Angel investment and venture capital play an important role in the development of the Egyptian economy by providing funding to startups, creating jobs, and stimulating economic growth. The Egyptian venture capital market has been growing in recent years, with a record funding of $517 million in 2022, according to Magnitt 2022 Egypt Venture Investment Report. The availability of angel investment and venture funding has had a significant impact on the growth of startups in Egypt.

That is why Arab Finance interviewed Ranya Saadawy, CEO of Acasia Group, one of the first angel investment networks in Egypt and Africa and recently a venture fund firm. She discussed the new restructuring of the group, their investments, plans, and success metrics.

1-The Acasia Group was restructured at the end of 2022. Could you elaborate on that?

Acasia Group, originally known as Cairo Angels, was set up as a non-profit organization in 2011 in Cairo. The focus then was pretty clear. Firstly, it was to set up an angel network and inform individuals in Egypt about angel investing and how to do it. Then, they started investing as angels in startups predominantly based in Egypt. Over the 12 years, we also developed partnerships with multilateral organizations like GIZ and USAID to implement entrepreneurship-enabling organizations. In 2021, the founders decided to make a significant change to the way Cairo Angels operates. So, the company went through a rebranding to become Acasia, and this happened for multiple reasons, but it also restructured from a nonprofit organization into an investment fund or impact investment fund with three business units.

So one is the angels, continuing this angel network training and awareness on how to be an angel investor. Second is the impact program, which is an entrepreneurship-enabling program working with corporations, multilateral organizations, and our own to support startups with capacity-building training programs. The third and new part is setting up an actual venture capital (VC) fund. The purpose of the VC fund is to invest in high-performing startups, and the focus regionally became not just Egypt but specifically Africa. So, that is why it got rebranded to Acasia Group with three business units. Last year, in addition to our main office in Cairo, we also had an office in Dubai and an office in Lagos, Nigeria.

2-As one of the few women in leadership positions in the Middle East, What were the challenges you faced?

In the financial services industry, particularly at the executive management level, there is a notable underrepresentation of women. This lack of gender diversity poses challenges for women in the industry, as they often find themselves the only female presence in the room, whether among investors or when pitching to founder-led startups. While there is a relatively equal gender distribution at entry-level positions and middle management, the number of female executives significantly decreases as one ascends to director or executive management positions.

Despite day-to-day operations not being significantly impacted; female executives may approach policies and engagement with female-led investors differently than their male counterparts. To drive change, the focus of female executives in executive management positions is on increasing the representation of women in executive roles, both within their organizations and externally. The aim is to achieve critical mass at the executive, C-suite, and board levels, as this is when substantial change can occur.

3-Acasia Group is Egypt's and Africa's first angel investment network. What were the challenges the company faced during its establishment?

One of the biggest challenges faced by the company is the confusion around branding and direction. As the first and longest-standing angel investor network in Egypt and Africa, Cairo Angels has developed a certain reputation and procedures. However, with changes in business model and structure, the biggest challenge is explaining how the organization now has different business units. This requires a lot of effort to inform current, previous, and future stakeholders about the change. Another challenge is transitioning from a non-profit to a business with a venture fund, which requires bringing in a new team and a different set of requirements.

Yes, Cairo Angels was established 12 years ago, and we still have that legacy. As a company, we set up new policies and procedures that make sense for our new business unit and with our new staff. As the new CEO, a big part of my job currently includes: how we put into place policies and procedures like leave policies, codes of conduct, diversity and inclusion policies, etc. All of these policies that help kind of set up your foundations as a company needs to be adjusted to make sense for the type of business that we are now.

4-What was the reason behind the decision to rebrand Cairo Angels to Acasia Group, and how did it affect the company's market share?

A big part of the change from Cairo Angels Network to Acasia Group was predominantly because of market changes. So the founders saw that there was a need to expand beyond Egypt's borders and that there were a lot of synergies and market expansion opportunities between Africa and Egypt. Where Egypt is typically economically put together with the Arab world or the GCC, there are a lot more synergies in alignment with the continent of Africa. So, by deciding to restructure, a part of us was looking at being involved in the market, understanding the disruptions that are happening, and also realizing that this is the right stage to be the first mover again. That is what makes the Cairo Angels unique.

Cairo Angels was the first mover back in 2011 to set up an angel network that was actively doing deals, building awareness, and bringing startups and angel investors together in Egypt. And now, at this other time of change in 2022, the decision was made to set up a venture fund, a mission-driven company that still has its origins in putting people and first movers first but invests in companies at all stages of the process. Now the company has an Angel Network and entrepreneurship-enabling systems, a lot of startups in its pipeline, and a venture fund that can invest with bigger ticket sizes in late-stage startups.

