Dina Shawar ’10 explains why tech start-ups are the hope for Jordan’s future and why women in the industry shouldn’t be counted out.
Keen-eyed readers of The New York Times may have noticed mention of Dina Shawar ’10, a King’s Academy alumna, in Thomas L. Friedman’s opinion column entitled “Beware the Mideast’s Falling Pillars” published in March. The article touches on how changes beyond the control of the region’s leaders — such as the widespread use of social media — are spurring a new Middle East, and how, in Jordan, the high rate of unemployment is keeping His Majesty King Abdullah II up at night.
One way that His Majesty is attempting to reverse this trend and spur the Kingdom’s development is with the launch of a tech start-up hub in Jordan, and by encouraging private-sector start-ups. Shawar, CEO of Adam Tech Ventures, was mentioned as one of a group of young Jordanian starter-uppers who are helping to reshape their industries.
Shawar has been working as a venture capitalist since graduating from Royal Holloway, University of London with a degree in Economics, Politics and International Relations. Starting her career as an investment analyst at Oasis500 — Jordan’s main tech accelerator and the region’s first — Shawar then joined Silicon Badia, an early stage venture capital firm, as a senior investment associate. This year, she took the helm at Adam Tech Ventures, a seed-stage fund focused on investing in “A* entrepreneurs.”
Shawar is a firm believer that start-ups, tech ones in particular, can have a huge impact on the economy and give the younger generation hope that opportunity can be created in the Middle East. Companies like Adam Tech Ventures invest in start-ups that employ local talent, she explains, and invest in marketplaces that can indirectly empower and employ local Jordanians.
“Start-ups and small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) are the bloodline of any country’s economy,” says Shawar, noting that although three-quarters of start-ups fail, the ones that make it are expected to generate high returns and eventually hire hundreds or even thousands of employees.
Although Jordan has not had access to the same amount of venture funding as other countries in the region, according to Shawar the kingdom has nevertheless set the standard for what it takes to build a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“It is interesting,” she points out, “that among the top 100 Arab startups shaping the fourth industrial revolution according to the World Economic Forum, 27 were Jordanian, by far the largest group of companies for any one country.”
“At Adam Tech Ventures, we want to invest first and foremost in exceptional entrepreneurs that we believe can disrupt their industries by challenging the status quo,” says Shawar, whose company invests between $50,000 to $250,000 in seed-stage start-ups, and currently has four deals in their final stages.
“Tech companies are constantly challenging the status quo. Instead of seeing challenges, they find opportunities and tackle them. By doing so, they have a great positive impact on the economy.”
Another cause Shawar is passionate about is ensuring that women working in the male-dominated tech and venture capital industries have equal opportunities to men.
“I struggled to get my voice heard when I first started working,” she says. “I worked on myself by seeking the advice of mentors and attending workshops like the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Executive Presence for Women course. I wanted to share my experience with other women and give them a safe place to share theirs.”
To provide that space, Shawar and a colleague built a discussion forum for Arab women tech entrepreneurs that holds regular sessions where they address issues unique to women and their solutions.
“As a female investment manager, I aim to give females and males equal opportunity,” says Shawar. “I really believe that as a woman I will not have the typical prejudice. In this region, women, especially mothers, are seen as less committed. However, I have found that this is not the case at all. Many companies that I’ve worked with are headed by women, and they are doing an excellent job.”