500 Global On Nurturing Early Stage MENA Startups
500 Global is a global venture capital firm headquartered in San Francisco, United States, that invests across stages with a focus on technology and innovation. 500 Global has been investing in entrepreneurs in MENA since 2012 through several funds, including 500 Falcons and two Riyadh-based accelerator funds: Misk 500 MENA accelerator fund and Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator fund. As of 2022, 500 Global has directly invested in more than 38 startups in Saudi Arabia.
Lucidity Insights spoke with Amal Dokhan, a General Partner at 500 Global MENA who is responsible for overseeing the Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator program and fund. Dokhan explained, “500 Global invests across stages. In Saudi Arabia, as the market matures, we are starting to see more requests for Series A investments.” She continues, “Some people might not be aware of this, but the Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Fund also makes investments outside of the accelerator. We’ve made seven direct investments thus far.”
Prior to joining 500 Global, she was an active angel investor in Saudi Arabia, and was also the Manager of Learning and Design at the Entrepreneurship Center at KAUST where she co-designed and led the TAQADAM accelerator program and corporate innovation programs.
Also read: Amal’s remarks on Women in Saudi Venture Capital
In Saudi Arabia, 500 Global has led much of the charge in educating angel investors and VC fund managers on best practices in the industry, which 500 Global sees as instrumental to the development of a healthy startup ecosystem. In 2018, they launched the first ‘VC Unlocked’ program to train emerging managers. The program aims to equip participants with the necessary skills to invest in startups and promote best practices in the local market.
In 2021, 500 Global conducted the first Angel Unlocked program, which brought together 40 angel investors. The goal was to educate more people about investing in companies and encourage the sharing of knowledge and experiences. In November 2022, 500 Global partnered with Stanford to bring VC Unlocked to Riyadh for the first time. The program is designed to provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of venture capital and how to navigate the industry. Amal explains that VCs and angel investors all need to collaborate at the end of the day, as co-investors in startups in the Kingdom and beyond. “The more educated and collaborative we are as an industry, the better,” she says.
Reflecting on her decade of experience in the Saudi entrepreneurship space, Amal says “what I love to see is the pace at which the market is maturing. Today, many of our founders are people with 10 to 20 years of specialized experience in their field, who’ve left their careers to found a startup that attempts to solve challenges that are often hidden from view. This influx of seasoned entrepreneurs also says a lot about the change in mindset with regards to entrepreneurship in the Kingdom.”
Also read: What Are the Latest Trend in Saudi’s Startup Ecosystem?
Learn more about some of the most prominent VCs in Saudi’s startup ecosystem, in the most comprehensive report on the topic to date, The Evolution of Saudi Arabia's Start-Up Ecosystem 2010-2022.