How to fund the growth of the region’s entrepreneurs

How to fund the growth of the region’s entrepreneurs

“Developing an angel investor pool in the Middle East will create more opportunities and will strengthen regional economic growth” said Ramesh Jagannathan, Managing Director of startAD when introducing his article for Arabian Business weekly dated March 16, 2019.

Here is his opinion.

How to fund the growth of the region’s entrepreneurs

Financing the angel investment market in Africa, Asia, Europe and America is estimated to be worth $50bn
We live in an exciting age for entrepreneurs. Fuelled by governments in the Middle East, the desire of transforming to an entrepreneurial based economy and boosting investment into building a healthy start-up ecosystem is high-up on the agenda. While there are sufficient funds to fuel potential start-ups in the ecosystem, the risk averse nature of venture capital (VC) firms mean they tend to concentrate their investments in later stage start-ups with crisper valuations. In a mature ecosystem, less than 1 percent of start-ups receive VC funding, and in emerging markets, this number drops by a factor of two. As VC investments continue to move towards more mature start-ups, there is a widening void of funding for early stage start-ups. The effect is not as severe in mature ecosystems as in an emerging ecosystem for a number of reasons.
Angel investors have traditionally filled this void. For example, in the US, annual angel investments of $24bn are being made in over 64,000 start-ups. In fact, 74 percent of all Silicon Valley investments are from entrepreneurial angels, who were previously a founder or a CEO of their own start-up. The phenomenon of “founders funding founders” highlights the organic nature of the process, that they are “local” and have a deep understanding of the entrepreneurship ecosystem and play a vital role in building the ecosystem. This deep knowledge helps to mitigate some of the risks that come with ambiguous valuation of early stage start-ups. More than 60 percent of the angels become active mentors of the start-ups they have invested in and generally take a board seat. More than half of them have a technology background.
By 2030, 88 percent of the next billion people joining the middle class will primarily come from India and China
Having the “right” angel investor tends to de-risk the entrepreneurial process and increases the start-ups’ success rate in raising funds in future rounds. Angels generally see 11 percent of their portfolio producing positive returns.
On the other hand, in emerging ecosystems, there is a dearth of previously successful entrepreneurs, thereby creating a “catch 22” situation. The time scale of the process to build a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem is made more acute by the fact that 67 percent of start-ups fail at some point in the process due to inability to raise a subsequent round of financing. The paradox is this: to have a healthy, sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, one needs a significant pool of high quality start-ups to cater to a large consumer middle-class and angel investors who have been successful entrepreneurs, preferably within the ecosystem. In other words, while having significant individual or group (eg syndicates) wealth is necessary, they are definitely not sufficient to build a robust ecosystem in an emerging economy, if the wealth is not “hard-wired” to local entrepreneurial experience. Ecosystems are organic in nature.
In India and China, this enigma has been resolved. While the pool of technology talent in these two countries has always been immense, due to the absence of middle-class, post WWII saw a significant “brain drain” from India and China to the US and Silicon Valley. The exodus of the “cream of the crop” from India, especially from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), was unstoppable after the 1970s and from China since 1979, when the Chinese government started to send its best and brightest students and scholars to the US to catch up with western science and technology. By 1990, about 33 percent of all scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley were from India and China. Of these. 71 percent of these Chinese and 87 percent of these Indians arrived after 1970.
Going forward, by 2030, 88 percent of the next billion people joining the middle class will primarily come from India and China. We are now seeing a significant reverse “brain drain” of Indians and Chinese engineers, scientists and investors back to their homelands. About 80 percent of those returning hold graduate degrees in science, technology or business. China now boasts a sound angel investment culture, and while it’s still in its early stages in India it is gaining steam rapidly as the VC infrastructure is getting foundationally strong.
Turning our focus now to the UAE, and the GCC countries, the opportunity to “ride the wave” of India and China’s global tech dominance is crystal clear. But there are still gulfs to cross, such as the absence of a large, local technology talent pool. Without a disciplined and informed state-of-the-art process that dovetails to a VC infrastructure – by leveraging the local societal sensibilities and strategic inter-governmental alliances – the strength of access to large sums of local capital could quickly become our Achilles’ heel.
By all the ingredients for a master recipe to create a dominant UAE digital economy are in place and we need to diligently prepare, suit up and ride the long wave
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, discussed the role of governments in stimulating entrepreneurial ecosystems and compares the strengths of funding (supply side) versus founding based (demand) policies. Thiele recommended supply side policies as a mechanism to catalyse growth. However, in emerging economies, we could describe it as a “many body problem”.
We need to stimulate the process of accelerating the flow of global start-up talent into the ecosystem through the UAE.
Besides the government, this process should embed the local competency private sector stakeholders, such as in aviation, energy, transportation and logistics and finance industries. The Venture Launchpad programme at startAD is a classic example that shows significant promise.
Simultaneously, we should educate the regional angel investors about the mechanics and rigors of angel investment in digital start-ups and democratise access. The annual Angel Rising Symposium, now in its fifth year, brings the best minds from around the globe to discuss the best practises that are regionally relevant. The third piece of the puzzle is about building local capacity. StartAD and Khalifa Fund are partnering together to build the acceleration ramp to the global digital economic highway through programmes such as Ibtikari and Pitch@Palace.
All the ingredients for a master recipe to create a dominant UAE digital economy are in place and we need to diligently prepare, suit up and ride the long wave, leading the MENA region.

