Elissa Freiha - The Angel Investor

Elissa Freiha
Angel Investor and Managing Director

Elissa is an angel investor and founder of WOMENA, a Dubai-based angel investment platform. Born and raised in Paris, the Emirati of Lebanese and American decent graduated from the American University of Paris with a BA in Global Communications and speaks 4 languages. As an active angel with over 30 investments between North America and MENA, she has been frequently listed by media outlets and most notably by Arabian Business' 100 most powerful Arab women in 2015 and 2016 as well as the 100 most influential arabs under 40.

What do you do and how did you get to where you are today? What drove you to success?

Entrepreneurship was something that I always was expecting to get involved in; I always knew that I wanted to start my own company. I wasn’t always sure what it was going to be, but my mind and heart were open to any opportunity that would come across and inspire me. Coming out of University, I was eager to move to the UAE, I couldn’t think of a better market to launch a business at the time. The USA, at that time was too competitive for me and Europe was too traditional and not open to innovation of any kind. So, I thought the UAE was the next frontier. So, I moved to the UAE with two of my friends and launched two businesses.

One was an F&B Business, a restaurant and concept store, and another one was, what is now Womena – an Angel Investor Network, hoping to help MENA based angel investors invest in MENA based tech companies. As I worked on both of those projects simultaneously, I realised that one kept on sucking the energy out of me and was quite exhausting – that was the restaurant, we kept hitting lots of barriers and brick walls. The other was very inspiring, an endless source of energy! For me, everything seemed to fall right into place and fit, quite naturally, that was the Angel Investor Network. So, as months progressed, I ended up dropping my efforts towards the restaurant. As any investor can see, any entrepreneurs need to be 100% on their project. Then, my co-founder and I decided to focus 100% of our efforts on Womena and after a year of being in the UAE and doing our Market Research, we were able to launch our brand ‘Womena’ on November 1st, 2014. We started hosting Monthly Pitch Events where pre-sourced, pre-vetted set of entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to our network of investors.

Since then we have successfully invested in seven portfolio companies, and followed on, in three of them, as well as investing a total of about 700,000 dollars through our platform. We have forty female angels and we’re now looking at expanding Womena into being more than just an investment network, as well as the voice of female entrepreneurship in the Middle East.

What would you tell a young graduate toady?

I would tell young graduates that the conventional structure and life paths are not necessarily valid anymore. And, they can do whatever they really want to do. They just have to get started and they shouldn’t be afraid of failure. The fear of failure shouldn’t hold them back from just getting started with their idea because it’s really as simple as to taking the first step. And once you take the first step, which is usually the scariest, the following steps are much easier. And, before you know it, you are an entrepreneur! And you may have investors, clients, a team, an office and then it could be scary, but it’s Awesome! In my opinion, there is no better way to live and work.

What brings you joy?

What really brings me joy is being able to help and inspire individuals. I’m lucky enough that Through Womena, I get to do this daily; I get to see the eyes of women light up and maybe an idea clicks in their head and they finally see an example of something they thought was impossible standing in front of them. Really, just seeing people believe in themselves and feeling inspired is something that brings me a lot of joy.

Also, Cotton Candy!

Why is the UAE a great place for women to succeed, especially in the context of Sheikh Mohammad recently having released the Gender Equality Guidelines?

This is something which I realised in the past few years, but specifically these months. I have been travelling a lot to the Europe and the US, promoting not just Womena’s message, but also the truth about what its really like being an Arab Woman in the 2017. What I have seen is that the UAE is genuinely one of the leaders in the forefront of Women Empowerment in the world right now.  It is a country that is walking it’s talk. They are effectively implementing changes and regulations that can empower women in Leadership in any industry or any area of government. This is not something that is necessarily done in the rest of the world, especially in the West.  The UAE acknowledges that there is a problem in terms of Women's Inclusion in business and effectively implement the changes to counter-act that imbalance. Whereas a lot of places don’t acknowledge there is an issue and therefore don’t put in the effort at change. We have some of the most incredible examples of Women Leadership in this country and I think there are wonderful examples of strong, feminine power without necessarily having to compromise their own characters to get there.




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