She is an audacious female entrepreneur and an esteemed Manager of a visionary international communications network. She has scooped one of the highest regional accolades by being listed amongst Bahrain’s Most Influential Women. She is Fatema Ebrahim, a perfect example of bold female entrepreneurship.
Driven by a desire to create technology for convenience, Fatema created Valopay, a platform that helps send payment to any merchant online, anywhere. One of the industry’s leading voices, she is driven by curiosity and hard work and loves the evolutionary aspect of startup ecosystem. In a challenging business environment, she likes to put herself out in the market and come up with effective solutions.
Through concrete contributions in the diverse fields, Fatema Ebrahim continues to encourage women to achieve their full potential.
You had been heavily involved in the startup ecosystem, from as long as seven years. How do you think the environment for emerging businesses has evolved since then?
We’ve seen a lot of elements evolve and that is what’s exciting in the startup world, or I should say the ecosystem in general. We have better laws, public and governmental entities coming together and a supportive environment for entrepreneurs.
Bahrain has been fostering the startup culture by having entities like Tamkeen, The Fintech Bay Bahrain, Economic Development Board Bahrain and with the availability of numerous resources to start an idea and apply it in the region.
We have several accelerators, incubators, mentorship, and several large scale events for our startups to get out there and share their message.
From your expertise in the PR and with the emergence of Digital Marketing, do you think a PR manager’s responsibilities have grown?
Yes of course. We live in a world where content is so important and online content has to be transparent, authentic and speak to the masses in a short time. PR in a digital world is so much more expressive, visual and you have the room to communicate your vision in creative ways. I think it’s a fun time but also as PR Managers, it becomes your great responsibility to know how to market yourself, your idea, in a way that it benefits people and also speaks to them.
How do you connect to them through online content? That’s the question to answer.
What led to the conception of Valopay?
I had just moved to Bahrain and realised a gap in payments since I was using multiple applications in the USA which I couldn’t have here. In addition, I knew that Fitnech was coming and the best way to learn was to start something from scratch and apply it.
Specifically about Valopay, I had several friends and family that used to run Instagram businesses in addition to their full time job. They had a driver to collect cash payments and manually run their business. I wanted to make that easier. I created a system that creates a unique code for each product. If people entered a code on the website for a certain product – they click, enter details and pay! Plus the system stored all the products and gave an analysis to the seller about what items were bought, in what amount and had all the buyer details.
What natural benefits do you think Bahrain has in being MENA region’s FinTech hub?
Bahrain’s natural benefits starts with it being a major financial hub in the Middle East. The financial industry here is innovative and our major banks now have Fintech and innovation counterparts that work on coming up with digitization solutions and simply coming up with ways to make banking easier and effective. Several elements I’d like to list:
We have the Bahrain Fintech Bay – a leading Fintech Hub in the Middle East & Africa. It’s a major financial technology hub that has several partnerships with banks, corporates, Government bodies, FinTechs and universities. The focus is on both individual development and collaboration, accelerating local early stage companies to the next growth stage of commercialization and expedite partnership opportunities.
The Central Bank of Bahrain launched the Sandbox that will allow startups and fintech firms to test and experiment their banking ideas and solutions. The creation of the regulatory sandbox provides an opportunity for fintech businesses around the world to expand and thrive in the Gulf and strengthen Bahrain’s position as a fintech and financial services hub in the GCC.
What is your foresight for the future of Fintech sector in the region?
I believe we will have more Fintech Solutions within the region focused on AI, Big Data, Blockchain etc. There will be increased Fintech awareness in terms of education and increased partnerships with global institutions. Next, we will soon see more women in the region involved within Fintech as part of the Women in Fintech Initiative in Bahrain.
The aforementioned transitions may take some time but a shift in mindset where we have digital solutions will become the norm and we will move distant from cash dominance.
The concept of ‘Yalla Banat – Women in the Driver’s Seat’ is very important and relevant to women empowerment. What was the highlight of this event? Tell us more about it.
Yalla Banat was an initiative to celebrate women. We wanted to have a fun family festival where the main element would be the ‘largest all women parade’ in the MENA region. It’s an element of celebration, fun and sharing experience.
The festival started with a televised Roundtable discussion panel with 10 very successful women & men from across the GCC sharing their “road to success”. The panel included two discussions – “Women winning in sports” & “Women working in workplace”
We had about 400 cars register to be a part of the parade when we had a cap of 250 cars; it was amazing to see the support. The event hosted the 1st Bahraini Motor Show Competition that included 40+Super/Hypercards, Classic Cars, Road cars, Motorbikes and Scooters.
It was super exciting to be on the track. We had about 430 people cheering just on the track during the parade. We passed our KPIs by getting 2,800 people attend this first-time event. The team was truly amazed at the response.
