Galway e-commerce kingpin launches VC fund aimed at Middle East start-ups

10 Dec 2013

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Paul Kenny, CEO, Cobone.com and co-founder of Emerge Ventures

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Galway-born entrepreneur Paul Kenny, whose e-commerce start-up Cobone.com was bought this year for an estimated US$40m, has joined forces with Dubai-based investor Arya Bolurfrushan to launch a start-up fund for Mideast entrepreneurs.

Last March, Tiger Global Management acquired daily deals site Cobone.com for about US$40m.

Cobone.com, which Kenny founded in 2010, counts more than 2m customers across six countries in the Middle East who have saved nearly US$100m through more than 1.5m coupons sold. Kenny last year won the Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award and Enterprise Ireland appointed him as Ireland’s start-up ambassador to the Middle East.

Now based in Dubai, the new fund he is launching with Bolurfrushan, Emerge Ventures, will be focused on high-impact early stage investments in Middle East technology companies.

Emerge Ventures aims to give international and regional investors access to the budding tech start-up market in the Middle East, with a particular bias towards infrastructural e-commerce.

The firm has just closed its first investment fund, MENA Fund I, which has committed capital to deploy in early-stage MENA technology companies, who will benefit from capital, along with expertise, access, discipline and guidance from Emerge Ventures advisers, for equity in their business. 

Emerge Ventures has already made its first three investments. The first companies within the fund are all UAE-based and include The Impact Hub, a collaborative incubator and co-working space due to open in Souk al Bahar in Dubai this month; Lumba, a Silicon Valley-based mobile gaming company focused on the Arabic-speaking world; and Elevision, a new digital media network that broadcasts news, information and advertisements from screens inside the lifts of premier towers in the UAE.

Bolurfrushan is a Harvard-educated international angel investor with a track record of 24 investments and three successful exits. He is also CEO of Bolurfrushan International Group and CFO of RAK Petroleum.

The MENA 1 fund launched in August this year and succeeded in closing the fund with capital from select global venture capital funds, family offices and ultra-high net worth individuals.

They’ve been there, done that and want to do more

“Our focus is to find the best entrepreneurs and back them with smart capital – financial as well as intellectual – becoming true partners with the entrepreneurs to help them innovate, succeed and ultimately grow their business,” Kenny explained.

“We have been there and done it ourselves and our experience can help any company scale fast.”

Bolurfrushan added: “We see massive growth potential in the MENA technology infrastructure space, with the UAE in particular investing heavily to develop innovation and technological readiness. As economies in our part of the world mature and move higher up the value chain towards the highest calling of innovation – we are honoured to be a vehicle bringing the smartest global capital to serve as a catalyst in this transformation. We are pleased that such illustrious investors have entrusted us with their capital. We in turn will strive to add genuine value to the entrepreneurs we back and provide stellar returns for our investors.”

The fund’s advisers include Harvard Business School Professors, the global CEO of Rocket Internet, and a number of other veteran investors, entrepreneurs and advisers.

MENA Fund I successfully closed in Q4 of 2013 and Emerge Ventures is not seeking any further investments until it launches MENA Fund II.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com