In the first week of June, I was in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, to give a speech on angel investment in the first MENA Angel Investment summit, co-organized by The Bahraini Business Angels Company (TENMOU) and The Economic Development Board of Bahrain.
Over 300 angel investors and entrepreneurs from 20 countries packed into the Ritz Carlton Hotel for the summit. They weren’t disappointed. First up was the 500 Startup himself, Dave McClure, who had flown to Bahrain specially for this event. Antonio from Puerto Rico, Paulo from Portugal, Nelson from Scotland, Andra from France, Yusuf of Oasis 500 from Jordan, Manniei from China, Padmaja from India, Ari from Finland, and Charles from the US were all together in Bahrain to foster the regional angel investment ecosystem.
The 3-day programme ended with a reception hosted by HRH the Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa with whom I also was able to discuss co-investment fund opportunities.
Co-organizers of the MENA Angel Investment Summit
TENMOU is the first business angels company of Bahrain. It is an enterprise focused on Bahraini entrepreneurs. Established by private Bahraini investors who are passionate about business and who are also successful entrepreneurs in their own right, it is also supported by the Bahrain Economic Development Board and government-owned institutions. TENMOU assists startups with 4 core items: funding, set-up, mentorship and investors.
Hasan Haider is the leader of TENMOU and a key person in this successful event. He was also featured in a case study described in Creating Your Own Angel Investor Group: A Guide for Emerging and Frontier Markets, a publication of the World Bank and the Kauffman Foundation.
The Bahrain Economic Development Board, the co-organizer of the summit, is the main body on the island to deal with the Economic Vision 2030 of Bahrain. It is a semi-governmental organization leading the Invest In Bahrain programme.
They regard foreign investment as key to the Economic Vision 2030 long-term plan for improving the competitiveness of the Bahrain economy, creating skilled jobs for Bahrainis and enhancing living standards. For this reason, they are committed to building on the existing advantages, aiming to build the Middle East’s most attractive center for business.
In Arabic, Bahrayn is the dual form of bahr (“sea”), so al-Bahrayn means “the Two Seas” although which two seas were originally intended remains in dispute.The term appears five times in the Qur’an, but does not refer to the modern island—originally known to the Arabs as Awal—but rather to the oases of al-Katif and Hadjar (modern al-Hasa). It is unclear when the term began to refer exclusively to the Awal islands, but it was probably after the 15th century.
Today, al-Hasa and Qatif belongs to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s “two seas” are instead generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island, or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. In addition to wells, there are areas of the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water as noted by visitors since antiquity.
On 15 August 1971, Bahrain declared independence and signed a new treaty of friendship with the United Kingdom. Bahrain joined the United Nations and the League later in the year. The oil boom of the 1970s benefited Bahrain greatly, although the subsequent downturn hurt the economy. The country had already begun diversification of its economy and benefited further from Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s, when Bahrain replaced Beirut as the Middle East’s financial hub after Lebanon’s large banking sector was driven out of the country by the war.
I arrived at the Bahrain airport at 11:40pm after a 3.5-hour flight from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. There was no strict visa application between Turkey and Bahrain, so I just filled in a paper at the airport. I was taken by a transfer guide from the airport directly to my hotel, which was also the venue for the summit. It was the Ritz Carlton Hotel, one of the best hotels of the island, right on the beach.
I strongly recommend this hotel to visitors to Bahrain. The beach, the sand, and the quality of service and facilities are perfect. Flying to Bahrain and staying at the Ritz Carlton is a good alternative to flying from Istanbul to Hawaii!
(for photos visit the web site)
I joined Paulo and Audra at breakfast and we had a chat about Bahrain and the event. This was Audra’s fifth visit to Bahrain but it was the first for both me and Paulo. It was nice to have some insights from Audra, an expert on the MENA region.
After breakfast we all met to go sightseeing. Hasan gave use some useful information about Manama, the capital, which is a charming city. It was very clear that investment was going into the real estate industry, which poses a great challenge for startup ecosystems. In economies where investment means real estate, it is very difficult to change the mindset of wealthy people and to direct their money toward startups. That was part of Hasan’s underlying motivation in organizing this event in Bahrain.
We had lunch at an Indian restaurant in Manama. It was an enjoyable lunch where the 12 people at table were each from a different country. The Indian food tasted very similar to Turkish food so it was a satisfying lunch for me. Hasan’s parents had some Indian origin as well as Ottoman, so he is a person who can adapt easily to different menus.
After lunch we returned to the hotel and Paulo and I explored the hotel and its beach for about an hour. It is a really beautiful hotel, especially with its sandy beach.
