One of the investors who levelled up our knowledge at #LEAP23 was Alvaro Abella (Managing Director at Gulf Capital). With more than 20 years of experience in tech investments across Europe, the Americas and the MENA region, Abella has led investments into companies including Careem, SellAnyCar, and Vezeeta.
With the experience to develop lucrative strategic partnerships, Abella has also led co-investments with other investors to drive companies towards international growth.
We asked him about the most exciting areas for tech investments right now, and how investors and startups can ensure a good, productive relationship.
As an investor, what kind of technology is most exciting to you right now?
“New enabling technologies such as 5G (and soon 6G), conversational computing (ChatGPT) & AI, and further enhancements on the cloud (from computing to storage, etc.) will drive additional opportunities in sectors which still have room to digitise and grow, such as health care, education, fintech, logistics & eCommerce.”
What’s your approach to finding and selecting investments – and how has that approach changed over the course of your career?
“We look for businesses with dominant market positions, led by excellent management teams and with the ability to generate superior returns by focusing on profitable growth. This has been a staple of our investment strategy.
“However, we should state that although we started as a generalist fund, as we matured as an investor, we have become more focused on sectors that show the greatest upside potential, these being health care, technology, business services, consumer-related and sustainability.”
What are the key ingredients for a good match between an investor and an investee?
“We can summarise this with one word: Trust.
“This is key for the longevity of the relationship. As our CEO, Karim El Solh, likes to say to our founders and entrepreneurs, ‘our investment partnership is akin to a marriage: you need to trust your partner in the journey’. At the heart of this trust is a common or shared vision in terms of the trajectory and growth of the business. This is why our motto reads, ‘Partners in Growth’.”
Could you share any key milestones that Gulf Capital has achieved over the last year?
“The year 2022 was marked by significant growth and expansion for Gulf Capital. We opened three new offices including the relocation of our global headquarters to the Abu Dhabi Global Markets centre (the other two being Cairo and Singapore) and brought on board teams in each of those new locations, which has effectively increased our operational reach in emerging markets, from North Africa to South East Asia – areas where we have been investing for the past decade-and-a-half.
“Additionally, 2022 saw the exit of Chef Middle East to Nasdaq-listed strategic acquirer The Chef Warehouse, which netted 2.5x capital returns for our investors. We also continued to deploy into our existing portfolio from Fund III and secured several bolt-on acquisitions that have allowed our companies to continue to grow their geographic footprint. And 2023 is shaping up to be another year of high return exits for Gulf Capital.
“Last but not least, we launched in Q4 our fourth flagship Fund, which we are aiming to reach a first close by the first half of the new year, given the strong interest and backing from our existing investor base.”
What are the challenges for companies in the Gulf that want to expand into international markets?
“Three main challenges:
- Finding the right partner (whether organic or inorganically)
- Navigating legislation & licensing
- Securing the right financial support for expansion ( incl. finding the right balance between equity and debt)
At Gulf Capital, we support our partner in all three of these.”
If you could go back to the beginning of your career and tell yourself one thing you wish you’d known then – what would it be?
“Nothing is constant but change! You need to be very adaptable and proactive in the world of alternative investments. As Bruce Lee once said, ‘Be Water My Friend!’”
Thanks to Alvaro Abella at Gulf Capital. Discover LEAP 2023 to learn more.