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UAE Agora Group pave the way for Blockchain startups to meet with MENA investors

The term Agora  is a Greek word that means a public open space used for assemblies and markets. UAE Agora Group has brought just that into the 21st century. Agora group which began operations in 2018 was a joint decision that both Rim Al Aridi and Hadi Malaeb made when they felt that the exhibition and conference format was broken.

UNLOCK interviewed Rim and Hadi on the verge of the 6th Edition Global Blockchain Congress and the DeFi congress being held on 9th and 10th of February at the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City Hotel in Dubai UAE.

Agora Group with its headquarters in UAE and offices in Lebanon and Canada has sought to change the way conferences and meetings are held. As Rim Al Aridi, Co-Founder and Managing Director stated, “We developed a new format under the term of executive congresses that are unique in both their exclusivity and format, where we pre-arrange one on one meetings between investors and corporations alongside a thought provoking event. We offer for example 10 one-on- one meetings of 20 minutes each between decision makers from the investment side and startups or entities seeking funding on the other.”

She adds, “Most of our congresses center around how disruptive technologies such as Blockchain and AI are changing healthcare sectors, education, cyber security, oil and gas, and Fintech.” The main values of Agora are transparency and delivering on their promise.

As per Rim, Agora has a delicate job of trying to filter both investors and startups to ensure the best congress environment. As she explains, “We filter our investors and learn as much as we can about what they are looking for, and only C-level executives attend these congresses with at least 5 million USD to spend. The same care is given to ensuring that we bring forth quality start ups as our reputation depends on it. We seek to bring in the best projects to MENA region and have a quality assurance department that goes over all applicants.

Hadi Malaeb, Chief Executive Officer of Agora has been heavily involved in the conference scene as well as investor sector in the MENA region for many years. UNLOCK asked him about how he views the growth in Blockchain sector and the differences between startups today and those of 2018.

As he states, “Our first Agora event was in 2018 with the international cryptocurrency investment, the landscape today is completely different. Before it was all about ICOs with most projects riding that wave with inexperienced young founders requesting high valuations from white papers that didn’t make sense what so ever. At that time investors in GCC were reluctant to even look or talk to these projects and it was an uphill battle to get them to even attend the event. Today two and a half years later we see a more mature market on both ends those of startups and investors. There isn’t an attempt to basically force a blockchain solution into a project that doesn’t need it just to raise funds. Today we don’t just have startups looking for series A investments but we have some that are in C and D rounds who although might have young founders yet they are surrounded by good advisors and board members.” 

In terms of investors while Hadi has seen more interest from institutional investors the big sovereign funds have still not shown interest.

As for Agora events in 2021, Rim states they are planning to have five events wih cyber security in April, healthcare in May and another Blockchain congress once again in June. She also believes that DeFi will become a standalone congress.

In terms of physical event Agora has been successful in bridging the physical with the virtual. Rim explains, “In September 2020 we had a successful Blockchain Congress in Dubai despite all the challenges.”  Agora had to rent out four conference rooms for just 80 people to ensure adherence to Dubai Health Authority requirements.

On February 10th Agora will be holding its first DeFi one day congress event. Hadi believes that DeFi has taken the blockchain space by storm and is interesting for many reasons most particularly the solutions that are being brought to the table which are both practical and relevant to the region. He explains, “The DeFi projects that are coming in are good for countries in the region that have a not so strong financial system unlike the GCC. In our upcoming Congress we will have great speakers from USA, Europe who will talk about investments into projects, opportunities and challenges, I think this space is big enough to warrant a standalone event in the future and we will be positioned at the forefront of this new industry.”

Finally for any startup looking to be part of an Agora event, according to Hadi they should remember the four basic things all investors look for. The number one thing investors always ask about is the strength of the founding members, the team delivering the vision, the second is the actual business plan and the unique selling point, the third is how much the startup values its project against equity or assets and fourth is the industry the startup wants to operate it, questioning if it is an industry in decline or growing.

Lara Abdul Malak

Lara has been a journalist and writer in the technology field since her graduation from AUB majoring in political science. She has had career in corporation communications in the telecom sector and was part of the launch of first 3G network in the GCC and MENA region. Since her return to journalism she has been focused with passion on blockchain, tokenization, crypto focusing on the GCC and MENA region.

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