5-What makes the Acasia Angel Network different from other angel investment networks?

What makes us unique and will continue to make us unique is that while we operate as different business units and there are Chinese walls, so we have different investment mandates, there is an excellent pipeline. For the angel network, for example, there may be a very large pipeline of startups, and they provide us with potential ones that are for angel investment, and vice versa. So it allows us to strengthen our pipeline both ways and also have a lot of angel investors who are individual investors who are interested in a network that is connected to a VC fund.

6-How do you measure the impact of the company’s investments in the region?

For Cairo Angles, historically, for the last 12 years for our angel investments, we tracked the number of startups that received additional investments, the amount of additional investment that they received after our angel investments, the number of partnerships that they got, and the number of jobs created through their companies. So, these are a lot of the direct key performance indicators (KPIs) that we measure as well. We also measured the number of different institutional contracts or partnerships that they received during the period of the angel investment.

7-Can you share with us a success story of a company that has received investment from Acasia Group and shed light on the company’s investment portfolio?

Most of our investments are focused on technology startups, with a particular emphasis on Fintech startups. Our portfolio includes several success stories across all our business units. Here are some notable examples of startups that have received funding from Cairo Angels:

- In 2022, Cairo Angels made its first investment in Credpal, a Nigerian company, through the Cairo Angels Syndicate Fund (CASF).

- Cairo Angels invested in Nawah-Scientific in 2015, and since then, the startup has grown to become one of the leading scientific research service providers in Egypt.

- Cairo Angels invested in Eventtus in 2013, and the startup has experienced significant growth, establishing itself as one of the leading event discovery platforms in the Middle East.

In addition, Acasia Angels has recently funded startups both in Egypt and abroad. In April 2023, Acasia Angel joined the pre-seed investment round of Swaplanet. Acasia Angels participated in the funding round of the UK-based medtech startup Precision Cardiovascular, which includes Sir Magdi Yacoub on its board.

Furthermore, through Acasia Impact, we have established partnerships with various corporates, such as Microsoft and EG Bank. For instance, our collaboration with Microsoft's 4Afrika initiative aims to improve digital access and support innovation in Africa. Additionally, the Mint Incubator program with EG Bank is designed to accelerate the growth of product-ready startups looking to take their business to the next level. Lastly, in our Acasia Ventures unit, we recently invested in Menthum, an Egyptian fintech company, as part of the pre-seed funding round.

8-Can you speak of the challenges and opportunities in investing in the tech startup ecosystem in Egypt and Africa, especially during the current economic climate?

The current global and regional economic climate presents both an opportunity and a challenge for Egypt and African ecosystems. Despite high-interest rates, inflation, and geopolitical tensions in the first half of 2023, there are still many venture investments available. However, market conditions remain slow for investments, and VCs are deploying funding more cautiously. Economic conditions are particularly impacting late-stage startups, especially when it comes to valuations.

As a result, early-stage startups are becoming more attractive to us as investors, as they were least impacted by last year's downturn compared to late-stage and growth-stage startups. Fintech and logistics startups are still investable, but due diligence is now focusing more on what they are doing than their valuations or potential growth. Cleantech and agritech are taking the spotlight, and VCs are looking for tech startups that are willing to strengthen their value proposition and grow sustainably over a longer period.

9-Last but not least, what are Acasia Group's plans for future expansion and growth, and how does the company adapt to changing market trends in technology?

Our team is able to adapt and pivot quickly based on the economic environment. Our focus is threefold, and I will talk about each business unit. First, for our Acasia Angels, we are looking at our value proposition and looking to come back to the market with a revised value proposition and business model. So, it is not going to be Cairo Angels 2.0; it will be Acasia Angels, with its origins as Cairo Angels. So we want to provide our Angel Investor Network and begin active investments again. But we plan to come out with a clear value proposition for our business model in the fall of 2023. On the impact side, we are working with key corporations regionally based in the UAE. In Saudi Arabia, as well as multilateral organizations, we can continue to develop and implement capacity-building programs. For tech startups in Egypt and Africa, specifically in Nigeria. For our Ventures Fund, we are focusing on bringing in syndicate funds and hunkering down our focus on our investments in Egypt and Nigeria, with a focus on more female-led founders in the Fintech and tech sectors.


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