Dave McClure is the founding partner of 500 Startups, an organization whose name in recent years has become a misnomer. 500 Startups’s investments number over 900 companies around the globe. In Abu Dhabi, McClure discussed the barriers to entrepreneurship in the Middle East with The Atlantic’s Washington Editor at Large Steve Clemons.
Citing investments in over 200 companies in 40 countries outside the U.S., McClure said that the issue in creating new hotspots of global innovation has nothing to do with a lack of talent on the entrepreneurial side. Creating a business, too, is easier than ever. The only connection needed to build a business, said McClure, is an internet connection. The “significant transformative fact” of tech entrepreneurship in the past decade is the dual ease of creating software-based business and accessing billions of connected people around the globe.
The major barrier to scaling startups in MENA and other emerging markets, then, is ignorance on the part of investors. “I’d like to distinguish between the traditional view of VC coming down from the mountain with advice to give entrepreneurs,” said McClure, who says a lack of investor experience and awareness of opportunities exists among investors both internationally and regionally. Accelerating the growth of the market will require both more investors and critical knowledge of both the amount and way in which dollars are deployed. If you could apply half a billion to a billion dollars - comparable to a major real estate or transportation investment - to the right pressure points, that funding could completely change the Middle East.
“It’s not a charitable mission,” stressed McClure. “I think I’m going to clean up investing ahead of the curve internationally. I believe in the Arabic-speaking market, the Spanish-speaking market because there’s lots of potential. There’s lots of talent.”