The parade included 9 INFINITI Bahrain cars to support Yalla Banat as the Exclusive Automotive Sponsor of Yalla Banat. In addition, INFINITI Bahrain showcased the all-new QX50 2019 at the event which was launched recently in Bahrain.
It was the first initiative in Bahrain to be showcased on the NASDAQ Times Square Billboard and surely a memorable one.
You have been named amongst Bahrain’s Most Influential Women. What was the key driving force that helped you reach so far?
I believe it is because of one defining characteristic more than this particular achievement. It is because I went out there and tried. I put myself out there and tried to find a solution, learn as much as I can and started getting involved within the startup ecosystem in Bahrain, regardless of the notion of success.
I’ve worked for a startup in New York and that was the first time I put my foot in this environment. I gradually became curious to start on my own as I think curiosity and hard work is a good mix. From there, I built a business, conducted a case study and after that, I made a transition gathering all the lessons learned. I decided to help other startups in being a part of the initiative and took up projects that supported the ecosystem.
In my opinion, everyone is an entrepreneur in their own way – the word isn’t just related to you if you’re a founder.
You’re an entrepreneur if you try new things, start new things and most importantly, learn and persevere whether you’re in a corporate or a startup.
Many companies are emerging with the concept of e-wallets. What challenges do you think they must address to truly provide a gainful experience?
There will always be challenges when a new concept or transition is being introduced. Not just for the financial market, but for any new business in general, one needs to understand few requisites to crack the deal. These include:
- Understanding how one should move from a traditional setting to a technological setting – We need to understand how people make that shift and ask them so we can guide them through the innovational journey
- Educating people on the benefits in a way they understand – Our services must propose a method of lesser hassle, lesser time while including convenience factors
- Ensuring security – A lot of people think of the threats and the negative aspects usually as a first reaction, so, communicating the safety measures related to the product or service is important
- Making people understand that this is the future and we are all shifting towards that to live better – Having campaigns to evolve all ages and address all gaps is imperative because not everyone transitions the same
Tell us about a recent project or achievement that has made you proud.
There are several events I’m proud about! This year has been an explosion of great initiatives happening.
I’m happy to be part of the WIFBH “Women in Fintech Bahrain” Board this year where I shall promote and include more women in Fintech. We have already supported and been part of several events.
Additionally, I am elated at being a part of the Economic Development Board Bahrain this year where I was appointed on February – makes me feel like I can do so much more while witnessing the change.
Planning and supporting Yalla Banat for the past several months has been another exhilarating journey and to see it being showcased on the NASDAQ billboard in Times Square was a dream-come-true moment.
Being a female founder, what is your advice to other women who want to start up their own companies?
I founded Valopay in 2015 and decided to transition to supporting startups than running my own. It is really hard to admit this but I want people to try and start with new things. I want them to go out there and try and maybe, some will be successful, some will realise other potentials and some will hate it and go back to their comfort zone – that is not failure, but it is crossing your borders and putting yourself out there, because, where you find your skills and yourself is where you will change a part of the world.
I wanted to learn so I plunged into it and came out of it with valuable lessons I wouldn’t have gotten if I didn’t. My advice is to stop thinking so much about the consequences, people, fears but just start and see where it takes you – you will learn so much, you will meet amazing people and you will have a journey that is unique to you. Success comes in several layers, don’t confine its meaning to other people’s definition.
At a young age, she has bagged laurels and already inspired budding entrepreneurs around the world through her feature in ‘Dear Female Founder’. Bryony Cooper is a serial entrepreneur who has founded 3 companies and is now leading the charge as Head of IoT Program at Brinc.io, the world’s first end-to-end integrated platform designed for IoT entrepreneurs. She presently sits in the investment committee at Brinc and will soon be moving to the European leg of the branch with an exciting new opportunity.
Having a way with words, Bryony is deeply involved and extremely talented in mentoring early-stage startups. With the start-up culture deeply engraved in her experience, she has been a quality contributor to several panel discussions and committees like Web Summit, MWC (4YFN), UNIT, Meet ICT, German Trade & Invest
What inspired you to join Brinc.io?
I’m a former tech startup founder myself, and I wanted to continue working in the startup ecosystem in a role where I could share my learnings and experiences. Around 1.5 years ago, one of the Brinc founders, Bay McLaughlin, gave a talk at my workplace; he was so passionate and enthusiastic, that I had to check this company out!
It turns out that Brinc is an ideal platform for me to connect with inspiring entrepreneurs and support them through the early stages of their business, and it’s a perfect fit for my background and expertise.
I relish the idea of energizing the budding entrepreneurs and thoroughly enjoy the creative process of grooming their startup and eventually seeing them grow.
