Corporate Venturing In The Middle East Can Be A Mirage.

This article was originally published on Forbes on 11-Jul-2016 and is written by Mr Kamal Hassan, General partner TURN8 Fund.

Large corporations in the Middle East (and elsewhere) tend to lag behind in innovation. Once they reach a certain size, competitive pressures seem to diminish, and they lose their nimbleness. Recognising this, some companies have started to think about investing in startups as a strategy for spotting and ultimately profiting from innovation. But there is an art to doing this successfully, and many Middle East organisations have not yet mastered it.

Let’s start with the basics. There are three ways for large companies to innovate:

1. Inorganic: do an M&A deal.

2. Organic: engage in internal research and development, testing new products and expanding the ones that work.

3. Invest in early stage innovation: set up a venture arm.

Five to seven years ago, #3 was not really a factor in the Arab world. Corporate investment basically entailed buying out your potential competitors. But more recently, companies are beginning to look at startups as a way to innovate. On the positive side, that’s great news. This is what happens in much of the developed world, and it’s a proven strategy.

On the not so positive side, the Middle East lacks an IPO exit market, so investors are limited to M&A deals as their exit path. This is a manageable problem, but a bigger one looms large: in this region, executives are not experienced investors. In other words, they don’t know how to loosely hold an entrepreneurial relationship, or to cultivate cultures of entrepreneurship and innovation. They invest in a manner that has the potential to crush innovation. For example, experienced investors are hands-on—dispensing advice, helping startups gain traction, build strong teams, and globalize their offerings. But in this region, many corporate investors treat entrepreneurs like employees. They impose restrictions that forbid the entrepreneurs from doing business with the investor’s competitors, or they impose bureaucracy on these still delicate entities. They want exclusivity. They want 10-year plans. In reality, entrepreneurs have no idea where they will be in 10 years, or even five. They may be forced to pivot. Market conditions may change. Each new executive hire has the potential to shift paths. If you push all the uncertainty out of the entrepreneurial process, you will be left with a process that is anything but entrepreneurial. Instead, corporate venture investors should be thinking like real VCs.

Even in the United States, where corporate ventures are commonplace, large organizations have trouble maintaining the deft touch necessary to nurture rather than crush innovation.

What leaders in the Middle East call corporate venturing isn’t really corporate venturing.

It makes sense to look elsewhere for examples. For example, nearly every bank and telecom in Southeast Asia invests in venture capital funds. The banks understand they are not the experts in this realm, so they are content to watch and learn.

They might seek to embed some sort of terms that give them the option to invest more at a certain trigger stage, or perhaps a right of first refusal. They might also seek the right to co-brand with a startup as their technology matures and they expand. But such actions simply give them a window of six to twelve months in which they will have an innovation head start; they do not crush innovation.By being a limited partner in an established venture capital fund, established organisations participate in the purest form of innovation. VCs are more skilled at finding and nurturing innovators with the hope of achieving market success; their objective is simple: produce attractive financial returns. In contrast, corporate ventures tend to have a strategic objective, and in the Middle East such objectives can be so dominant as to all but eliminate any true innovation.

To nurture innovation, you can’t simply go through the motions. You have to give innovators room to innovate.

How I got the first 1,000 users for The Transporter’s Market?

Always believe in your idea, and find first what can make it fail and then find what can make it succeed.

Today, for most of us is just a regular Thursday, but for me is a day that I will always remember because is the day when I reached to 1,000 users on the platform that I founded: LoadMe – The First Online Transporter’s Marketplace in the Middle East.

It all started one year back, when we were selected in a business accelerator:

LoadMe and Turn8 Teams

A prototype was launched in January 2015 and in March 2015, a fully operational platform was ready. A lot of work and marketing efforts in the following months and in June 2015 it started to lift off the ground and before the end of August it reached to 1,000 users.

Starting from today I will not call it a startup anymore, I will call it a company because is one year old and it reached seamlessly an important milestone – 1,000 companies registered that are doing business on the platform.

First 1000 users for LoadMe

I want to thank you first to this 1,000 companies who believed in us and are using daily our tool, and also I want to thank you to our partners for support because we would never be here without them: Turn8DP WorldYellowstone Group and a few more.

For those of you who don’t know, LoadMe is actuality an online marketplace for shipments and trucks where you can find transport for your goods or you can load your empty trucks, some call it a Load Board some call it a Freight Exchange Platform and others call it The Uber for Trucks. If you are a logistics professional fell free to Register on LoadMe, be active and make your job easier by using our communication tool.

