and that will have a ripple effect on the region and benefit the whole region.”
Al Mulla called on Israeli companies to treat potential partnerships with the UAE as a long-term process with long-term benefits.
“They should know that this is a long long term relationship. As Middle Easterns, we say friendship comes before business. So it is all about creating the relationships, creating friendship and I think it is the same with you guys. Friendship before business is the key thing across the region. The commonality we have between both cultures will help business work together better.
“We started the association to build a network effect across the region and we want to collaborate with the right partners. We are looking for long term partnership and friendship,” he concluded.
Sade echoed a similar sentiment. “We are now encouraging Israeli companies to establish their presence in the UAE, whether in the form of opening local offices or collaborating with UAE-based companies and investors. We are sure that this collaboration will open the Israeli hi-tech to new levels and the growth of Israeli companies will grow exponentially due to the warm relations between Israel and the UAE.”