Lina Hediah: Revolutionizing SMB Finance in the Middle East and Africa

Lina Hediah

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  • Lina Hediah, CEO and founder of CXDA Markets envisioned a liquid market that would enable small and medium businesses (SMBs) in the Middle East and Africa to access finance and bridge the gap between their financial needs and reality.
  • CXDA Markets is a fintech company that creates a game-changing platform for SMBs in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Lina states that technology, innovation, and capital markets frameworks can create a liquid, fair, and transparent marketplace for companies to access credit and other financial products.

Access to finance is crucial for the success and growth of small and medium businesses (SMBs). However, many SMBs in the Middle East and Africa face difficulties in obtaining the funds they need to expand their operations and reach their potential. Despite having solid fundamentals, great products, and loyal customers, they struggle to get loans, credit, or other financial products they need to run and grow their business. They also encounter high-interest rates, long processing times, and stringent collateral requirements. CXDA Markets offers a solution to these challenges.

CXDA Markets is a fintech company that operates a game-changing platform for SMBs in the Middle East and Africa. It connects SMBs with investors to access short-term debt products. The platform uses blockchain and tokenization technology and capital markets frameworks to enable SMBs to access credit and other financial solutions from a network of investors. The investors, in turn, benefit from attractive and diversified opportunities that ensure transparency, security, and compliance.

Mirror Review recently interviewed Lina Hediah, the founder and CEO of CXDA Markets, who says, “Our mission is to empower these companies and start a movement that pulls other such businesses forward.”

(The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.)

Mirror Review: Can you share the inception and vision behind CXDA Markets, particularly how the idea evolved from its conceptualization in 2019 to its formal establishment in 2021?

Lina: CXDA Markets was born in 2021, but the idea behind it dates back to 2019. Our vision is to create a liquid market where Small and Medium Businesses in the Middle East and Africa can access finance and growth credit to fuel their progress and allow them to expand their operations.

We believe that by combining technology and innovation, as well as adopting capital markets frameworks, we can create a liquid, fair, and transparent marketplace where companies can obtain credit and other financial products that are essential for them to achieve their growth potential.

We recognize that this geographic region, which is experiencing rapid growth today, is home to many businesses that have solid fundamentals and that are contributing to the economy every day, with the potential to become the driving force behind future growth. Our mission is to empower these businesses and, in doing so, start a movement that inspires other similar businesses.

Mirror Review: Could you elaborate on the core focus of your business, particularly in facilitating access to finance for small and medium businesses?

Lina: Our core focus is to provide access to finance products and services for small and medium businesses. To do this, we partner with financial institutions, banks, funds, and NBFIs on the funding side, and we reach out to communities of SMBs on the origination side. We collaborate with digital communities, such as e-commerce sites, that want to offer facilities to their merchants and suppliers.

We also work with fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies that have real-time data on their ecosystem of merchants and are interested in offering them financial empowerment. So, they can increase their gross merchandise value (GMV) and consequently grow their volume and purchasing power from the FMCG business.

Our model is a 3-way winning formula, where funders get a good yield, SMBs get access to much-needed finance they need and can boost their revenue, and the e-commerce or FMCG businesses get to retain their merchants and grow their share of revenue as well.

Mirror Review: You have an impressive team of co-founders, executives, and professionals who share your vision and mission. Can you share some insights into the dynamics of your leadership team and the qualities you believe contribute to your collective success?

Lina: I am fortunate to have a team of co-founders, executives, and staff who share the same vision and are driven to achieve our goal. We are on the same path and committed to milestones. I would describe our team as like-minded professionals, inspired by a shared vision and motivated by the same goals. These are key for a winning team.

I think resilience and perseverance help me on the journey and provide a safety net. Starting a business is hard. Being a visionary or an expert alone is not enough. Resilience and perseverance are needed to keep the team and face the challenges.

Mirror Review: According to you, what is the best way to build a great team? How do you keep your employees motivated?

Lina: As a business leader, I believe in walking the walk and being hands-on, without micromanaging. I think that sharing the vision and empowering the team to execute is essential for successful and cohesive execution. In addition, I also ensure that the team participates in the financial rewards, transparently and consistently. 

Another important ingredient for team success is close and timely feedback. I encourage open discussion and exchange of ideas, approaches, and expertise among the team members, which fosters a steady flow of creativity, motivation, and clarity.

Mirror Review: Please walk us through your educational/professional journey that shaped your entrepreneurial spirit.

Lina: I am proud and happy with my educational and professional journey. I was lucky to enjoy what I studied and worked on.

Throughout my education, I studied subjects that interested me: Mathematics, Physics, and Literature. It was a great combination that motivated me in school, college, and beyond. I went to French schools, which made me love literature. I majored in applied physics and minored in literature, and I enjoyed that balance.

Then, I got accepted for a Ph.D. program in applied math and physics at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences but after a year there, I decided to start a career rather than continue in academia.

On the professional front, I was lucky enough to start my career doing exactly what I wanted – Information Technology – and to this day, it keeps me interested, challenged, and driven.

I think this is a secret to success, in academics or business. “Inspiration, curiosity, and drive are key to achievement and output.”

Mirror Review: You are a successful female leader in the fintech industry, which is traditionally dominated by men. What is your take on the changing perspectives toward gender disparity in the business world?

Lina: I never found gender a challenge in my experience. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry was empowering. I never faced an obstacle or a deterrent because of my gender. It boosted my confidence to challenge the status quo, thrive, and be a leader.

When I began my career, there were few women leaders in IT. Now, this is improving. Fintech has many successful female leaders, globally and in the Middle East and Africa. It is a hopeful time, and I see the trend rising. I think women have much to offer to the business world, and I am glad to join this movement.

Mirror Review: What is the one thing that you love most and the one thing that you hate most about the industry you work in?

Lina: I work in Fintech, which is a young and innovative industry by definition. Fintech is an innovative and can-do answer to legacy financial systems. I love that about it, as it challenges, pushes the limits of the norms, and brings creative solutions to traditional problems.

The flip side is that sometimes there is a lack of clarity around regulations and rules, which can make it more difficult to advance and progress. Transparency and a clear regulatory framework are essential to foster development. The absence of these definitely increases the level of uncertainty and can be challenging for any industry.

Mirror Review: How do you ensure that you are rested, healthy, and high-performing? How do you maintain a perfect work-life balance?

Lina: I believe that a healthy exercise routine and a good night’s sleep are essential for sustained high performance. When I cannot follow either of them, I notice the impact on my achievement and performance. That’s why I try my best to include a daily exercise or workout and get enough sleep for my physical and mental well-being.

Mirror Review: As a successful leader, what advice would you like to give to aspiring women leaders?

Lina: My advice is to be confident that the world is yours for the taking and not give up. Keep going, persevere. If you have a dream and a vision you believe in, keep your mind and heart focused on the endgame. And never stop learning. It is a wonderful journey for the curious!


Lina Hediah quote

Also Read: The 10 Empowering Business Women Leaders of 2024

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