This is how it works:


Sebastian StefanCEO at – The Transporters Market from the Middle East

Skills Swapping platform launched in Dubai

Swappaholics Holdings Limited, an innovative startup that recently graduated from the TURN8 Accelerator program (Round 4) in Dubai has launched a skills swapping portal, a disruptive platform, modeled after the barter trade system that will allow professionals to connect and swap skills in a social setting.

Skillz ( is going to be a platform that is going to be a game changer in the online freelance ecosystem by allowing professionals to trade without the use of money. A platform where your skills become a social currency.

“We are breaking the monopoly of money, and empowering everyone with equal trading opportunities” says Francis Obirikorang, CEO and Co-founder.

Skillz will allow people to trade skills, build up their portfolio, connect and interact with like minded professionals, rent their skills and also contribute their skills for social good.

A website designer can design a website for a legal professional who in return will offer legal services in exchange for the website.

Doctor, chef, construction worker and housewife posing

Currently, the main pain point facing many freelance websites is the need for money to trade, which is eliminating many people from trading due to little or no cash. “Everyone has a unique skill set which can be traded” remarked the CEO of Swappaholics. Its an ecosystem where everyone wins. With Skillz, your skills is your social currency.

Skillz is currently web based and the Android and iOS mobile applications will be launched by the end of 2015 to give users a multi channel approach to swapping their skills. Launched in Dubai, Swappaholics has plans of extending the Skills swapping portal to the other MENA regions with a global focus in mind.



The TURN8 Experience #TeamSwappaholics


We discovered TURN8’s call for applications by “accident.” We didn’t participate in the usual hackathon or “innov-a-thons.” Instead, a simple Google search for where to take our ideas popped up many accelerators accepting applications. Instinctively, we chose to apply to TURN8. There was something uniquely intriguing about the name. Two days after submitting an application, we got an email from TURN8 requesting a Skype interview between Swappaholics and Mohammed Hamdy, who was the Managing Director of the TURN8 program. “That escalated quickly,” I said to my co-founder Michael Ocansey.

The Skype interview lasted for about 30 minutes; questions relating to how we came up with the idea, what problem we sought to solve and how we planned on monetizing our application came in thick and fast. Hamdy was very precise and knew how to aim for the jugular with his intuitive and deep searching questions. One question that I termed the “shark attack” question was “are you ready to quit your full-time job and take up this venture?” At this point there was no turning back.

The interview ended with “you will hear from us soon.” A week later we were notified of our pre-selection. We were the first team to be selected for TURN8 Round 4. Due diligence stage commenced. Lots of paperwork; lots of emails were exchanged and we were officially confirmed. Dubai, here we come! We jetted out of Ghana on February 6, 2015, using Ethiopia Air. We missed the connecting flight and spent a day in Addis Ababa. It was a very cold experience and coming from a tropical country; we had to brace ourselves. We landed in Dubai on February 8 at approximately 4:00 AM local time.

First cultural shock. Checked into our prized room, what is locally referred to as a partition room. It was no bigger than a cubicle. We had to adapt fast. Then came the food. No African food in sight. Time we introduced our tongues and taste buds to different cuisines.

On February 9 it was time to head to The Cribb, where TURN8 teams work. Armed with a map and an RTA card we set off. Everyone gets lost once in a while in a new environment. We ended up at a different Al Qouz. You couldn’t blame us. We hailed a cab and phoned the TURN8 Community Manager who gave the directions to the cab driver. One team (Cabit, now Paack) had arrived early for the start of the program. We exchanged pleasantries with them and settled in to work.

The program officially commenced and boy was it an exciting one, covering topics like business modeling, financials and other important knowledge entrepreneurs need to acquire to help them become better managers and steer the affairs of a startup. Passion alone cannot guarantee the success of your startup. Choosing mentors is one key pillar of the TURN8 program and it helps startups get invaluable knowledge and coaching from people with industry knowledge. Mentors, I term them as “rudders of a ship,” help steer a startup and avoid errors that have the potential of killing it.

From pitching events, barbecue parties, prototype building, etc., TURN8 has helped shaped our perspective in the startup business. TURN8 is more than an accelerator; it’s a family that is bent on making everyone succeed. You are chided if you go wrong, encouraged and praised if you do things right. You learn not to take anything personal but rather strive to improve who you are. Many of us came into the program with only passion as a tool, but we have acquired enormous knowledge that can last a lifetime. It’s been one heck of an amazing journey and we have no regrets for joining this beautiful experience.

