Meet the women entrepreneurs who led the GCC region in 2022
As 2022 comes to a close, YS Gulf has curated a list of some of the top women tech leaders of the year in the GCC region.
The GCC region, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia, is looking strongly at nurturing new businesses and startups. However, women entrepreneurs in the region still have a long way to go.
According to a report by Wamda and Digital Digest, startups in the MENA region raised $3 billion in funding in 2022. In October, they recorded investments of $646 million. Of this, startups in the UAE received $460 million, Egypt got $113 million, and Saudi Arabia received $70 million.
Although growth has been positive for businesses in the region, it has not been the same for women-led startups, which raised only 0.06% of the total funding.
All men-led companies received 99.47% of the overall investments made, with startups with both men and women founders obtaining 0.47% of the funding.
Globally, gender disparity pervades all aspects of the economic structure. But, as per the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2022, the MENA region—with an average population-weighted score of 63.4%—accounts for the second largest workforce gender gap after South Asia.
The region has several women business leaders—Huda Kattan (beauty influencer), Ambareen Musa (Founder of Soulqalmal), Negin Fattahi (creator and founder of N.Bar nail salons, 1847 male beauty salons, and the JetSet wash and blow-dry hair salons), Mona Ataya (Founder of Mumzsworld), Ola Doudin (BitOasis), and more.
YS Gulf has curated a list of some of the top women tech leaders of 2022 in the GCC region.
Sarah Toukan, Co-founder, Ziina
Like any techie worth their salt, Sarah Toukan loved science and mathematics in school. She particularly enjoyed solving mathematical problems and taking on scientific challenges. It was probably her early love for numbers and building products that took her along the entrepreneurial path in the field of fintech.
Today, along with her brother Faisal Toukan and Andrew Gold, Sarah is responsible for building one of the fastest-growing payment fintech startups in the region,.
A digital wallet similar to Paytm and Amazon Pay, the app follows a peer-to-peer model and lets users send and receive payments with a few taps. It not only removes the process of IBAN and swift codes but also makes the payment experience social by allowing users to send texts, emojis, photos, and GIFs.
So far, the startup has raised $9.4 million in funding. It will soon expand to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the
team is working on a social debit card model.
Helen Chen, Co-founder and CEO, Nomad Homes
Sitting in the swanky family office of Fremont Group in the Bay Area in 2018, Helen Chen knew one thing—being an investor wasn’t her cup of tea.
The Wharton Graduate believed that to be great at something, you have to love what you do. Helen realised it was real estate for her.
As a Chinese American growing up in Washington, Helen’s parents had rental properties, and her primary job over the summers was to ensure the homes were maintained to give tenants a good experience.
It led her to startin Dubai in 2019, along with her friends and colleagues Dan Piehler and Damien Drap. In September last year, the startup raised $20 million in funding.
Proptech startup Nomad Homes offers an end-to-end real estate buying experience for consumers in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The platform is for buying and renting homes, and the focus is on empowering the customer with technology and the right information.
Angana Maheshwari, Founder, Veganologie
Kolkata-born Angana Maheshwari was looking for one thing when she went to Dubai in 2019—a high-quality sustainable bag that she could carry every day without having to feel like she had [impacted] the planet for its production.
She didn’t want to go for a high-end fashion brand, but also didn’t want a low-quality product, which made her realise the need for a brand that could cater to her needs. In 2022, she started, a brand that makes sustainable accessories from recycled materials.
Veganologie uses 100% vegan, recycled, or sustainable materials. Its product SKUs—crossbody bags, wallets, and card holders—are all made from recycled PU leather.
The startup has received certifications from Global Recycled Standards (GRS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Amna Aijaz, Co-founder, POPC
In her eight-year-long career, digital and branding artist Amna Aijaz designed events for Coca-Cola, Marvel, and Warner Bros, among other global and local brands. During the COVID pandemic, she saw the events industry hit a roadblock.
Like many, Amna turned to a passion project during this period. When she got the idea ofin August 2020, she started with market research. By September, she reconnected with her university classmate, Haroon (Tahir), who was also trying to sell merchandise based on his best-selling book.
Amna also got in touch with Arafaat (Ali Khan), her former manager and co-founder of Middle East Comic Con. He is also the Co-founder and CEO of POPC’s holding company Waverider Entertainment.
In January 2021, the startup raised an undisclosed amount from Waverider Entertainment. POPC’s USP lies in custom-made, pop-culture-based, and on-demand merchandise.
Smeetha Ghosh-Jorgensen, Co-founder and CEO, Cashee
Being brought up in India and the Middle East, Smeetha Ghosh-Jorgensen’s life saw a greater emphasis on academics than life-related skills like financial literacy. The idea to make a business by imparting these skills came much later through a news article.
Smeetha, along with Brad Whittfield and Gups Jutla, got to work. They ended up setting up—a digital banking platform for users between the ages of 13 and 21.
Cashee operates as a co-branded product for a bank, which means, it does not directly interact with the central bank but works in association with a partner bank as its tech partner.
Radhika Punshi and Gauri Gupta, Co-founders, The Talent Enterprise
Radhika Punshi, Gauri Gupta, and David Jones earlier worked together at Aon Hewitt. They realised that when someone applies for a leadership position, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire, primarily a quiz on their overall personality. And this questionnaire generally follows a set pattern, with ‘copy-pasted’ content that has little to do with the finesse and liberties one has as a professional—culturally and geographically.
The experience of working in the Middle East, India, Asia, and many other parts of the world helped the trio realise that this ‘copy and paste approach’ was a bit lazy.
The trio also noticed that many young people, especially those entering the labour market, were all very different.tries to assess candidates uniquely and not just adopt standard approaches such as questionnaires.
Nuha Hashem, Co-founder, Zywa
When Middle East-based Alok Kumar’s 15-year-old brother wanted to open a bank account in Saudi Arabia, it was quite a challenge. This led him to get in touch with his friend Nuha Hashem, who was pursuing her PhD in the US. She decided to work on the idea and, after three months, moved to Dubai to buildwith Alok.
Dubai-based neobanking platform Zywa offers a gamified banking app for the Gen Z population in the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Zywa works as a social banking app and offers a prepaid card for the 11 to 25-year age group, where they can receive money, manage it, and also make payments, The app can link the parent’s existing bank account to the Zywa wallet—the primary bank account opened for the individual.
Twenty years ago, Kelly Lundberg’s mother told her in passing that Dubai, UAE, would be a cosmopolitan city one day with different cultures, businesses, and leaders thriving in the region.
“I don’t know if my mother had a crystal ball or something. But I moved to Dubai to work for Emirates Airlines. After working for a few years, I decided to pursue my passion for personal styling and fashion with StyleMeDivine,” Kelly tells YS Gulf in a video interaction.
Starting her business at 24, Kelly is now an award-winning stylist, serial entrepreneur, author, and TedX speaker.
Edited by Suman Singh