MIT Alum Hopes to Spread Tech-Boom Excitement in Young, Increasingly Connected Middle East
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Some of the Middle East’s most promising entrepreneurs and deep-pocketed investors gathered at the Habtoor Grand Hotel here last month for the sixth edition of the ArabNet Digital Summit, one of the largest forums for the Middle East’s burgeoning startup industry.
Among the sea of Lebanese government officials and notable international figures was Hala Fadel, an angel investor and the founder and chairwoman of the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan-Arab Region. Fadel is also a partner at Leap Ventures, a new Beirut- and Dubai-based venture capital firm that debuted at the conference. The firm, which has raised $71 million, plans to invest in late-stage regional startups by injecting between $3 million and $7 million into up to three companies a year.
While locals often complain of a regional brain drain in the Middle East, international investors and entrepreneurs see the potential for young Middle Eastern entrepreneurs to change the region. With a population of 100 million under the age of 15 and Internet and smartphone penetration rapidly increasing, Fadel sees plenty of entrepreneurial promise. She has made it her life’s work to address the lack of support for entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
Fadel sees herself as a connector, someone who discovers the region’s future innovators and links them with money, mentors, press, and anyone or anything that can help them grow faster and overcome the many obstacles in this tumultuous region.
Her interest in the Middle Eastern entrepreneurial scene, however, was born in Boston, while she was pursuing an MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “Being in Boston in 1999 and 2000 at the time of the Internet bubble, when entrepreneurship was really booming and everyone on campus was starting a company, I caught the virus,” she said.
She entered and won part of the MIT 50k business plan competition in 2000 with Booleo, a telecom software startup. When she returned to the Middle East years later, Fadel found it lacking the kind of motivational environment that inspired her while at MIT. The region, she decided, needed a little bit of that Boston magic.