Listed by BBC as one of their “30 women under 30” and named as one of the “Inspiring Business Leaders of the UAE” by Forbes, Elissa Freiha is an angel investor, motivational speaker, and the Founder of womena®. The young entrepreneur and highly accomplished Emirati businesswoman of Lebanese-American descent is also a women’s economic activist.
Born and raised in Paris, Elissa spent much of her childhood in Paris, where her father worked for UNESCO. She also returned to the UAE four times a year for holidays and feels fortunate to enjoy the best of both worlds. Elissa experienced the metropolitan historic vibe of Paris as well as the optimism and community feel of the UAE and saw the desert transformed into a buzzing country.
The Entrepreneurial Expedition from Paris to UAE
Though previously a baker, when Elissa began angel investing, entrepreneurship stole her hear while solving large-scale issues in collaboration with people. Elissa studied her Bachelor of Arts in Global Communication from the American University of Paris while working at a Parisian bakery shop. After graduating, joined a PR firm called Flash Entertainment in Abu Dhabi. She loved working there, arranging events, and making tens of thousands of people smile.
Nonetheless, Elissa was introduced to angel investing and that was a big inspiration for her to empower startups and women in business. With angel investing, she got a chance to be closely involved with startup companies, provide finances, and consult with her expertise in marketing and PR.
Fulfilling the Gender Gaps in the MENA Region
Moving ahead with the investment journey, Elissa noticed a big gender gap in the world of finance and investment, especially in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region. In many families, girls are not necessarily educated in the ways that markets operate. It was not a lack of motivation or ability but the absence of a platform. That vital problem encouraged Elissa to establish womena® with her business partner, Chantalle Dumonceaux, and started a women-only angel group that started womena®, empowering women by educating and engaging female angel investors to invest in new startups. The company is an award-winning investment platform and initiative that has now grown into a multidimensional media company, accelerator program, and Bossladies community.
Excelling with Continual Investments and Events
In the early days of womena® and under the leadership of Elissa and her partners, womena® has invested over 3 million AED in funding to more than 10 startups. During this time, womena® invested more than $500,000 in startup firms, including UAE-based AlemHealth, which digitally connects hospitals in developing countries to more established healthcare providers to help raise the quality of care, as well as online second-hand goods marketplace Melltoo. When the media company with an accelerator and community, womena® successfully conducted more than 20 pitch events, 26 workshops, and numerous awareness events, in partnership with global brands like Elie Saab, which showcased the power of brilliant womenpreneurs in the Middle East region and their unique angel investing story inspired many first time investors.
The Womena Bossladies, Promoting Female Leadership
Elissa is proud of such achievements and feels that instead of big challenges and failures, the work she is doing always enables her to do more — transforming her company into all that womena® into who is today: a multi-dimensional media platform that accelerates equality through creative content and entrepreneurial experiences.
womena® believes a more inclusive and equal world is a more innovative, peaceful, and prosperous world. Their vision is to encourage diversity in entrepreneurship by showcasing the strength of female leadership while challenging limiting biases and misconceptions through creative storytelling that reveals their powerful roles as changemakers, visionaries, and entrepreneurs. womena® accelerates equality through a multifaceted ecosystem which includes startup acceleration, multidimensional media, and community development.
In a collective movement, womena® has become the largest tech network of female entrepreneurs in the MENA region, known as the womena® Bossladies Network. The Bossladies Network supports, connects, and promotes female leadership in entrepreneurship by offering members access to virtual programming through their Slack channel and in-person opportunities curated specifically for businesswomen and changemakers. The womena® Bossladies apprecaite various benefits after joining like access to exclusive events and opportunities, connections with Bossladies in the MENA Region and globe, engagement with mentors and experts, opportunities for speaking engagements and media features, and discounts on services, conferences, etc.
Womentum and Media Platform, Opening the New Doors for Investors
Recently, after years of building an award-winning media company that made over 3 million AED of funding, Elissa and her partners launched an experience-based, early tech accelerator — Womentum, focused on female-led tech startups in the Middle East region. Over four months, the program enabled participants to come together in two major global startup hubs, including Berlin and Dubai.
Womentum leverages womena®’s media platform, to highlight the founders, startups, and program content. At Womentum, the media team of womena® produces creative content and introduces the founders as well as startups by featuring their mission and their product to a global audience along with providing opportunities and media interviews. The Womentum Series documents the unique program which showcases the impact of womena® initiatives on the founders’ lives. Furthermore, as a Womentum graduate, the members will have access to womena®’s network of investors and ecosystem partners which include corporates, growth-stage accelerators, potential customers and acquirers. Likewise, Elissa and her team arrange an exclusive Demo Day in her home, open only to investors and empowering them to directly invest in top-performing Womentum graduates. As Womentum grows, it offers startups products and hosting credits, and more from partners and collaborators like Microsoft.
Today, Elissa is proud of womena®’s success and looks forward to expanding the platform to support women entrepreneurs globally.