Now all pumped up, psyched up and ready we await the Investor Demo Day on June 13, 2015. It’s going to be a celebration of handwork from these 120 acceleration days. The Arabian night is going to be lit by beautiful ideas. Join us as we make history.

More about Swappaholics find here:

Author: Francis Obirikorang, CEO at Swappaholics


Investor Pitch Deck – [Infographic]

Raising money from investors is a crucial step for all startups, but even for experienced founders a great pitch can be challenging.

Your ability to deliver captivating content quickly and efficiently will often be the deciding factor for whether an investor funds you or walks away…

Check out our infographic below to see what it takes to make the perfect pitch:


Have you made the perfect pitch? Tell us how you wowed your investors in the comments below!


Faisal is the Content & Community Manager at PayFort. He enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, e-commerce and startups. You can find him on Twitter, Google+, or reach him at

Original article you can read here.

Apply for TURN8 now:

My Amazing Experience at TURN8 Accelerator


Taking a plane to Dubai for the first time was a mix of emotion! Fear, happiness and uncertainty were the things I was carrying on that flight when I set out to start my dream and create a company. What I brought back with me was even better (apart from a sweet Razer gaming headset) — a company. Okay, rewind a bit.

On December 22 there was a pitching contest organized in my home town of Nis, south Serbia (nice place, visit it), by a startup accelerator called TURN8 and a real estate company Clean Earth Capital. So my friend and I were thinking we should give it a shot, what’s the worst that can happen? We never even heard of the term “startup” but we went. In short, we kicked ass and we won.

Next thing we knew, we were dragged into this world of business, entrepreneurship, shares, MVP’s, BMC’s and all these fancy words that we didn’t have a clue what they meant, but we knew the entire thing meant opportunity ! We hit the books and a few months later chapter one starts (read above, the plane thing).

Working in an accelerator

An accelerator is a programme created to give your business idea a boost. They provide some funding, tutoring, classes, contacts, all things an idea needs (they do take a part of your company in the form of equity shares, but this is only one of the trades you will make 😉 ). Now, I don’t knowabout other accelerators, so I will speak from my perspective and experience in TURN8.

Working in TURN8 was amazing! They have an amazing working space, incredible team, events all the time. They taught me how to be a CEO! Every week there were a bunch of “classes,” like business model generation, marketing, pitching, BMC (business model canvas for all you newbs). In a matter of two months, my partner and I were on our way to becoming serious entrepreneurs. Our idea was even more on the way of becoming a real company!
Company growing up
We do this thing called Good Game Network. It’s an online hub where gamers can find an opponent, arrange a match and play for money. It started with three people, my partner Zorana who was until then a front end developer, my friend Dimitrije who helped with developing the idea (it’s a miracle what 10 hours of late night gaming sessions do to a man), and myself who was hardcore into back end development.
So we wrote our first plans and estimations and started working… but then this thing happened. People from the community, from Nis, gamers started contacting us offering help and to volunteer. It turned out, many, many people had the same passion (taking video games to a whole new level!). We quickly found one more developer, just as passionate as us. He started working his a** off and he was amazing. After he joined, we started to actively look into the Dota2 community for other people and it was amazing. From just a few people we went to a nine person team in just over a month! Our work was 100x faster, but somehow more work kept emerging — the whole thing started to become very serious.
Now we have a team, we have tested a huge part of the system (works like a charm), we have vision and focus and we are on our way to success.
To sum everything up for the tl;dr guys

Accelerators are awesome. Ideas are awesome. Get those two together and start an amazing relationship!

About Author

Good Game network, TURN8

Konstantin Velickovic, CEO of Good Game Network

Konstantin was professional gamer  for over 7 years as a leader of two successful gaming teams. Started first business at the age of 16, programming and selling video game servers to the Serbianmarket. Now he leads a gaming startup called Good Game Network.

For inquiries, contact him on his email:

If you are interested in applying for TURN8,

Apply Now

Under patronage of the Russian Business Council, the biggest Russian startup expedition Startup Sabantuy is coming to Dubai.

Startup Sabantuy

The application period is opened.

Under patronage of Russian Business Council (, the biggest Russian startup expedition Startup Sabantuy is coming to Dubai.