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Fossil Fuel-reliant economies into ‘stranded nations’

Fossil Fuel-reliant economies into ‘stranded nations’

Image: Shutterstock

Decarbonisation ‘could leave fossil-fuel economies stranded’

by Jonny Bairstow

Friday 22 February 2019

These are the findings of a new World Economic Forum study which shows the world’s sovereign wealth funds collectively own $8 trillion

Global decarbonisation could turn fossil fuel-reliant economies into ‘stranded nations’ unable to unlock the value of carbon-based assets and infrastructure.

These are the findings of a new World Economic Forum study, which shows the world’s sovereign wealth funds collectively own $8 trillion (£6.1tn) in assets but currently invest just 0.19% of this figure in green energy.

It says economies that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel resources with more than 10% of their total wealth based in carbon assets could become “stranded” – it says they must act now to develop the “human capital and economic diversification” to continue to thrive.

The report acknowledges some fossil fuel-dependent countries have already begun to diversify their economies for impending energy changes but notes progress is slow.

It says this could pose a serious problem because as much as three-quarters of energy is expected to come from green sources by 2050.

Maha Eltobgy, Head of Shaping the Future of Long-Term Investing, Infrastructure and Development at the WEF, said: “To protect their economic futures, countries whose economies rely on fossil fuels need to prepare now for the impending global shift away from these resources.

“The resource dependent, fossil-fuel-rich nations that have diligently-built large sovereign wealth funds to manage the economic challenges of the Age of Oil must now consider how to use this vast wealth to prepare for the Age of Green Energy.”

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Tourism’s importance in Saudi Arabia

Tourism’s importance in Saudi Arabia

Travel and Tour published on Thursday, February 21, 2019, this article on Saudi Arabia that aims to attract 1.5m tourists by 2020 all according to its Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030. In this prince’s vision, diversification of the economy is emphasised and Tourism as a segment of it, is aimed at increasing the State revenue.

Tourism now holds pivotal importance for Saudi Arabia

Tourism has turned out to be the central development theme in Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia, and as the Kingdom gradually opens its doors to tourists from around the world, its own citizens are also considered as one the fastest growing segment in the global travel market.

With travel bookings in the Kingdom considered the largest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, worth more than $25 billion each year, the power of the Saudi traveller is strong, which was reflected in recently concluded Jeddah International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (JTTX), where thousands of Saudis, including women, attended the event.

The show is touted as the largest travel trade show in Kingdom, featuring outbound destinations for Saudi tourists and travel companies showcasing various lucrative options.

The JTTX ninth edition was formally inaugurated by Prince Saud Bin Abdallah Bin Jalawi, Advisor to Makkah Governor and also secretary at Jeddah Governorate. The show was held under patronage of Prince Mishal Bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah.

More than 200 exhibitors from 29 countries took part in JTTX which was held at Hilton Hotel. There were stalls displaying a wide range of tourism facilities such hotels, resorts, airlines, travel technologies, medical and educational tourism.

A majority of the Kingdom’s tourists travel to the UAE, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey and the UK as top holiday destinations.