What does your current job role entail?
Since last year, I have been running the IoT Accelerator Program for Brinc MENA in Bahrain. We support global IoT entrepreneurs by accelerating their startup, right from the ‘concept’ to ‘sustainable customization’. It has been an amazing journey, highlighted by significant benchmarks; the next big milestone awaits.
I will soon be transferring to our European branch for an exciting opportunity to launch a new fund! I can’t disclose any more just yet, but I will be Chief Acceleration Officer and serving on the board.
You were featured in a critically acclaimed book ‘Dear Female Founder’. Tell us about it.
The book is a collection of letters to the next generation of female entrepreneurs – to inspire, encourage and highlight some of the challenges faced. I have always been passionate about gender diversity in the workplace, and seeing more women in leadership positions. I met the editor, Lu Li, at a tech conference, and was invited to contribute my story to the book. I felt very honoured to be able to share my startup story, and hope it resonates with other young women.
As an experienced startup mentor, how do you help the startups to connect with bigger organisations/investors?
The great thing about Bahrain being a small country is that it’s much easier to get to know the right people; we were quickly able to integrate into the startup community and establish ourselves here, forging relationships with corporates and investors alike. We have a dedicated partnership with Batelco, and we also invite mentors from large organisations to come in and coach our teams. We make introductions to our wide network where we see fit, and make sure our founders are armed with the tools they need to take those relationships forward, with clear objectives to work towards.
Besides the financial, legal, and networking aid, we help them reflect and learn on their progress. We add real value in our mentorship program through a bright and focused view.
What is the scope of IoT entrepreneurship in the Middle East?
At the moment, there is not a large amount of IoT entrepreneurs in Middle East (compared to software startups, for example). However, the first step to developing this market is to lay down the foundations, and create an ecosystem of support. Brinc is the first dedicated IoT accelerator in the region, coming from 5 years experience in Hong Kong and China, where we specialise in product development and manufacturing expertise.
Not only do we offer that bridge to China for manufacturing, but we also attract talented IoT entrepreneurs from around the globe to come to Bahrain and set up their business here. Now, IoT startups can access funding, coworking space, mentorship, a makerspace for prototyping and a full accelerator program at Brinc; we are focusing in particular on the GCC and MENA region.
Which industries in the Middle East will be impacted the most by “Internet of Things” (IoT)?
We are beginning to see the unleashed potential of Internet of Things through IoT products and applications in many sectors like health, education, manufacturing, retail and transport.
Going forward, I see a huge potential for IoT innovation in multiple industries in the Middle East. Some of our first portfolio teams have shown its impact on Agriculture and Contract-based sectors.
Sensors can transform Date Palm Agriculture and Contractor projects such as construction, oil and gas can be hugely optimized through IoT. The concept of Smart Cities will also majorly thrive on the Internet of Things. Another sector that could be greatly optimised is Transportation, for example, to save energy, reduce congestion and road accidents.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
My proudest achievements have given me the courage to continue and constantly expand my horizons.
Raising $90,000 seed investment on my first ever startup pitch, and going on to raise over $2 Million in our cloud startup T Dispatch was a testament, that hard work always pays back multiplied. Another achievement that enthralled me was winning clients on every continent. Also, I recorded 3 albums working as a professional singer before I broke into the tech business.
You have been advocating for gender diversity in tech and at board level. What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you?
#WomenInTech is important because it celebrates the contribution of knowledgeable figures in the industry and addresses the causes that affect women.
This movement highlights the need for female role models in leadership positions which encourages others more women to tech. Despite the progress we’ve made in the last century, there is still a long way to go before we see true equality on a global scale. It means more than equal pay and equal opportunities; it’s also about changing the attitudes and behaviours that women are subjected to on a daily basis – especially in ‘bro cultures’, which is sometimes found in tech startups.
Who are the inspirational women in business that you admire?
Many of the influential people in the industry I have met are women, making great strides in their field of work. Two of those women have left a lasting impression whom I wish to quote here.
Ayah Bdeir, Founder and CEO of littleBits has built a fun way for kids to learn about electronics and create their own inventions.
Looking closer to home, I was recently lucky enough to have Amina AlHawaj on my ‘Women in Tech’ panel at Women Power Summit’; she’s doing some great work in the Med Tech space, and has won more awards for inventions and innovation than I can count!
Shahad Alzaki is the CEO and Creative Director of Mievento Hub, a creative agency based in Bahrain with special expertise in Marketing, Web Media, Public Relations, and Event Management. She is a professional architect who was drawn towards entrepreneurship and is recognized for her specialization in understanding the market.
Shahad has used her entrepreneurial, leadership, and people management skills to substantially contribute and add value to a market defined by the young audience. Her purpose and passion can be clearly seen in her teammates, who excel in their respective domains and most of whom are deservingly women.