In the evening, Hasan took our group to the Old Bazaar of Bahrain, where we could observe the local people going about their everyday business. The Old Bazaar of Manama is near the City Gate of the Island and it looked like a smaller version Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar, where you can find hundreds of different spices.
After the bazaar visit, we had some tea and coffee at the coffee house. I ordered Arabian coffee. I enjoy Turkish coffee very much but I was sure that their Turkish coffee was not going to be real Turkish coffee. Arabian coffee is a better choice in the MENA region.
Following the coffee break, we went to a nice Bahraini restaurant where the menu was, again, very compatible with my taste. It was kebab and rice and cola. We ordered a mixed grill for everyone to share and we all enjoyed it immensely.
It was around 11pm when we got back to the hotel.
Sunday is the first working day of the week in Bahrain. After breakfast, the event launched right on time at 9am with the transportation minister of Bahrain making the opening speech.
Click here for the full programme
I had prepared a speech on the benefits of tax incentives to foster the angel investment ecosystem and was going to give the Turkish example, which offers a 75% tax incentive, the highest amount in the world. But because there is no tax system in Bahrain, I changed my topic. It would have been ridiculous to talk about tax incentives in a country where the tax rate is zero. So, I gave my classic speech on The Rising Steps of Angel Investors.
During the break time, Paulo, Ari and I had a meeting with Philippe, a French banker living in Bahrain who works at the Kuwait Finance House. He was looking for a roadmap to create an angel investment ecosystem in Bahrain. I gave him the roadmap we used in Turkey:
- Set up an accreditation system for angel investors.
- Create a networking group with accredited angel investors.
- Convince the public authority to co-invest in startups with the accredited angel investors.
- Link your group to exit markets.
In the late afternoon, after the summit ended, I found myself on the beach of the hotel for a few hours. The sea was a little salty but the sand and the sea were both excellent.
Around 8pm, we were on the shuttle bus to the dinner debate, where we would be hosted by the team from the Bahrain Economic Development Board. Ms. Tuba, a Turkish citizen living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and who runs an incubation center there was at our table. She was one of the jury members of the TV entrepreneurship show “Do You Have a Business Idea?” in Saudi Arabia. Since I am a jury member on the show’s Turkish version, we had a lot to talk about regarding entrepreneurs and angel investors.
“Time for Tax?” was the topic of an interesting panel discussion, an issue raised in the Arabian Business Forum held in the United Arab Emirates a week ago. So, maybe in the near future, I will be able to give my tax incentives speech in BahrainJ
During the coffee break I also found an opportunity to talk with the editor of the Gulf Business news magazine.
After breakfast, we went to City Hall Club to listen to a presentation by the Bahrain Economic Development Board. It was an informative seminar which answered all the questions about starting a business and investing in Bahrain.
After the seminar on the City Hall Club’s 52nd floor, we moved to a restaurant where we could really do some good networking. Hasan made sure everyone was introduced to each other. Entrepreneurs from Egypt who had pitched the day before were sitting next to me. I also met the coordinator of Earnst & Young for Bahrain. He is from Croatia.
Following the lunch, it was time to visit the Crown Prince of Bahrain. It was a pleasant visit where I also had an opportunity to discuss the benefits of the co-investment funds for startups. I invited him to be the honorary guest of the European Angel Investment Forum to be held in Istanbul in the coming months.
He left at the evening call to prayer, and we all went back to the hotel.
That evening we had a scheduled dinner discussion with Nama at the restaurant of the hotel. Nama is a female entrepreneur in the textile business and I suggested she follow the franchising road to grow her business. Crowdfunding could also be a useful source of finance to support her growing the business. She designs goods for women and an Istanbul manufacturer produces and sends them to Bahrain. Everyone enjoyed the dinner and the good conversation.
After dinner, it was time to go up our rooms and prepare our luggage because Ari, Paulo, Professor Manniei and I were all on the same flight to Istanbul. Ari was flying on to Helsinki, while Paulo was joining me on a connecting flight from Istanbul to Erzurum – a city in eastern Turkey – to participate in an angel investment summit there. Professor Marnniei was planning to stay in Istanbul with her sisters for a week’s holiday.
While we were waiting at the Business Class lounge of Bahrain airport, we met Nesrin, who was also going to Turkey for a holiday in Bodrum. As it turns out, she is an entrepreneur who received $60K from TENMOU. It was a night flight and we arrived in Istanbul at 6:00am.
Thanks to Hasan Haider and his team at TENMOU and the Bahrain Economic Development Board, the first MENA Angel Investment Summit was a huge success. We were able to listen to the pitchings of approximately 30 entrepreneurs from the region. Most of them were ICT projects and needed seed funding. Entrepreneurs pitching at the investment forum sessions of the summit were very good.