A Career Built on Filling Voids, Noor Sweid, Podcast #111

Noor Sweid is the founder of Global Ventures, a Dubai-based, growth-stage venture capital firm focusing on investing in emerging markets. She is the only Arab woman in the Middle East running a VC fund. She was also the first woman to lead an IPO in the region. Before her career in venture, Noor founded the first chain of yoga and pilates studios in the Middle East, ZenYoga which grew to become the largest chain of wellness studios in the Middle East and which she sold in 2014. Our conversation about her career and being a woman in Dubai is a rare glimpse into a growing world.

You can listen to this on iTunes here.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Bryce T.

    Noor Sweid, Global Ventures“…it is so hard to go from 0 to 1, as opposed to running a billion dollar company.” – Sweid1:00 Born in Boston, moved to London at 3, Saudi Arabia at 12, Dubai at 15, back to Boston for college, MBA, then back to Dubai in 2005.1:24 Parents moved there for job reasons? And why did they choose the Middle East? Different opportunities. Dad was an entrepreneur involved with art and interiors. Started an interior contract company in 1996 in Dubai. Focued on hospitality. 2:10 And your Mom? Home raising four kids.2:14 Where are you in the pecking older?2:42 What was it like as a kid? “It’s made me very adaptable as a person.”3:50 Job interview question in Ibanking/Consulting, “Can they drop you in the forest, with a pack of wolves, and (can) you figure your way out.”4:20 So now you’re an investor? “I’m an investor, with the caveat in that 80% of the time I’m a founder, because I founded my own investment firm, and 20% of the time I get to have the privilege of deciding which companies to invest in.”4:44 Out of college worked in consulting, specifically in bio-pharma. Always had been passionate about health and wellness.4:58 In college was diagnosed with Crohn’s. “This was clearly a lifelong thing, I need to learn about medicine.”7:31 What did you change in your diet? Full elimination diet. 8:05 Acupuncture, Cupping, Yoga8:55 Future of big pharma/insurance. Ultimately will have the data.10:55 Moved back to Dubai in 2005 while working for Booz Allen. But was very quickly asked to work on a small project with the firm Noor’s father had started with interior contracting. 11:35 Ended up working more with father where they scaled the company from $60 million in revenue in ’05 to $600 million in ’08. Then led the IPO in April ’08 just before the financial crisis. First private company in the UAE to list on the Nasdaq Dubai.13:36 Job creation in emerging markets.14:16 In 2006, started the first yoga studio in the region which quickly became the largest wellness chain. Ultimately sold to a private equity firm.15:00 “In the meantime, realized that it is so hard to go from 0 to 1, as opposed to running a billion dollar company.” “It’s a different set of skill sets, and it’s really hard especially in the emerging markets.”15:34 Started to angel invest (in the region.)17:55 Start in venture. “the next problem I wanted to fix is the lack of access to capital for startups.” Landed as a CIO at the Dubai Future Foundation.18:37 A year and a half ago spun out of that and started a VC firm with a focus on investing on regional companies. “Largely because the valuations are so low as a result of the dearth of capital.” Invest at 1x, 2x revenue, but 3x revenue would be expensive. The firm does series A and B with a focus on B2B companies.19:57 So far have made six investments.20:39 “The small amount of capital that we can actually mobilize into these companies goes a really long way because the founders are so use to being very good with capital.”21:12 How many venture capitalist are in that region? Are they all thinking globally?21:54 What else are you seeing over there in terms of change? An example, “The region has the highest social media engagement globally.”24:11 Dubai as a hub. “Six hours east coast to west coast gets us to 2.5 billion people.” “Gives us great access to talent, ideas, markets, and identification of emerging market needs.” “No one is sitting in Silicon Valley thinking ‘how do I solve this problem in Cambodia’.”25:22 How do you go to see all these countries that are all religious countries? Do you look different? Are you embraced? “This goes back to being adaptable.” 27:27 “On the investor side, it is more challenging to raise money as a female, in the region or otherwise.”28:50 How abaya’s have changed. “The concept of modesty in that sense will remain, but the expression of that has changed and will continue to change.”29:43 The strength of Saudi Arabia in the region.31:38 Are you feeling that same sort of excitement about entrepreneurship as we are here where it’s become mainstream? “Yes, definitely. There’s obviously government initiatives and mandates and a big push top down.” “So you now have a lot of global capital that is looking at the ecosystem validating the entrepreneurs in a way. Saying this is as good as if not better than what we’re seeing at other places.”32:50 Where’s everything going to be over there in 5, 10, 20 years? 34:30 “If you have one success story, you’ll inspire one hundred thousand people.”35:20 “It’s one of the few areas in the world that hasn’t yet had that tech boom. The Middle East and Africa are 5 to 10 years lagging.”

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Bryce!!

  2. Deborah Smith

    Really appreciated another example of a woman who has and is creating amazing impact in her community and beyond. Thanks, Joanne & Noor!

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