However, new destinations like Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Georgia emerge as new destinations for Saudis.

The show also featured eight new destinations: Hong Kong, Finland, Spain, Mauritius, Morocco, Kosovo, Vietnam and New Zealand with Tunisia being the guest of honor of the event.

Vision 2030: Towards a New Saudi Arabia or No Saudi Arabia?

Vision 2030: Towards a New Saudi Arabia or No Saudi Arabia?

By Andrew Korybko in Oriental Review on February 7th, 2019.

Saudi Arabia clinched 37 deals worth $53 billion after announcing that it intends to attract upwards of $426 billion in total over the next decade as it seeks to advance Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MbS) ambitious Vision 2030 agenda of socio-economic reform. The young leader knows that his majority-youthful country has no hope for the future if it doesn’t rapidly transition to a post-oil economy before its world-famous reserves run dry, which is why he’s doing everything in his power to court infrastructural, industrial, defense, and technological investments in order to prudently give his people a chance to survive when that happens.

This will naturally result in far-reaching lifestyle changes whereby the relatively well-off native population is compelled to leave their plush government jobs and segue into the competitive private sector out of economic necessity. Relatedly, the Kingdom is loosening its previously strict religious edicts that hitherto prohibited Western-style social freedoms such as playing music in restaurants, going to the cinema, and allowing women to drive. About the last-mentioned of these three latest reforms, it’s inevitable that more women will move out of the home and into the workforce as Vision 2030 progressively develops, though therein lays the potential for serious social unrest.

The Saudi state is upheld by the dual pillars of the monarchy and the Wahhabi clerics, the latter of which have been side lined as a result of Vision 2030 and MbS’ previous crackdown on both radical Islam and the corrupt elite. For all intents and purposes, the Crown Prince’s rapid rise to power was a factionalist coup within the monarchy itself but also a structural one of the monarchy imposing its envisioned will over the Wahhabi clerics, both in the sense of curtailing any militant activities that some of them might have been encouraging and/or funding and also when it comes to counteracting their previously dominant influence over society.

As the country makes progress on advancing Vision 2030 and its related economic reforms continue catalyzing social ones as well, it’s very possible that the structural fault lines between the monarchy & Wahhabis and the younger generation & the older one will lead to political destabilization if they’re not pre-emptively and properly dealt with. While it might sound overly dramatic, there’s a lot of objective truth in the forecast that MbS might either end up as the first King of a New Saudi Arabia or the last Crown Prince of a country that might ultimately cease to exist if these naturally occurring Hybrid War variables aren’t brought under control.

Global trade war impacting the MENA region

Global trade war impacting the MENA region

Michael Fahy, Business journalist in the UAE and editor of zawya.com with his motto of “My views are both infrequent and my own”, wrote about the global trade war impacting the MENA region.

DP World’s Jebel Ali Port in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Image supplied by DP World. Image used for illustrative purpose.

MENA region will not escape impact of global trade war, says economist

Arab Bank’s Radwan Shaban said oil exporting nations provide 80 percent of region’s GDP

The Middle East and North Africa region is unlikely to escape the impact of a trade war, with the biggest potential impact coming from a decline in oil prices, according to the chief economist of Jordan’s Arab Bank.

Speaking on a panel debate on the global outlook for the MENA region, Arab Bank’s chief economist Radwan Shaban said that falling oil demand from China and other nations, as the result of a prolonged trade dispute, would be “a negative for the region”.

“This is a region in which, yes, we have oil exporting and oil importing countries, but in terms of numbers, oil exporting countries account for 80 percent of GDP of this region in 2018,” Shaban said. “Even the welfare of oil-importing countries is closely tied to oil-exporting countries through trade, tourism, FDI, foreign assistance – a whole bunch of factors.”

He said that oil importing countries such as Jordan witness lower trade, lower investment levels and lower assistance with Gulf neighbours if oil prices decline, which “translates into lower economic growth”.

Monica Malik, chief economist with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), said that with oil prices maintaining a level above $70 per barrel since the second quarter of this year, “we are more optimistic” of the region’s prospects for growth.

She anticipates that higher revenues from oil will mean the government will enjoy a fiscal surplus in 2018, while Saudi Arabia will “substantially reduce” its deficit to under 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), although other nations such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman had been less progressive with their reforms.

