For start-ups and entrepreneurs attending the 7th annual Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF), the insights regarding what venture capitalists (VCs) look for in emerging businesses provided a treasure trove of actionable knowledge. Through various panel discussions and talks with world-renowned industry leaders, light was cast on the path to successful funding, providing expert advice on how to secure capital as well as the need for guidance, mentorship, and strategic partnerships.

Start-ups should focus not just on presenting innovative solutions but on demonstrating a clear market need, an expert said at the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival (SEF) on Monday.

Walid Mansour, with a history woven through the dot-com boom, the rise of telecoms, and the digital age of AI, imparted invaluable advice for start-ups at different stages of growth at a session titled “Intent to Investment: What are VCs Looking For?” His perspective, shaped by witnessing transformative technological shifts, resonates with start-ups navigating the rapidly evolving industry.

For those seeking funding, Mansour’s advice is clear: “As VCs, we need to provide proper guidance to ensure that our investments have the best chance of succeeding. We invest in companies that either create an opportunity or solve an existing problem.” His emphasis on guidance echoes the need for start-ups to seek strategic partnerships with investors who contribute beyond financial support.

Abdullah Mutawi, co-founder and chairman of Dubai Angel Investors, said: “The MENA region’s investment ecosystem is very young, and there is a lot to learn. There will be challenges and teething issues, but there is also a great deal to look forward to.”

Mutawi’s journey in the investment landscape, spanning early-stage start-ups to the growth phase, provides start-ups with a roadmap to navigate the complex world of funding. His network of 105 angel investors speaks volumes about the collaborative approach he advocates. For start-ups, he offers a pearl of wisdom from his 12-year angel investing journey,

Yamen S. Al-Hajjar, Managing Partner of Olive Tree Capital provided start-ups with an important reminder that team composition is vital in attracting funding. Al-Hajjar’s advice was clear-cut: “Be very selective and consistent with your talent acquisition; your team can have a big influence on your funding.” This resonated with the idea that investors not only back ideas but also the capable teams behind those ideas.

The Founders Stage witnessed another panel “The Path Better Taken: The Advantages of Ventures Building and Ventures Capital,” where Ryan Adams, Managing Partner of Raha Beach Ventures; Hasan Zainal, Founder & Managing Partner of Arzan VC; Sami Khoreibi, Founder of Wisewell; and Kushal Shah, MD of e& Ventures, shared valuable industry perspectives.

Adams emphasised that beyond funding ventures, it was equally important to actively mentor founders in building AI-based companies. Hasan Zainal, with a decade of investing experience, discussed the need for the right pairing of start-ups with investors, stressing the role of vision and support.

Sami Khoreibi, focusing on sustainability, highlighted the challenges in the venture builder model, especially regarding the Capitalisation Table, which is used to track securities, number of shares, convertible notes, warrants, and equity ownership grants. Kushal Shah, investing in disruptive ideas, stressed the need for thorough assessment of founders and start-ups.

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