Startup Sabantuy is initiated by the most effective High Technology Park in the Russian Federation called IT-park. It was based 5 years ago in the city of Kazan and few years later in Naberezhnye Chelny, Republic of Tatarstan.

Startup Sabantuy is the international expedition held by IT-park which is aimed to find ambitious technological startups.

Participation is free, registration is required at

Startup Sabantuy is held fourth time and this year the team of expedition will visit 10 Russian cities (Saratov, Izhevsk, Samara, Ufa, Yaroslavl, Krasnoyarsk, Krasnodar, Irkutsk, Chelyabinsk, Petrozavodsk) and 3 foreign countries (The United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Serbia).

Startup Sabantuy is looking for: SaaS & smart cloud, new mobile services and applications, cloud technologies, e-commerce, management and storage of data, corporate and user software, gaming services.

Startup Sabantuy is supported by: RVC fund, Kama Flow, Runa Capital, LETA Capital, Rostelecom, Navigator Found, Russian Business Council in Dubai, Business Emirates, and

During the expedition the team of Startup Sabantuy in collaboration with the experts of venture funds will work with the projects providing valuable feedback and mentor support. After what 25 the most promising projects will be selected. These projects will have a chance to participate in Sabantuy CEO CAMP acceleration program, which will be held at IT-park in Naberezhnye Chelny. The program will allow startup founders to gain practical skills which are required for successful operation in technological market.

In addition, all participants of Startup Sabantuy expedition will get a chance to undergo GenerationS pre-acceleration program organized by RVC fund without preliminary selection.

The final step of Startup Sabantuy (Demo Day) will be held on 11th of July, 2015 when selected startups will present their projects to major investors.



High Technology Park IT-Park in Kazan and Naberezhnye Chelny is recognized as the most effective Technopark in Russia. 157 companies currently work here. The infrastructure of IT-park includes IT-academy, data-center, business incubator, coworking, hotel, and restaurant. The business incubator of IT-park is the biggest in Russia (total area is 3 thousand sq.m.). The range of business incubator ` s residents became successful IT-companies such as Eidos, Avtodoria, Sprut technology and others.

RVC – government fund established in 2006. The mission of the fund is to encourage Russia’s own VC industry and boost capital of VC funds.

GenerationS – federal accelerator and contest for technological startups hosted by RVC since 2013.

RIS Ventures is a partnership of investors, CEOs and founders of technology companies. The company provides tools and instruments for the development of technology businesses. The clients of RIS Ventures are Kaspersky Lab, Abbyy, Quest Software, Softline and other IT companies. RIS Ventures developed and held startup acceleration and development programs for IT-park, Ingria Business Incubator, IIDF and ITMO University.

The Cribb

The Cribb is a business incubator where innovative startups from around the world work side by side in an exciting and creative environment! The Cribb offers complete entrepreneurial resources, meeting and event space, a training facility, a computer lab, a cafe, and a lounge, all of which encourage networking and fun as well as work. The Cribb aims to help young innovators develop their business ideas in support of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Dubai. In addition to hosting entrepreneurs from the community, The Cribb is home to the TURN8 Startup Accelerator program, i360 Accelerator as well as couple of international brands such as Tripadvisor, Profusion, Pressella, International Award.

Visit or call +971 4 319 7645 for membership information.


TURN8 is a program launched by DP World to foster a global entrepreneurial and innovation culture in the UAE. The aim is to inject entrepreneurial know-how and accelerate commercialise-able ideas to market. This revolutionary program strategically scouts for early stage ideas and concepts from around the world that can be refined and brought to market through the TURN8 seed accelerator. Visit

Russian Business Council

Russian Business Council in Dubai and North Emirates (RBC) is a non-government organization, which represents interests of the Russian business community in the UAE and promotes international businesses within Russia.

RBC has been founded in October 2009 and registered in September 2010 under the umbrella of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce with the approval of Government of Dubai and the Russian Embassy in the UAE.

RBC is a dynamic, business focused member based organization that was established to support and promote business and investment opportunities between Russia and the Middle East.

Russian Emirates

«Russian Emirates» Publishing & Advertising Company was founded in Dubai in May 2004 on the base of the similarly named website created in 2001. At present, the Company consists of Russian Emirates Publishing House, which publishes three best magazines in Russian language. Based in the UAE and works in cooperation with Russia and other former Soviet Union Republics, «Russian Emirates» holds leading positions in the Russian-speaking media market.