“But I think with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] support packages to Bahrain, we expect the pace of reforms there to accelerate. We’ve already had parliament approve their VAT law,” Malik said.

Both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have shifted fiscal policy from consolidation towards growth, Malik said, and had given indications that they intend to continue doing so throughout next year.

In the UAE, she said the country has benefited from “a number of stimulus packages and support measures which aren’t just for short-term growth support but also to improve the business environment, to bring capital inflight, to bring foreign direct investment.”

“I think the critical driver of economic activity, non-oil activity, in the Gulf is government activity still. So, I think focused growth, supported by investments that will really improve the medium-term environment, will be positive for the private sector, though at this point it’s still weak and tightening monetary policy is one of the key headwinds.”

James McCormack, global head of sovereign and supranational ratings at Fitch Ratings, was less positive about Saudi Arabia’s fortunes.

“If you dig around the numbers a little bit, you see a big increase in oil revenues, which has been matched largely by increases in spending. And the concern there is the increases in spending are in current spending, not capital, so (it’s) a little bit more difficult to bring those back down when oil prices maybe come down,” he argued.

A widening gap
He said that the balance of the non-oil economy as a proportion of GDP was worsening.

“The deficit is getting bigger. So, this is really an oil story in terms of the fiscal recovery that we’re seeing in Saudi Arabia,” McCormack argued.

McCormack also said that he feared the trade dispute between the United States and China could be a prolonged one.

“I think it (dispute) is going to last longer, in part because of the fact that the U.S. has moved the goalposts – in fact, widened the goalposts a couple of times,” McCormack said.

He argued that some of the demands being made by the U.S. are considered to be “non-negotiable” by the Chinese government.

“I don’t see how we’re going to have a discussion that’s going to satisfy both sides. This has the potential to turn into something meaningful from a global macro sense,” McCormack argued.

Shaban said that a slowdown in global trade would hit the region in other ways. For instance, he said that Morocco is a significant supplier to Europe’s automotive sector, while in Egypt revenues from ships passing through the Suez Canal provide the country with an important source of foreign currency revenues.

“As global trade slows, that will affect the Suez Canal activity,” Shaban said.

(Reporting by Michael Fahy; Editing by Shane McGinley)
(michael.fahy@refinitiv.com)

 

Thorough Reviews of proposed Capital Projects

Thorough Reviews of proposed Capital Projects

Governments in developing economies often lack the capacity to conduct thorough reviews of proposed capital projects. A streamlined approach can identify those ready for funding. 

By Rima Assi, Nicklas Garemo, and Arno Heinrich studying an issue of vital importance for all developing countries, came up with the following essay.

They addressed the most likely to be affected which are the oil-exporting countries of the MENA region as impacted by the volatility of their earning capacities.  In the recent past, and before 2014, when free-flowing budgets allowed development without such restrictive measures, governments that get about 90 per cent of their revenue from oil exports did not bother about such issues. However plunging oil prices could mean budget cuts for major exporters like the GCC countries, but these are not expected to be large enough to stop growth, hence the need still of what is proposed by Mckinsey’s people here.

How developing economies can get more out of their infrastructure budgets

In developed economies, policies and practices for balancing diverging interests in public infrastructure spending are well established. South Korea, for example, established the Public and Private Infrastructure Investment Management Center in 1999 to conduct feasibility studies on large public investments and expanded its mandate to include appraising and managing public–private infrastructure partnerships in 2005. Since then, the center has reduced project overruns by 82 percentage points. Similar units include the United Kingdom’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Germany’s Bundesrechnungshof, and Australia’s Infrastructure Australia.

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But in developing markets, many governments have yet to build a capacity for conducting extended project reviews and feasibility studies, because talent is scarce or internal priorities conflict. As a result, these governments often end up funding ill-prepared, poorly designed capital projects, whose scope often diverges from real demand. Overlaps between projects are not uncommon—and actual project costs often exceed forecasts. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the money devoted to global investments around the world is spent ineffectively as a result of bottlenecks, a failure to innovate, or market failures. In developing economies, these ineffective expenditures amount to over $1 trillion a year.