She strongly associates with the societal concerns and is deeply involved in spreading awareness through online campaigning, one issue at a time. Through art and fashion, Shahad rejuvenates herself and explores the world in new ways.
What was your mission at the outset of Mievento Hub? Has any of these mission(s) changed?
The digital sphere is an indomitable ball of energy that is transforming the online experiences, which is why I was drawn towards this vibrant field. My mission since the inception of Mievento Hub was to establish the 1st Youth run creative agency that will allow young creative minds to bring fresh new ideas in this market and to our clients.
At the same time, we have always worked towards expanding the client’s mindset from offline marketing to an inclusive marketing plan which comprises online marketing as well. One of our missions is to reveal the power of digital marketing and its benefits like great customer satisfaction and enhanced Return on Investment from it as a business.
None of these missions has changed till now and we are working towards excellence while achieving them.
The team at Mievento hub is led by women. How do you think more involvement of women has better positioned your company?
It is great to see women as leaders and the worthwhile impact of this advancement in the society. My current team is 90% comprised of women and while throughout the years the exact figure may have changed, the majority was always women which is just by chance.
The women I have had the privilege to work with add tremendous value to our business, in terms of communication, creativity, and so much more. Their commitment to work is such that our clients have repeatedly appreciated the ease and smoothness of dealing with the team. They always felt we understand their needs quickly and work towards achieving them.
In general, I’m very proud to have a team full of women leaders and I’m very happy to see the growth of the company in their hands.
What is the main thing you keep in mind while devising services for the youth; youth being an important audience for Mievento?
Engaging audiences today can be challenging and hence, it is imperative to deploy activities that are stimulating, enjoyable, creative and extremely personalised to them. Hence, one of our methodologies in terms of business approach is that we are flexible with our services and concentrate on their relevance to the audience. With our vision and values at the guiding helm of every project, we keep upgrading and brainstorming to improve and remove things because we believe, the key to success in serving the Youth Market is by staying up-to-date with their needs, wants and how the market is at that moment.
One of the main attributes that help our team is the fact that it is comprised of young who contribute the most in understanding how to tailor our services to the youth market.
As per you, what is the key to successful entrepreneurship?
There are many aspects that I believe blend together to shape a successful entrepreneur. I am sharing below the most important ones, not in order though; these are:
- choosing the right team of talents
- having skillful mentors network around you
- having planning skills and being able to visualize your goals & always reflecting on it
- networking, networking & networking, as this is one of the most important aspects to succeed as an entrepreneur. You will always need to network – either to position your business or to gain new business leads.
- The last thing, in my opinion, I would say is reading about anything that benefits one as an entrepreneur or enhances knowledge in their line of work.
Event planning & marketing are parts of a very competitive market. What do you think is the main trait a customer looks for?
Every customer deserves a premium value from the brands they trust. A proactive team will always seek new ideas to elevate the event or the marketing plan to harness their experience. The key component that matters is the ‘Return On Investment’ (ROI). Customers will always be eager to know what exactly they are getting in return for the investment they are paying and will mainly look for the quality of work being delivered. They will always cherish the way you make them feel.
What do you think are your societal responsibilities as the founder of a company?
It is one of our core commitments to do good for the society. We applaud the growing initiative of aligning the enterprise’s missions with social good programmes and have been positioning our services for relevant causes. As a responsible citizen and founder of a company, I undertake
- Contribute to the youth development & growth. We do that by offering free educational and networking workshops & events on a quarterly basis.
- support the young talents. We always provide our services at discounted rates to startups & support talents through a program we have called “MIEVENTO CONNECTORS” through which we connect talents with clients to work together.
- Also, we adopt one cause every year and raise awareness about it by sponsoring online. In our maiden year, for example, we created awareness through a breast cancer campaign.
Is there anything you weren’t aware of but have learnt/realized during your entrepreneurial journey?
Succeeding at entrepreneurship comes with starting the day and ending it with a constant attitude to learn. One has to embrace an open mindset with a vision to learn something from anywhere & everywhere.
I come from an Engineering background as I am a professional architect. Being an entrepreneur taught me a lot of things about financial management, business planning, marketing strategies & how to especially manage a team of very different talents and personalities.
Besides that, every day I explore new thing about myself; it is definitely an experience that strengthens my personality. I am proud of considerably progressing in time management and communication skills.
Who is a famous women entrepreneur in the region that inspires you?
While there are many women on an international level that I look up to, when I look closer to home, I am specifically inspired by a leading woman in Bahrain – Sonya Janahi. She is the owner of Maya chocolate and the drive with which she took a family business forward in an extremely competitive market is purely remarkable.
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