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.