It may be too much to ask that every proposal get a full-scale, in-depth evaluation that takes months to complete. Even in developed markets, that’s not always possible. But it is possible for finance ministries to conduct more streamlined financial assessments of the preparedness and design of projects in only days or weeks. Indeed, we have seen developing countries in the Middle East and Africa embark on such programs by adapting centralized control units and the required level of governance to their own circumstances.

The initial assessment of project preparedness

As a first step, a government must ensure that all projects have been thought through at a sufficient level of detail. This may sound obvious, but projects that fail to describe their rationale properly, don’t evaluate alternative solutions, or lack detailed budget plans are hardly uncommon. What’s more, implementing ministries often lack strong capabilities in project planning, and rely instead on the private-sector organizations that design and implement such projects to review their own work. The resulting incentive structures, far from optimizing costs, tend to inflate the scope and specifications of these projects. 

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When the finance ministry in one African country reviewed proposals to build new roads, for example, it found a number of them significantly exceeded benchmark costs—often coming from design firms that consistently produced designs with higher costs. When a more thorough evaluation isn’t feasible, a streamlined one- or two-day review can help. Typically, an oversight body would pose a series of straightforward questions assessing how clearly a problem is defined, along with a capacity and demand analysis and a consideration of alternative solutions. This kind of evaluation would examine a proposal’s financial aspects, like planned budgets and cash-flow requirements. It would also probe the operational elements: a realistic implementation plan, compliance with regulatory requirements, and interdependencies and overlaps with other projects. Knowing that it lacks this capability, the government of the country in the example is now setting up an in-house unit to oversee contracts with design companies and challenge their products.

The impact can be considerable. One government in another developing economy took this approach with more than 250 projects in its portfolio and found that only a quarter of them were adequately prepared. Most frequently, project owners failed to quantify the capacity–demand analysis and alternative ways of meeting future demand. As a result, they were granted only enough of their requested budget to conduct studies to increase their preparedness.

A deeper review of project design

Once the initial assessment—often of hundreds of projects—narrows down the pool, finance ministries can conduct a more thorough review of each project’s overall design. That, too, can be streamlined. The finance ministry of the country in the example developed a way to conduct reviews that lasted just two weeks. In that time, it identified opportunities to reduce costs by an average of 20 to 40 percent, without reducing outputs. During the reviews, which will now be a standard part of the annual budgeting process, the cost-review unit of the finance ministry met with owners of projects and tested their design through a series of questions aligned with the initial assessment exercise above. These included the following:

  • ·         Public priorities. Does the scope of a project focus on services and features that people really want? Is there evidence that the project is truly needed and meets the country’s socioeconomic objectives?
  • ·         Capacity and demand. Does capacity match future demand? Are the expectations for demand realistic? Can alternative solutions reduce demand?
  • ·         Costs. Do unit costs reflect benchmark levels? Can costs be cut by adjusting a project’s time frame (to reduce the need for tight deadlines) or by calibrating the schedule to the availability of capital?
  • ·         Productivity. Could existing assets improve operations?
  • ·         Funding. Are the funding requirements realistic? Are there any opportunities for private-sector funding? Will the assets generate revenues that could fund the project? Can implementation be deferred or slowed down to stretch out the need for funding?

These project reviews can be significant: a two-week review of a public convention complex, for example, identified $1.7 billion in potential savings (Exhibit 1). Elsewhere, one ministry of health’s $300 million request for additional beds for intensive-care units (ICUs) was nearly halved after reviewers considered benchmark utilization data. They found that the proposal’s assumptions about the average length of stay per ICU bed were twice as high as the benchmark, mainly because facilities lacked intermediate beds and had nowhere to send discharged patients. As result, the ministry of health was advised to procure lower-cost intermediate beds and fewer ICU ones.

Exhibit 1

A two-week capital-expenditure review of a public convention complex identified $1.7 billion in savings.

 

Or consider a proposal by another country’s housing ministry to develop affordable housing. In-depth reviews found that the proposed design included features—such as skylights, longer driveways, and larger bedrooms—that increased costs but would not necessarily be valued by residents. The optimized design featured more bathrooms, but (unlike the original proposal) with showers instead of tubs; more but smaller bedrooms; and shorter driveways with less internal parking. These homes were better aligned with the expectations of likely residents, but cost 15 percent less—so the ministry could build more homes on its $4 billion total budget.